Cannabis cue-induced brain activation correlates with drug craving in limbic and visual salience regions: Preliminary results

Evonne J. Charboneau, Mary S. Dietrich, Sohee Park, Aize Cao, Tristan J. Watkins, Jennifer U. Blackford, Margaret M. Benningfield, Peter R. Martin, Maciej S. Buchowski, Ronald L. Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Craving is a major motivator underlying drug use and relapse but the neural correlates of cannabis craving are not well understood. This study sought to determine whether visual cannabis cues increase cannabis craving and whether cue-induced craving is associated with regional brain activation in cannabis-dependent individuals. Cannabis craving was assessed in 16 cannabis-dependent adult volunteers while they viewed cannabis cues during a functional MRI (fMRI) scan. The Marijuana Craving Questionnaire was administered immediately before and after each of three cannabis cue-exposure fMRI runs. FMRI blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) signal intensity was determined in regions activated by cannabis cues to examine the relationship of regional brain activation to cannabis craving. Craving scores increased significantly following exposure to visual cannabis cues. Visual cues activated multiple brain regions, including inferior orbital frontal cortex, posterior cingulate gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus, hippocampus, amygdala, superior temporal pole, and occipital cortex. Craving scores at baseline and at the end of all three runs were significantly correlated with brain activation during the first fMRI run only, in the limbic system (including amygdala and hippocampus) and paralimbic system (superior temporal pole), and visual regions (occipital cortex). Cannabis cues increased craving in cannabis-dependent individuals and this increase was associated with activation in the limbic, paralimbic, and visual systems during the first fMRI run, but not subsequent fMRI runs. These results suggest that these regions may mediate visually cued aspects of drug craving. This study provides preliminary evidence for the neural basis of cue-induced cannabis craving and suggests possible neural targets for interventions targeted at treating cannabis dependence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-131
Number of pages10
JournalPsychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 30 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Addiction
  • Drug abuse
  • Functional MRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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