ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Brown Explores the Interrelationships between Marijuana Demand and Discounting of Delayed Rewards

The likelihood to initiate and maintain substance use, including the use of marijuana, has been linked with impulsivity; those who are more impulsive are more likely to initiate use. Elevated impulsivity is characterized by poor decision making and diminished ability to foresee and evaluate negative consequences. Delay discounting and substance demand are two precise behavioral constructs that may reflect key components of impulsivity. Delay discounting is characterized by deficits in self-regulation and the preference for the immediate acquisition or consumption of a commodity despite long-term negative outcomes. Substance demand is characterized by perceived drug value. The distinct and dual influences of delay discounting and substance value contribute to a conceptualization of addiction known as reinforcer pathology.


[Photo: Dr. Elizabeth Aston]

The purpose of this study, led by Dr. Elizabeth Aston, assistant professor of behavior and social sciences and faculty member in the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, was to test whether frequent marijuana users conform to a reinforcer pathology model of addiction by examining the joint influence of marijuana demand and delay discounting. Participants (n = 88) were frequent marijuana users such that they used at least two days per week in the past month and at least weekly in the past six months. The researchers found that, when controlling for household income, tobacco use, age, and sex, delay discounting, but not substance demand, predicted cannabis dependence. Conversely, substance demand, but not delay discounting, predicted marijuana use frequency.

Though the results of this study indicate that substance demand and delay discounting do not exhibit a synergistic relationship with respect to marijuana use, pharmacological and behavioral treatments targeted at altering these behavioral economic domains still have the propensity to improve treatment response and may reduce the risk for relapse. Pharmacological approaches may reduce demand by alleviating symptoms of withdrawal and diminishing craving, while behavioral contracts and fading procedures may be useful in impacting delay discounting behavior.

This study was published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 169, 2016.

To read more: