Patterns of brain function associated with cannabis cue-reactivity in regular cannabis users: a systematic review of fMRI studies

Hannah Sehl, Gill Terrett, Lisa Marie Greenwood, Magdalena Kowalczyk, Hannah Thomson, Govinda Poudel, Victoria Manning, Valentina Lorenzetti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale: Regular cannabis use (i.e. ≥ monthly) is highly prevalent, with past year use being reported by ~ 200 million people globally.High reactivity to cannabis cues is a key feature of regular cannabis use and has been ascribed to greater cannabis exposure and craving, but the underlying neurobiology is yet to be systematically integrated. Objectives: We aim to systematically summarise the findings from fMRI studies which examined brain function in cannabis users while exposed to cannabis vs neutral stimuli during a cue-reactivity fMRI task. Methods: A systematic search of PsycINFO, PubMed and Scopus databases was pre-registered in PROSPERO (CRD42020171750) and conducted following PRISMA guidelines. Eighteen studies met inclusion/exclusion criteria. Samples comprised 918 participants (340 female) aged 16–38 years. Of these, 603 were regular cannabis users, and 315 were controls. Results: The literature consistently reported greater brain activity in cannabis users while exposed to cannabis vs neutral stimuli in three key brain areas: the striatum, the prefrontal (anterior cingulate, middle frontal) and the parietal cortex (posterior cingulate/precuneus) and additional brain regions (hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus, occipital cortex). Preliminary correlations emerged between cannabis craving and the function of partially overlapping regions (amygdala, striatum, orbitofrontal cortex). Conclusions: Exposure to cannabis-cues may elicit greater brain function and thus trigger cravings in regular cannabis users and thus trigger cannabis craving. Standardised and longitudinal assessments of cannabis use and related problems are required to profile with greater precision the neurobiology of cannabis cue-reactivity, and its role in predicting cravings and relapse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2709-2728
Number of pages20
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Brain
  • Cannabis
  • Craving
  • Cue-reactivity
  • fMRI
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Neuroimaging

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