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Longitudinal study indicates that cannabis use during adolescence is linked to altered neurodevelopment

Cannabis use during adolescence is associated with altered brain development, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry. The new research represents the largest longitudinal neuroimaging study of cannabis use to date.

Although some studies have found evidence that adolescents who use cannabis tend to have reduced cortical thickness in frontal brain regions, the cross-sectional nature of past research has left it unclear whether these differences in brain structure are a consequence of the drug itself.

“Despite increasing trends in cannabis legalization, there have been surprisingly few longitudinal imaging studies on this topic. Most imaging studies of cannabis use have been relatively small in sample size and cross-sectional in nature,” said study author Matthew D. Albaugh, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont.

To overcome these limitations, Albaugh and his colleagues analyzed magnetic resonance imaging data from 799 participants in the IMAGEN (Imaging Genetics for Mental Disorders) study, which has followed European adolescents from the age of 14 onwards. The participants underwent brain scans at the start of the study and during a 5-year follow-up.

The researchers found that adolescents who reported moderate-to-heavy cannabis use tended to have reduced thickness in left and right prefrontal cortices, an area of the brain involved in planning, decision making, working memory and learning. There was a dose-dependent relationship between cannabis use and cortical thickness. That is, those that used more cannabis had more cortical thinning in these brain regions. This relationship held even after accounting for preexisting differences in brain structure. [Read More @ PsyPost]

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