Effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on evaluation of emotional images

J Psychopharmacol. 2012 Oct;26(10):1289-98. doi: 10.1177/0269881112446530. Epub 2012 May 13.


There is growing evidence that drugs of abuse alter processing of emotional information in ways that could be attractive to users. Our recent report that Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) diminishes amygdalar activation in response to threat-related faces suggests that THC may modify evaluation of emotionally-salient, particularly negative or threatening, stimuli. In this study, we examined the effects of acute THC on evaluation of emotional images. Healthy volunteers received two doses of THC (7.5 and 15 mg; p.o.) and placebo across separate sessions before performing tasks assessing facial emotion recognition and emotional responses to pictures of emotional scenes. THC significantly impaired recognition of facial fear and anger, but it only marginally impaired recognition of sadness and happiness. The drug did not consistently affect ratings of emotional scenes. THC's effects on emotional evaluation were not clearly related to its mood-altering effects. These results support our previous work, and show that THC reduces perception of facial threat. Nevertheless, THC does not appear to positively bias evaluation of emotional stimuli in general.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / chemically induced
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / toxicity*
  • Chicago
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Dronabinol / administration & dosage
  • Dronabinol / toxicity*
  • Drug Users
  • Expressed Emotion / drug effects*
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens / administration & dosage
  • Hallucinogens / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / agonists
  • Recognition, Psychology / drug effects*
  • Reinforcement, Social
  • Young Adult


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Hallucinogens
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Dronabinol