This article reviews neuroimaging, neurocognitive, and preclinical findings on the effects of cannabis on the adolescent brain. Marijuana is the second most widely used intoxicant in adolescence, and teens who engage in heavy marijuana use often show disadvantages in neurocognitive performance, macrostructural and microstructural brain development, and alterations in brain functioning. It remains unclear whether such disadvantages reflect pre-existing differences that lead to increased substances use and further changes in brain architecture and behavioral outcomes. Future work should focus on prospective investigations to help disentangle dose-dependent effects from pre-existing effects, and to better understand the interactive relationships with other commonly abused substances (e.g., alcohol) to better understand the role of regular cannabis use on neurodevelopmental trajectories.
The aims of this study were to investigate the consequences of prolonged patterns of alcohol and marijuana use on white matter integrity and neurocognitive functioning in late adolescence, and examine neurodevelopmental trajectories over three years of regular follow-up visits. Three groups of demographically similar teens received assessments every 1.5 years (controls with consistently minimal substance use, n = 16; teens who gradually increase their heavy episodic drinking n = 17, and continuous binge drinkers with heavy marijuana use, n = 21), including comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations, diffusion tensor imaging, and detailed substance use interviews. One-way ANOVA identified fifteen white matter clusters that significantly differed between groups at 3-year follow-up, ages 19–22; controls consistently demonstrated higher values of tissue integrity across fiber tracts. Repeated measures ANOVA revealed significant declines in white matter integrity from baseline to 3-year follow-up in the subsample of substance users, along with poorer global neurocognitive performance in alcohol users with heavy marijuana use by the 18-month follow-up. Findings suggest healthier brain white matter microstructure and better neurocognitive performance for teens free from heavy alcohol and marijuana use. Long-term engagement in these substances may adversely influence white matter and increase vulnerability for development of neuropathology purported to underlie future risk-taking and addictive behaviors.
Adolescence; Alcohol; Diffusion Tensor Imaging; Cannabis; Brain; Cognition
Significant cortical thinning and neural resource allocation changes emerge during adolescence; however, little is known of how morphometric changes influence neural response to cognitive demands. This study used a novel multimodal imaging registration technique to examine the relationship between brain structure and function during adolescence.
156 healthy 12–14 year-olds (44% female) participants underwent structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging. Cortical surface reconstruction was performed via FreeSurfer, and neural activation was measured from a blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) contrast during visual working memory (VWM) via AFNI. AFNI Surface Mapper aligned segmented volumetric and functional datasets to a common template space. Hierarchical linear regressions determined the effect of cortical thickness on VWM BOLD contrast in brain regions that activated during the VWM task, controlling for age, pubertal development, gender, IQ, and intracranial volume.
Power analyses suggest this study was able to detect small effect sizes. However, in no region was cortical thickness related to BOLD activation (ps > .01; R2Δ < .02). Gender did not moderate effects.
Cortical thickness, although variable across individuals, was not related to BOLD response, suggesting that structural and functional maturation do not have the same developmental trajectory during early adolescence. These findings are important, as imaging studies that report group differences in regards to cortical thickness should not necessarily assume co-occurring behavioral or functional changes. The methodology used in this study could be of interest to other developmental neuroimaging researchers using multimodal imaging to understand adolescent brain development.
adolescence; cortical thickness; brain activation; BOLD response; normal development; visual working memory
Adolescence is characterized by significant neuromaturation, including extensive cortical thinning, particularly in frontal regions. The goal of this study was to examine the behavioral correlates of neurostructural development in early adolescence. Participants were 185 healthy 12- to 14-year-olds (44% female) recruited from local schools. Participants completed a comprehensive neuropsychological test battery and magnetic resonance imaging session. Cortical surface reconstruction and thickness estimates were performed via FreeSurfer. Age and cortical thickness were negatively correlated in 10 brain regions, 7 of which were in frontal areas (β = −.15 to −.25, ps ≤.05). Hierarchical linear regressions examined the influence of cortical thickness on working memory, attention, verbal learning and memory, visuospatial functioning, spatial planning and problem solving, and inhibition, controlling for age and intracranial volume. Thinner parietal cortices predicted better performances on tests of verbal learning and memory, visuospatial functioning, and spatial planning and problem solving (β = −.14 to −.24, ps ≤.05). Age, spanning from 12 to 14 years, accounted for up to 6% of cortical thickness, suggesting substantial thinning during early adolescence, with males showing more accelerated thinning than females between ages 12 and 14. For both males and females, thinner parietal association cortices corresponded with better neurocognitive functioning above and beyond age alone.
