Dr Will Lawn


I studied Natural Sciences (Experimental Psychology) at the University of Cambridge and then completed a PhD at University College London, supervised by Professor Val Curran and Professor Celia Morgan. My PhD examined drug and non-drug reward processing alterations in nicotine and cannabis dependence. I then worked as a post-doctoral research associate on a clinical trial investigating ketamine as a treatment for alcohol dependence.

Current work

I currently work as a post-doctoral research associate at University College London, in the Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit. I am working on an MRC-funded project which is investigating whether adolescence represents a vulnerable period for cannabis-related harms.

Areas of particular interest

I have a general interest in all things related to addiction and recreational drugs. However, I am particularly interested in whether reward processing deficits in addiction are real and if they contribute to the onset and maintenance of addiction – specifically in cannabis dependence. I’m also interested in the application of drugs such as ketamine and psilocybin in the treatment of addiction.

Future work

I would like to continue working in this field, ideally investigating the psychological consequences of long-term cannabis use or the application of new drugs to treat addiction.

cannTEEN: a longitudinal, MRI study investigating how cannabis differentially affects teenagers and adults

Presentation link: cannTEEN: a longitudinal, MRI study investigating how cannabis differentially affects teenagers and adults

Adolescence is a period in which the brain and mind continue to develop, and it is thought that the harms associated with cannabis may be greater during adolescence than in later years. Despite these concerns, studies directly comparing teenage and adult cannabis users are scarce.

I will describe a new longitudinal, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study of four groups, made up of teenagers (16-17 years) and adults (26-29 years) who do and don’t smoke cannabis (aim total n=272). The study is currently in progress (current n=183, March 2019). Participants attend five behavioural sessions over one year (one session every three months), when we measure cannabis addiction, mental health, cognitive functions and endo- and exogenous cannabinoid levels. A subsection of participants (n=140) attend an MRI session at the start and end of the year, when we record blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response associated with reward anticipation, working memory and response inhibition, alongside brain structure and white matter integrity.

The overall aim of the project is to determine whether teenage cannabis users show more adverse changes than adult cannabis users (in comparison to their non-using control groups) in mental health, cognitive and neural domains over one year.

By autumn 2019 we will have collected our baseline data for the whole sample. I will report initial, cross-sectional differences between our four groups on cannabis addiction, psychotic-like symptoms, and BOLD response associated with reward anticipation and response inhibition.

This research is funded by the Medical Research Council.



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