An ongoing study of 900 teens found that those who smoked cannabis during the teen years had thinner cortexes in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These findings, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, suggest that early cannabis use is an early indicator for possible problems with cognition in adulthood.
A new study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has found that adolescents who use cannabis regularly show significant thinning of their cerebral cortex. The study found that the thinning was related to a greater risk of attention deficits, hyperactivity, and inattention. The study also found that there was evidence for a relationship between cortical thinning and low educational achievement.
In a new study, a team of international scientists examined whether cannabis use in adolescents affects the thickness of their cerebral cortex. Very few studies have examined the relationship between cannabis use during adolescence and its effects on neurodevelopment. While studies in animal models suggest that early cannabis use leads to neurological changes and long-term behavioral effects, studies in humans have produced conflicting results. As reported today in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers have shown that cannabis use in adolescence may be associated with neurodevelopmental changes, particularly the thinning of cortical areas rich in the cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1). In this study, researchers used longitudinal neuroimaging and behavioral data (self-reported) from the IMAGEN dataset and examined 2,223 schoolchildren from 8 different European regions aged approximately 14 years. In this cohort, the authors identified 799 participants (450 women and 349 men) who had not used cannabis at baseline, around the age of 14. They were followed for five years to determine how their cannabis use changed during adolescence using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from their brains. Controlling for factors such as age, gender, alcohol consumption and lifetime cannabis use, brain imaging data showed that cannabis had a dose-dependent effect on age-related cortical thinning of certain brain regions in adolescents who used it regularly for five years. According to the MRI data, those who used more cannabis during this period showed greater cortical thinning in these areas. The researchers note that cortical thickness at baseline was not related to cannabis use throughout the life course, suggesting that the observed thinning was not due to pre-existing differences in the anatomical structure of the brain, but rather was the result of cannabis use at this developmental stage during adolescence. In addition, the authors found that the areas where cortical thinning was observed were also rich in CB1 receptors, one of the receptors that are part of the endocannabinoid system and to which THC and CBD, two major components of cannabis, can bind. It should be noted that this study contains some caveats. Although this is one of the largest longitudinal brain imaging studies of adolescent cannabis users to date, the results still rely on self-reported data to determine things like the amount of substance used. The researchers also had no information on the type and quality of cannabis used, making it difficult to generalize their findings. It should also be noted that due to ethical restrictions related to positron emission tomography (PET) in minors, the authors were unable to perform PET scans in participants and had to use another data set to quantify CB1 receptor levels in cortical regions of interest and correlate them with dilution regions in 799 adolescent participants. Therefore, they cannot say with certainty that the areas where cortical thinning was observed in the study participants were rich in CB1 receptors, only that these areas were generally rich in CB1 receptors. However, further brain imaging studies are needed to determine what effects cannabis use at an early age may have on the developing human brain and how thinning cortical areas may lead to behavioral changes later in life. We report evidence of an association between cannabis use during adolescence and changes in cortical thickness development in a longitudinal sample of young adults, the authors write in their report. The results underline the importance of continued longitudinal research on adolescent cannabis use, particularly in light of the growing trend towards legalized recreational cannabis use.
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