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Anhedonia, apathy, pleasure, and effort-based decision-making in adult and adolescent cannabis users and controls

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Martine Skumlien, Tom Freeman, H. Valerie Curran, Barbara Sahakian, Anna Borissova, Claire Mokrysz, Will Lawn

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Cannabis use may be linked with anhedonia and apathy. However, previous studies have shown mixed results, and few have examined the association between cannabis use and specific reward sub-processes. Adolescents may be more vulnerable than adults to harmful effects of cannabis. This study investigated (1) the association between non-acute cannabis use and apathy, anhedonia, pleasure, and effort-based decision-making for reward; and (2) whether these relationships were moderated by age group.

We used data from the “CannTeen” study. Participants were 274 adult (26–29 years) and adolescent (16–17 years) cannabis users (1–7 d/wk use in the past 3 months) and gender- and age-matched controls. Anhedonia was measured with the Snaith-Hamilton Pleasure Scale (n = 274), and apathy was measured with the Apathy Evaluation Scale (n = 215). Effort-based decision-making for reward was measured with the Physical Effort task (n = 139), and subjective wanting and liking of rewards was measured with the novel Real Reward Pleasure task (n = 137).

Controls had higher levels of anhedonia than cannabis users (F1,258 = 5.35, P = .02, η p2 = .02). There were no other significant effects of user-group and no significant user-group*age-group interactions. Null findings were supported by post hoc Bayesian analyses.

Our results suggest that cannabis use at a frequency of 3 to 4 d/wk is not associated with apathy, effort-based decision-making for reward, reward wanting, or reward liking in adults or adolescents. Cannabis users had lower anhedonia than controls, albeit at a small effect size. These findings are not consistent with the hypothesis that non-acute cannabis use is associated with amotivation.

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