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PLoS One. 2013 May 15;8(5):e61470. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061470. Print 2013.

Neural effects of positive and negative incentives during marijuana withdrawal.

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Center for Brain Health, School of Behavioral and Brain Science, University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, Texas, United States of America.


In spite of evidence suggesting two possible mechanisms related to drug-seeking behavior, namely reward-seeking and harm avoidance, much of the addiction literature has focused largely on positive incentivization mechanisms associated with addiction. In this study, we examined the contributing neural mechanisms of avoidance of an aversive state to drug-seeking behavior during marijuana withdrawal. To that end, marijuana users were scanned while performing the monetary incentive delay task in order to assess positive and negative incentive processes. The results showed a group x incentive interaction, such that marijuana users had greater response in areas that underlie reward processes during positive incentives while controls showed greater response in the same areas, but to negative incentives. Furthermore, a negative correlation between withdrawal symptoms and response in the amygdala during negative incentives was found in the marijuana users. These findings suggest that although marijuana users have greater reward sensitivity and less harm avoidance than controls, that attenuated amygdala response, an area that underlies fear and avoidance, was present in marijuana users with greater marijuana withdrawal symptoms. This is concordant with models of drug addiction that involve multiple sources of reinforcement in substance use disorders, and suggests the importance of strategies that focus on respective mechanisms.

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