Altered Neural Processing to Social Exclusion in Young Adult Marijuana Users

  • Jodi M. Gilman
    Address correspondence to: Jodi M. Gilman, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, 60 Staniford St, Boston MA 02114.
    Center for Addiction Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

    Athinoula A. Martinos Center in Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown

    Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Max T. Curran
    Center for Addiction Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
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  • Vanessa Calderon
    Center for Addiction Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
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  • Randi M. Schuster
    Center for Addiction Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

    Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • A. Eden Evins
    Center for Addiction Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

    Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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Published:November 17, 2015DOI:



      Previous studies have reported that peer groups are one of the most important predictors of adolescent and young adult marijuana use, and yet the neural correlates of social processing in marijuana users have not been studied.


      In the current study, marijuana-using young adults (n = 20) and nonusing control subjects (n = 22) participated in a neuroimaging social exclusion task called Cyberball, a computerized ball-tossing game in which the participant is excluded from the game after a predetermined number of ball tosses.


      Control subjects, but not marijuana users, demonstrated significant activation in the insula, a region associated with negative emotion, when being excluded from the game. Both groups demonstrated activation of the ventral anterior cingulate cortex, a region associated with affective monitoring, during peer exclusion. Only the marijuana group showed a correlation between ventral anterior cingulate cortex activation and scores on a self-report measure of peer conformity.


      This study indicates that marijuana users show atypical neural processing of social exclusion. This differential activation may have preexisted and may have contributed to the onset of marijuana use, and/or it may have developed as a result of marijuana exposure.


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