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Cannabidiol attenuates insular activity during motivational salience processing in patients with early psychosis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2022

Brandon Gunasekera
Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, UK
Robin Wilson
Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, UK
Aisling O'Neill
Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, UK
Grace Blest-Hopley
Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, UK
Owen O'Daly
Department of Neuroimaging, Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences, King's College London, UK
Sagnik Bhattacharyya*
Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, UK
Author for correspondence: Sagnik Bhattacharyya, E-mail:



The mechanisms underlying the antipsychotic potential of cannabidiol (CBD) remain unclear but growing evidence indicates that dysfunction in the insula, a key brain region involved in the processing of motivationally salient stimuli, may have a role in the pathophysiology of psychosis. Here, we investigate whether the antipsychotic mechanisms of CBD are underpinned by their effects on insular activation, known to be involved in salience processing.


A within-subject, crossover, double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of 19 healthy controls and 15 participants with early psychosis was conducted. Administration of a single dose of CBD was compared with placebo in psychosis participants while performing the monetary incentive delay task, an fMRI paradigm. Anticipation of reward and loss were used to contrast motivationally salient stimuli against a neutral control condition.


No group differences in brain activation between psychosis patients compared with healthy controls were observed. Attenuation of insula activation was observed following CBD, compared to placebo. Sensitivity analyses controlling for current cannabis use history did not affect the main results.


Our findings are in accordance with existing evidence suggesting that CBD modulates brain regions involved in salience processing. Whether such effects underlie the putative antipsychotic effects of CBD remains to be investigated.

Original Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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