Ongoing Research Projects
Choices: Decision-Making and Episodic Memory in Trajectories to Cannabis Addiction
R01 DA031176 4/15/2012 – 3/31/2018
More people in the United States are addicted to cannabis than to any other illicit drug, and prevalence of its use is rising, accompanied by a decline in the disapproval of its use and its perceived harm among adolescents. Important maturational changes in prefrontal cortex during adolescence may make youth more vulnerable than adults to adverse effects from cannabis. Indeed, research shows impairments in memory performance and decision-making abilities of heavy cannabis users, most of whom initiate use during adolescence. However, little is known about how decision-making and memory are affected across the trajectory from initial experimentation to development of cannabis addiction. Furthermore, there is controversy in the scientific literature on whether the impairments in decision-making observed among heavy cannabis users are due to the harmful effects of cannabis on brain functioning, or whether they may be an antecedent risk factor for the development of cannabis addiction. The principal goals of this study are to determine whether: a) decision-making is an antecedent risk factor for cannabis addiction; and b) what changes occur in decision-making and episodic memory along different cannabis use trajectories. Participants are 400 youth ages 14 to 16 at baseline, with varying exposure to cannabis. Over two years, their performance is assessed on measures of decision-making and episodic memory every 12 months and on their substance use and symptoms of cannabis addiction every 6 months. Understanding more about the links between neuropsychological functions and cannabis addiction will help clarify theoretical models pertaining to their temporal association. Clinically, knowing more about neuropsychological predictors and sequelae of addiction will help us to develop more targeted and tailored interventions and prevention programs. Importantly, our findings will clarify whether decision-making is an antecedent risk factor for cannabis use and addiction, a consequence of use, or both.