Attentional bias towards cannabis cues in cannabis users: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2020 Jan 1:206:107719. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2019.107719. Epub 2019 Nov 4.


Introduction: Attentional bias, the automatic selective attentional orientation towards drug-related stimuli is well demonstrated in substance users. However, attentional bias studies of cannabis users specifically have thus far been inconclusive. Thus, the aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to synthesize the currently available literature regarding cannabis related attentional bias in cannabis users.

Methods: Literature search and selection was carried out, following the PRISMA guidelines, with all included studies investigating the relationship between cannabis use and attentional bias towards cannabis cues.

Results: Fourteen manuscripts, reporting on 1271 participants (cannabis users n = 1044; controls n = 217), were considered for the systematic-review and majority were included in a meta-analysis. Studies reviewed used three types of attentional bias tasks: pictorial stimuli, word stimuli, and non-cannabis stimuli tasks. Greater attentional bias towards cannabis pictures (d = 0.42, P < 0.0001) and words (d = 0.63, P = 0.03) as well as both types of stimuli overall (d = 0.53, P < 0.0001) was observed in cannabis users compared to controls, though there was evidence of significant heterogeneity for both word stimuli and overall meta-analysis. Bigger effect sizes were associated with shorter durations of exposure to cannabis stimuli suggesting mainly automatic orientating rather than controlled attention processing.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that cannabis users display greater attentional bias towards cannabis cues, likely an automatic process, than control groups. Future studies employing shorter exposure durations may validate attentional bias as a treatment target for the development of interventions in people with cannabis use disorder.

Keywords: Attentional bias; Attentional processing; Cannabis; Cannabis cues; Cannabis use disorder.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attentional Bias / drug effects*
  • Cannabis / adverse effects*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / psychology*
  • Marijuana Use / psychology*