Human Drug Discrimination: Elucidating the Neuropharmacology of Commonly Abused Illicit Drugs

B. Levi Bolin, Joseph L. Alcorn, Anna R. Reynolds, Joshua A. Lile, William W. Stoops, Craig R. Rush

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Drug-discrimination procedures empirically evaluate the control that internal drug states have over behavior. They provide a highly selective method to investigate the neuropharmacological underpinnings of the interoceptive effects of drugs in vivo. As a result, drug discrimination has been one of the most widely used assays in the field of behavioral pharmacology. Drug-discrimination procedures have been adapted for use with humans and are conceptually similar to preclinical drug-discrimination techniques in that a behavior is differentially reinforced contingent on the presence or absence of a specific interoceptive drug stimulus. This chapter provides a basic overview of human drug-discrimination procedures and reviews the extant literature concerning the use of these procedures to elucidate the underlying neuropharmacological mechanisms of commonly abused illicit drugs (i.e., stimulants, opioids, and cannabis) in humans. This chapter is not intended to review every available study that used drug-discrimination procedures in humans. Instead, when possible, exemplary studies that used a stimulant, opioid, or Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis) to assess the discriminative-stimulus effects of drugs in humans are reviewed for illustrative purposes. We conclude by commenting on the current state and future of human drug-discrimination research.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCurrent Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences
Number of pages35
StatePublished - 2018

Publication series

NameCurrent Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences
ISSN (Print)1866-3370
ISSN (Electronic)1866-3389

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer International Publishing Switzerland.


  • Abuse potential
  • Amphetamines
  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Drug discrimination
  • Humans
  • Medications development
  • Neuropharmacology
  • Opioids
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Subject-rated effects
  • Substance abuse
  • THC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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