Nonacute Effects of Cannabis Use on Motivation and Reward Sensitivity in Humans: A Systematic Review

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Reduced motivation is often noted as a consequence of cannabis use. However, prior studies examining this association have suboptimally operationalized motivation and have yielded mixed findings. This review discusses motivation and the closely related construct of reward sensitivity. We summarize the available literature examining associations between motivation and cannabis use, addressing the following questions: (a) Is there evidence for decreased motivation among cannabis users? (b) Is there evidence that lack of motivation among cannabis users is specific to their use of cannabis (rather than to use of other addictive drugs)? and (c) Is there evidence suggesting a causal relationship between cannabis use and motivation? Using PubMed, PsycINFO, and WebofScience, we conducted a literature search of studies examining nonacute effects of cannabis use on motivation, apathy, amotivation, effort, and reward sensitivity in humans. This search yielded 22 studies, which were reviewed in detail. We conclude that, although cross-sectional evidence of a cannabis-specific effect on motivation is equivocal, there is partial support from longitudinal studies for a causal link between cannabis use and reduced motivation. Additionally, we propose that reward sensitivity and motivation represent distinct yet related constructs and that reductions in one may not always lead to reductions in the other. Future work should longitudinally examine associations between cannabis use, motivation, and reward sensitivity; carefully define and operationalize these constructs; and control for the influence of potential confounding factors.

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