Adolescence; Cortical thickness; FreeSurfer; Neurocognitive testing; Neuropsychology; Normal development
White matter development is important for efficient communication between brain regions, higher order cognitive functioning, and complex behaviors. Adolescents have a higher propensity for engaging in risky behaviors, yet few studies have explored associations between white matter integrity and risk taking directly. Altered white matter integrity in mid-adolescence was hypothesized to predict subsequent risk taking behaviors 1.5 years later. Adolescent substance users (predominantly alcohol and marijuana, n=47) and demographically similar non-users (n=49) received diffusion tensor imaging at baseline (ages 16–19), and risk taking measures at both baseline and an 18-month follow-up (i.e., at ages 17–20). Brain regions of interest were: fornix, superior corona radiata, superior longitudinal fasciculus, and superior fronto-occipital fasciculus. In substance using youth (n=47), lower white matter integrity at baseline in the fornix and superior corona radiata predicted follow-up substance use (ΔR2 =10–12%, ps < .01), and baseline fornix integrity predicted follow-up delinquent behaviors (ΔR2 = 10%, p < .01) 1.5 years later. Poorer fronto-limbic white matter integrity was linked to a greater propensity for future risk taking behaviors among youth who initiated heavy substance use by mid-adolescence. Most notable were relationships between projection and limbic system fibers and future substance use frequency. Subcortical white matter coherence along with an imbalance between the maturation levels in cognitive control and reward systems may disadvantage the resistance to engage in risk taking behaviors during adolescence.
DTI; risk taking; white matter; marijuana; alcohol; adolescence
The influence of repeated substance use during adolescent neurodevelopment remains unclear as there have been few prospective investigations. The aims of this study were to identify longitudinal changes in fiber tract integrity associated with alcohol and marijuana use severity over the course of 1.5 years.
Adolescents with extensive marijuana and alcohol use histories by mid-adolescence (n = 41) and youth with consistently minimal if any substance use (n = 51) were followed over 18 months. Teens received diffusion tensor imaging and detailed substance use assessments with toxicology screening at baseline and 18-month follow-ups (i.e., 182 scans in all), as well as interim substance use interviews each 6 months.
At 18-month follow-up, substance users showed poorer white matter integrity in seven tracts: (1) right superior longitudinal fasciculus, (2) left superior longitudinal fasciculus, (3) right posterior thalamic radiations, (4) right prefrontal thalamic fibers, (5) right superior temporal gyrus white matter, (6) right inferior longitudinal fasciculus, and (7) left posterior corona radiata (ps< .01). More alcohol use during the interscan interval predicted higher mean diffusivity (i.e., worsened integrity) in right (p<.05) and left (p=.06) superior longitudinal fasciculi, above and beyond baseline values in these bundles. Marijuana use during the interscan interval did not predict change over time. More externalizing behaviors at Time 1 predicted lower fractional anisotropy and higher radial diffusivity (i.e., poorer integrity) of the right prefrontal thalamic fibers (p<.025).
Findings add to previous cross sectional studies reporting white matter disadvantages in youth with substance use histories. In particular, alcohol use during adolescent neurodevelopment may be linked to reductions in white matter quality in association fiber tracts with frontal connections. In contrast, youth who engage in a variety of risk taking behaviors may have unique neurodevelopmental trajectories characterized by truncated development in fronto-thalamic tracts, which could have functional and clinical consequences in young adulthood.
Diffusion tensor imaging; Adolescence; Mean Diffusivity; Marijuana; Alcohol
This review examines neuroimaging and neurocognitive findings on alcohol-related toxicity in adolescents. Teens who meet criteria for alcohol use disorders, as well as those who engage in subdiagnostic binge drinking behaviors, often show poorer neurocognitive performance, alterations in gray and white matter brain structure, and discrepant functional brain activation patterns when compared to nonusing and demographically matched controls. Abnormalities are also observed in teens with a family history of alcoholism, and such differences in neuromaturation may leave youths at increased risk for the development of an alcohol use disorder or increased substance use severity. More prospective investigations are needed, and future work should focus on disentangling preexisting differences from dose-dependent effects of alcohol on neurodevelopment. Intervention strategies that utilize neuroimag-ing findings (e.g., identified weaknesses in particular neural substrates and behavioral correlates) may be helpful in both prevention and intervention campaigns for teens both pre- and postinitiation of alcohol use.
adolescence; alcohol; development; imaging
The effects of adolescent marijuana use on the developing brain remain unclear, despite its prevalence. Arterial spin labeling (ASL) is a noninvasive imaging technique that characterizes neurovascular status and cerebral blood flow (CBF), potentially revealing contributors to neuropathological alterations. No studies to date have looked at CBF in adolescent marijuana users.
