Differential associations of adolescent versus young adult cannabis initiation with longitudinal brain change and behavior

Molecular psychiatry

Mol Psychiatry. 2023 Jun 28. doi: 10.1038/s41380-023-02148-2. Online ahead of print.


Leveraging ~10 years of prospective longitudinal data on 704 participants, we examined the effects of adolescent versus young adult cannabis initiation on MRI-assessed cortical thickness development and behavior. Data were obtained from the IMAGEN study conducted across eight European sites. We identified IMAGEN participants who reported being cannabis-naïve at baseline and had data available at baseline, 5-year, and 9-year follow-up visits. Cannabis use was assessed with the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs. T1-weighted MR images were processed through the CIVET pipeline. Cannabis initiation occurring during adolescence (14-19 years) and young adulthood (19-22 years) was associated with differing patterns of longitudinal cortical thickness change. Associations between adolescent cannabis initiation and cortical thickness change were observed primarily in dorso- and ventrolateral portions of the prefrontal cortex. In contrast, cannabis initiation occurring between 19 and 22 years of age was associated with thickness change in temporal and cortical midline areas. Follow-up analysis revealed that longitudinal brain change related to adolescent initiation persisted into young adulthood and partially mediated the association between adolescent cannabis use and past-month cocaine, ecstasy, and cannabis use at age 22. Extent of cannabis initiation during young adulthood (from 19 to 22 years) had an indirect effect on psychotic symptoms at age 22 through thickness change in temporal areas. Results suggest that developmental timing of cannabis exposure may have a marked effect on neuroanatomical correlates of cannabis use as well as associated behavioral sequelae. Critically, this work provides a foundation for neurodevelopmentally informed models of cannabis exposure in humans.

PMID:37369720 | DOI:10.1038/s41380-023-02148-2