Cannabinoids, reward processing, and psychosis

Brandon Gunasekera, Kelly Diederen, Sagnik Bhattacharyya*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Evidence suggests that an overlap exists between the neurobiology of psychotic disorders and the effects of cannabinoids on neurocognitive and neurochemical substrates involved in reward processing. Aims: We investigate whether the psychotomimetic effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the antipsychotic potential of cannabidiol (CBD) are underpinned by their effects on the reward system and dopamine. Methods: This narrative review focuses on the overlap between altered dopamine signalling and reward processing induced by cannabinoids, pre-clinically and in humans. A systematic search was conducted of acute cannabinoid drug-challenge studies using neuroimaging in healthy subjects and those with psychosis Results: There is evidence of increased striatal presynaptic dopamine synthesis and release in psychosis, as well as abnormal engagement of the striatum during reward processing. Although, acute THC challenges have elicited a modest effect on striatal dopamine, cannabis users generally indicate impaired presynaptic dopaminergic function. Functional MRI studies have identified that a single dose of THC may modulate regions involved in reward and salience processing such as the striatum, midbrain, insular, and anterior cingulate, with some effects correlating with the severity of THC-induced psychotic symptoms. CBD may modulate brain regions involved in reward/salience processing in an opposite direction to that of THC. Conclusions: There is evidence to suggest modulation of reward processing and its neural substrates by THC and CBD. Whether such effects underlie the psychotomimetic/antipsychotic effects of these cannabinoids remains unclear. Future research should address these unanswered questions to understand the relationship between endocannabinoid dysfunction, reward processing abnormalities, and psychosis.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date1 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Aberrant salience
  • Cannabidiol
  • Cannabis
  • CBD
  • Dopamine
  • fMRI
  • PET
  • Psychosis
  • Reward processing
  • Schizophrenia
  • THC


Dive into the research topics of 'Cannabinoids, reward processing, and psychosis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this