This study examined CBF in adolescent marijuana users and matched healthy controls at baseline and after 4 weeks of monitored abstinence.
Heavy adolescent marijuana users (n=23, >200 lifetime marijuana use days) and demographically matched controls (n=23) with limited substance exposure underwent an ASL brain scan at an initial session and after 4 weeks of sequential urine toxicology to confirm abstinence.
Marijuana users showed reduced CBF in four cortical regions including the left superior and middle temporal gyri, left insula, left and right medial frontal gyrus, and left supramarginal gyrus at baseline; users showed increased CBF in the right precuneus at baseline, as compared to controls (corrected p values<0.05). No between group differences were found at follow-up.
Marijuana use may influence CBF in otherwise healthy adolescents acutely; however, group differences were not observed after several weeks of abstinence. Neurovascular alterations may contribute to or underlie changes in brain activation, neuropsychological performance, and mood observed in young cannabis users with less than a month of abstinence.
Marijuana; Adolescence; Neuroimaging; Arterial spin labeling; Cerebral blood flow
The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural substrates of mental rotation in 11 individuals with HIV infection and 13 demographically similar HIV seronegative volunteers. Individuals with HIV showed increased brain response to mental rotation in prefrontal and posterior parietal cortices, striatum, and thalamus, with significant HIV by angle interactions emerging in the prefrontal cortex and caudate. Results indicate that HIV infection is associated with altered brain response to mental rotation in fronto-striato-parietal pathways, which may reflect compensatory strategies, recruitment of additional brain regions, and/or increased neuroenergetic demands during mental rotation needed to offset underlying HIV-associated neural injury.
Human immunodeficiency virus; Mental rotation; Spatial cognition; Functional magnetic resonance imaging
Characterizing the effects of alcohol and marijuana use on adolescent brain development is important for understanding potential alterations in neurodevelopment. Several cross sectional studies have identified group differences in white matter integrity after initiation of heavy alcohol and marijuana use, however none have explored white matter trajectories in adolescents pre- and post initiation of use, particularly for marijuana users. This study followed 16 adolescents with minimal alcohol and marijuana use at ages 16–18 over three years. At follow-up, teens were 19–22 years old; half of the participants initiated heavy alcohol use and half initiated heavy alcohol and marijuana use. Repeated-measures ANOVA revealed 20 clusters in association and projection fibers tracts (p < 0.01) in which a group by time interaction was found. Most consistently, white matter integrity (i.e., fractional anisotropy) decreased for those who initiated both heavy alcohol and marijuana use over the follow-up interval. No effect of time or change in white matter integrity was seen for those who initiated alcohol use only in the majority of clusters. In most regions, at the baseline time point, teens who would later initiate both alcohol and marijuana use demonstrated white matter integrity greater than or equal to teens that initiated alcohol use only. Findings suggest poorer tissue integrity associated with combined initiation of heavy alcohol and marijuana use in late adolescence. While OPEN ACCESS pre-existing differences may also be related to likelihood of substance use, the present data suggest an effect on tissue integrity for these teens transitioning to combined alcohol and marijuana use in later adolescence.
adolescence; alcohol; marijuana; white matter; diffusion tensor imaging; cognition; development; brain
Characterizing the effects of alcohol and marijuana use on adolescent brain development is important for understanding potential alterations in neurodevelopment. Several cross sectional studies have identified group differences in white matter integrity after initiation of heavy alcohol and marijuana use, however none have explored white matter trajectories in adolescents pre- and post initiation of use, particularly for marijuana users. This study followed 16 adolescents with minimal alcohol and marijuana use at ages 16–18 over three years. At follow-up, teens were 19–22 years old; half of the participants initiated heavy alcohol use and half initiated heavy alcohol and marijuana use. Repeated-measures ANOVA revealed 20 clusters in association and projection fibers tracts (p < 0.01) in which a group by time interaction was found. Most consistently, white matter integrity (i.e., fractional anisotropy) decreased for those who initiated both heavy alcohol and marijuana use over the follow-up interval. No effect of time or change in white matter integrity was seen for those who initiated alcohol use only in the majority of clusters. In most regions, at the baseline time point, teens who would later initiate both alcohol and marijuana use demonstrated white matter integrity greater than or equal to teens that initiated alcohol use only. Findings suggest poorer tissue integrity associated with combined initiation of heavy alcohol and marijuana use in late adolescence. While pre-existing differences may also be related to likelihood of substance use, the present data suggest an effect on tissue integrity for these teens transitioning to combined alcohol and marijuana use in later adolescence.
adolescence; alcohol; marijuana; white matter; diffusion tensor imaging; cognition; development; brain
Sex-specific trajectories in white matter development during adolescence may help explain cognitive and behavioral divergences between males and females. Knowledge of sex differences in typically developing adolescents can provide a basis for interpreting sexual dimorphisms in abilities and actions.
