The research lab at the Center for BrainHealth® led by Dr. Francesca M. Filbey, the Bert Moore Chair in BrainHealth, Professor in Cognition and Neuroscience and Associate Provost at UT Dallas, has recently secured $225,000 in funding to study motor learning deficits in cannabis users. The R21 exploratory/developmental research grant was awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Emerging evidence suggests that cannabis use has detrimental effects on a person’s ability to perform coordinated movements, resulting in impaired motor control. Because performance of coordinated movements hinges on the ability to learn motor skills, this study seeks to understand how cannabis use may impact motor learning and determine how this is related to basic functions like memory and motor performance.

“Motor learning is critical for daily functioning; thus, determining the mechanisms that underlie deficits in motor learning and performance as a result of cannabis use can advance our undertstanding of addiction, inform rehabilitative strategies, and guide changes in policy regarding cannabis use in relation to motor performance,” said Dr. Shikha Prashad, the study’s lead researcher. “This research may have broad implications in addiction and motor neuroscience, and also in public health and safety.”

This study will also disentangle the effects of acute, prolonged, and long-term cannabis use on motor learning by including current abstinent and non-abstinent users, as well as former users. This addition will fill another gap in the current literature.

Dr. Filbey’s lab has been conducting innovative studies in the role of the dopaminergic reward system in addiction, with a focus on cannabis use, for more than 15 years. She has received continued NIH funding for studies to determine the neurobiological underpinnings of the behavioral symptoms of addiction. Her seminal work in cue-elicited craving provided the first evidence of the neural mechanisms that underlie craving for cannabis. The cue exposure paradigm developed from her lab has been used worldwide, including as a tool to discover biological markers of response to treatment.