The acute and non-acute effects of cannabis on reward processing: A systematic review

Martine Skumlien, Christelle Langley, Will Lawn, Valerie Voon, H Valerie Curran, Jonathan P Roiser, Barbara J Sahakian

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Citations (SciVal)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Cannabis use has historically been thought to cause amotivation, but the relationship between cannabis and apathy, anhedonia, and reward processing remains poorly characterised. In this systematic review, we evaluated whether cannabis exposure acutely and/or non-acutely was associated with altered reward processing using questionnaire, behavioural, or functional neuroimaging measures. Questionnaire studies demonstrated greater anhedonia in adolescent cannabis users, and some indication of greater apathy in young adult cannabis users. Behavioural studies yielded some evidence of reduced reward learning in adolescent cannabis users, though there were too few studies in this category for reliable conclusions. Finally, longitudinal and acute functional neuroimaging studies showed an association between cannabis and blunted neural responses to reward, which did not emerge consistently in cross-sectional studies. The current results suggest that cannabis use is associated with specific impairments in reward and motivation. Future large-scale, longitudinal studies which use multiple behavioural and neuroimaging measures of reward processing may further clarify the impact of cannabis use on motivational and reward processes, and neural networks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512-528
Number of pages17
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Early online date9 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

MS is funded by an Aker Scholarship from the Aker Foundation. BJS receives funding from the Wallitt Foundation, Eton College, and a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award 200181/Z//15/Z, CL is funded by a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award 00181/Z//15/Z, and their research is conducted within the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (Mental Health Theme and Neurodegeneration Theme) and the NIHR Brain Injury MedTech and in vitro diagnostics Co-operative (MIC), Cambridge. JPR is funded by the Wellcome Trust (101798/Z/13/Z). HVC is supported by grants from the UK MRC (MR/P012728/1) UK Department of Health, and by the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre.


  • Adolescent
  • Anhedonia
  • Cannabis
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Reward
  • Young Adult


Dive into the research topics of 'The acute and non-acute effects of cannabis on reward processing: A systematic review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this