We examined 58 healthy adolescents (12–14 years of age) with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Diffusion parameters fractional anisotropy (FA), and mean (MD), radial (RD), and axial diffusivities (AD) were subjected to whole-brain voxel-wise group comparisons using tract-based spatial statistics. Sex differences in white matter microstructure were examined in relation to pubertal development.
Early adolescent females (n=29) evidenced higher FA in the right superior corona radiata, higher FA and AD in bilateral corticospinal tracts (≥164 µl, p<.01), and lower MD in the right inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF) and left forceps major (≥164 µl, p<.01) than age-matched males (n=29). Males did not show any areas of higher FA or lower MD than females, but had higher AD in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus, ILF, and forceps minor (≥ 164 µl, p<.01). Pubertal stage did not account for sex disparities.
In early adolescence, females’ motor tracts may reflect widespread changes, while males may undergo relatively more microstructural change in projection and association fibers.
Diffusion tensor imaging; Adolescence; White matter; Sex differences; Development; Maturation
Late adolescence is comprised of considerable developmental transitions, though brain maturational changes during this period are subtle and difficult to quantitatively evaluate from standard brain imaging acquisitions. To date, primarily cross-sectional studies have characterized typical developmental changes during adolescence, but these processes need further description within a longitudinal framework.
To assess the developmental trajectory of typical white matter development, we examined 22 healthy adolescents with serial diffusion tensor images (DTI) collected at a mean age of 17.8 years and 16-months later. Diffusion parameters fractional anisotropy, and mean, radial, and axial diffusivity were subjected to whole-brain voxelwise time point comparisons using tract-based spatial statistics.
At follow-up, adolescents showed significant change (≥ 153 contiguous voxels each at p<.01) in diffusion properties, including in bilateral superior longitudinal fasciculi, superior corona radiata, anterior thalamic radiations, and posterior limb of the internal capsule. Overall, correlations with cognitive performances suggested behavioral improvement corresponding with white matter changes.
These longitudinal DTI findings support continued microstructural change in white matter during late adolescence, and suggest ongoing refinement of projection and association fibers into early adulthood.
Diffusion tensor imaging; Adolescence; White matter; Development; Maturation
Progressive myelination during adolescence implicates an increased vulnerability to neurotoxic substances and enduring neurocognitive consequences. This study examined the cognitive manifestations of altered white matter microstructure in chronic marijuana and alcohol-using (MJ+ALC) adolescents.
Thirty-six MJ+ALC adolescents (ages 16-19) and 36 demographically similar controls were evaluated with diffusion tensor imaging (Bava et al., 2009) and neurocognitive tests. Regions of group difference in fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) were analyzed in relation to cognitive performance.
In users, lower FA in temporal areas related to poorer performance on attention, working memory, and speeded processing tasks. Among regions where users had higher FA than controls, occipital FA was positively associated with working memory and complex visuomotor sequencing, whereas FA in anterior regions was negatively associated with verbal memory performance.
Findings suggest differential influences of white matter development on cognition in MJ+ALC using adolescents than in non-using peers. Neuroadaptation may reflect additive and subtractive responses to substance use that are complicated by competing maturational processes.
