Marijuana is sometimes used to help people wean themselves off other drugs addictions, such as to opioids, but can also be craved itself.
A new study looking at reactivity in various regions of the brain in frequent cannabis users gives an inkling as to what is going on in those who become dependent.
Reporting in a recent issue of Human Brain Mapping researchers at the Center for Brain Health, University of Texas found that brain connectivity during cannabis cravings is not static but has fluctuations in connection patterns, in particular between the central executive network and nucleus accumbens. Participants were examined with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner for the findings.
Similar fluctuations in brain network connectivity have been noted in other craving scenarios, but this is the first time it has been noted in cannabis users. It’s interesting to note the characteristics of the areas where there is the most brain crosstalk: the central executive network is a reward-related region, while the nucleus accumbens is an area rich in dopamine.
The study adds to the knowledge base on why people may crave and react to weed, and the changes in chemistry that may be responsible for that.
Lead author Francesca Filbey, PhD, a professor and director of cognitive neuroscience at the Centre for Brain Health, explained: “Now that we have identified there are differences in large-scale brain network patterns in long-term cannabis users when there is craving, we can use these as biomarkers of cannabis use disorder to aid treatment strategies. Future studies are needed to determine how these brain network patterns might change over the course of treatment and recovery”.
Older studies suggest only nine percent of people report abusing cannabis; however more recent evidence has suggested 30 percent of cannabis users develop some degree of a disorder, which can manifest as addiction.