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 (KARE). Subsequently, I co-ordinated a 4-year MRC-funded project which examined whether adolescence represents a vulnerable period for cannabis-related harms (CannTeen). Then I moved to KCL to work with Prof Sir John Strang on a project about the use of wearable devices to detect opioid overdose.

Current work

I now work as a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at KCL. I run the Addictions 3rd year module as well as continuing my active research interests.

Areas of particular interest

My main research areas: adolescent cannabis addiction, the use of wearable devices to detect opioid overdose, the relationships between reward processing and addictive drug use, and the use of ketamine in the treatment of 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.