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Iterative Effects of Episodic Future Thinking Framing on Delay Discounting and Cannabis Use

Funding Source

National Institute on Drug Abuse – Center for Technology and Behavioral Health Pilot Core

Project Period

January 2020 - January 2021

Principal Investigator

Michael J. Sofis, PhD

Other Project Staff

Alan J. Budney, PhD (Mentor); Nicholas Jacobson, PhD (Statistics Consultant); Chelsea K. Pike (Undergraduate Research Assistant)

Project Summary

There is considerable need for more effective and accessible interventions to reduce cannabis use. The long-term goal of this program of research is to develop a brief and remotely administered intervention, episodic future thinking (EFT), that can reduce or prevent cannabis use as a standalone or adjunctive treatment. This research line aims to reduce cannabis use by targeting improvements in the ability of cannabis users to value future rewards (Delay discounting; DD). This programmatic research is the first to examine EFT in cannabis users and moves beyond incremental findings in several notable ways. First, our paradigm remotely delivers a brief EFT intervention online without the need for a live experimenter or clinician. This format promotes the accessibility and availability of the intervention and reduces costs. Second, the proposed project will develop and test the usability, feasibility, and initial efficacy of repeated, weekly administrations of EFT training that we believe will be necessary to engender enduring reductions in cannabis use. Third, the proposed paradigm is tailored to directly enhance episodic memory and excessive devaluation of delayed rewards; two common deficits in frequent cannabis and other substance users. Fourth, we believe that the current EFT paradigm will be relevant for reducing other problematic health behaviors, including other forms of substance use and misuse.

Our initial findings suggest that EFT may modulate DD rates in cannabis users and recent studies have shown that EFT may reduce other substance use. We believe that these findings enhance the likelihood that our paradigm will result in meaningful treatment effects given similarities between characteristics of cannabis use disorder (CUD) and other substance use disorders (SUD). Further, we have added multiple intervention components not previously used in traditional EFT paradigms to promote enhanced episodic memory and future valuation processes, which may contribute to promising initial findings related to reducing cannabis use. Lastly, the brief and accessible nature of this paradigm will be easy to add to existing treatments in future research targeting the prevention or reduction in cannabis use. As such, initial findings of this proposal are likely to provide data that directly support a competitive NIH grant submission (e.g., R21/R33) that will further enhance the long-term influence of this research.