Marijuana; Alcohol; DTI; Adolescence; White matter; Neuropsychology; Cognition
Approximately half of those infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) exhibit cognitive impairment, which has been related to cerebral white matter damage. Despite the effectiveness of antiretroviral treatment, cognitive impairment remains common even in individuals with undetectable viral loads. One explanation for this may be subtherapeutic concentrations of some antiretrovirals in the central nervous system (CNS). We utilized diffusion tensor imaging and a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation to investigate the relationship of white matter integrity to cognitive impairment and antiretroviral treatment variables. Participants included 39 HIV-infected individuals (49% with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome [AIDS]; mean CD4=529) and 25 seronegative subjects. Diffusion tensor imaging indices were mapped onto a common whole-brain white matter tract skeleton, allowing between-subject voxelwise comparisons. The total HIV-infected group exhibited abnormal white matter in the internal capsule, inferior longitudinal fasciculus, and optic radiation; whereas those with AIDS exhibited more widespread damage, including in the internal capsule and the corpus callosum. Cognitive impairment in the HIV-infected group was related to white matter injury in the internal capsule, corpus callosum, and superior longitudinal fasciculus. White matter injury was not found to be associated with HIV viral load or estimated CNS penetration of antiretrovirals. Diffusion tensor imaging was useful in identifying changes in white matter tracts associated with more advanced HIV infection. Relationships between diffusion alterations in specific white matter tracts and cognitive impairment support the potential utility of diffusion tensor imaging in examining the anatomical underpinnings of HIV-related cognitive impairment. The study also confirms that CNS injury is evident in persons infected with HIV despite effective antiretroviral treatment.
diffusion tensor imaging; HIV dementia; neuropsychological assessment
HIV+ individuals have been shown to demonstrate deficits on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a complex measure of “decision-making.” Little remains known about what other neurocognitive processes may account for variability in IGT performance among HIV+ samples or the role of procedural learning (PL) in IGT performance. A sample of 49 HIV+ individuals with a history of substance use disorders was examined to explore the relationship between IGT performance and three measures of PL: The Rotary Pursuit, Mirror Star Tracing, and Weather Prediction tasks. We found no statistically significant relationships between IGT performance and any of the PL tasks, despite finding significant correlations among the PL tasks. This pattern of results persisted when analyzing IGT performance in various ways (e.g., performance on earlier trial blocks or impairment classifications). Although other nondeclarative processes (e.g., somatic markers) may be important for IGT performance, these findings do not support PL as an important component neurocognitive process for the IGT. Similarly, these results suggest that differences in PL performance does not account for the decision-making deficits or variability in performances observed on the IGT among HIV+ individuals with a history of substance dependence.
HIV; Substance use disorders; Nondeclarative memory; Implicit memory; Decision-making; Basal ganglia; Orbitofrontal cortex; Executive functions
White matter integrity has been found to be compromised in adult alcoholics, but it is unclear when in the course of alcohol exposure white matter abnormalities become apparent. This study assessed microstructural white matter integrity among adolescent binge drinkers with no history of an alcohol use disorder.
We used diffusion tensor imaging to examine fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure of directional coherence of white matter tracts, among teens with (n = 14) and without (n = 14) histories of binge drinking but no history of alcohol use disorder, matched on age, gender, and education.
Binge drinkers had lower FA than controls in 18 white matter areas (clusters ≥27 contiguous voxels, each with p < 0.01) throughout the brain, including the corpus callosum, superior longitudinal fasciculus, corona radiata, internal and external capsules, and commissural, limbic, brainstem, and cortical projection fibers, while exhibiting no areas of higher FA. Among binge drinkers, lower FA in 6 of these regions was linked to significantly greater lifetime hangover symptoms and/or higher estimated peak blood alcohol concentrations.
Binge drinking adolescents demonstrated widespread reductions of FA in major white matter pathways. Although preliminary, these results could indicate that infrequent exposure to large doses of alcohol during youth may compromise white matter fiber coherence.
Diffusion Tensor Imaging; Alcohol; Binge Drinking; Adolescence; Brain Imaging; Hangover
HIV and drugs of abuse affect common neural systems underlying procedural memory, including the striatum. We compared performance of 48 HIV seropositive (HIV+) and 48 HIV seronegative (HIV−) participants with history of cocaine and/or heroin dependence across multiple Trial Blocks of three procedural learning (PL) tasks: Rotary Pursuit (RPT), Mirror Star Tracing (MST), and Weather Prediction (WPT). Groups were well matched on demographic, psychiatric, and substance use parameters, and all participants were verified abstinent from drugs. Mixed model ANOVAs revealed that the HIV+ group performed more poorly across all tasks, with a significant main effect of HIV serostatus observed on the MST and a trend toward significance obtained for the RPT. No significant differences were observed on the WPT. Both groups demonstrated significant improvements in performance across all three PL tasks. Importantly, no significant Serostatus X Trial Block interactions were observed on any task. Thus, the HIV+ group tended to perform worse than the HIV− group across all trial blocks of PL tasks with motor demands, but showed no differences in their rate of improvement across all tasks. These findings are consistent with HIV-associated deficits in complex motor skills, but not in procedural learning.
HIV; substance use disorders; basal ganglia; procedural memory; nondeclarative memory; neuropsychology