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morphology

  • by NORML February 22, 2019

    Cannabis exposure is not associated with significant changes in brain morphology in either older or younger subjects, according to a pair of newly published studies.

    In the first study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine compared brain scans of occasional (one to two times per week) and frequent (more than three times per week) marijuana consumers versus nonusers. Subjects were between 14 and 22 years of age.

    Investigators reported: “There were no significant differences by cannabis group in global or regional brain volumes, cortical thickness, or gray matter density, and no significant group by age interactions were found. Follow-up analyses indicated that values of structural neuroimaging measures by cannabis group were similar across regions, and any differences among groups were likely of a small magnitude.”

    They concluded, “In sum, structural brain metrics were largely similar among adolescent and young adult cannabis users and non-users.”

    The findings appear in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

    In the second study, researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder compared magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans in 28 cannabis users over the age of 60 versus matched controls. Cannabis consumers, on average, had used marijuana weekly for 24 years.

    Authors reported that long-term cannabis exposure “does not have a widespread impact on overall cortical volumes while controlling for age, despite over two decades of regular cannabis use on average. This is in contrast to the large, widespread effects of alcohol on cortical volumes) that might be expected to negatively impact cognitive performance.” Researchers also reported “no significant differences between groups” with regard to cognitive performance.

    They concluded: “The current study was able to explore cannabis use in a novel older adult population that has seen recent dramatic increases in cannabis use while controlling for likely confounding variables (e.g., alcohol use). The participants in this study were generally healthy and highly educated, and it is in this context that cannabis use showed limited effects on brain structural measures or cognitive performance.”

    The findings appear in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

    Commenting on the two studies, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These findings dispute the long-standing ‘stoner-stupid’ stereotype and should help to assuage fears that cannabis’ acute effects on neurocognitive behavior may persist long after drug ingestion, or that cannabis exposure is associated with any sort of significant changes in brain morphology.”

    The studies’ conclusions are similar to those of prior trials similarly finding no significant long-term changes in brain structure attributable to cannabis exposure.

    Full text of the study, “Cannabis use in youth is associated with limited alterations in brain structure,” appears in Neuropsychopharmacology. Full text of the study, “Preliminary results from a pilot study examining brain structure in older adult cannabis users and nonusers,” appears in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 30, 2018

    Marijuana researchThe frequent use of cannabis is not associated with changes in brain structure, according to data published online ahead of print in the journal Addiction.

    An international team of scientists from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States assessed the relationship between habitual cannabis exposure and grey matter volumes in seven regions of the brain – including the thalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and the nucleus accumbens – in two large population-based twin samples.

    Researchers reported, “[N]ormal variation in cannabis use is statistically unrelated to individual differences in brain morphology as measured by subcortical volume.”

    By contrast, the repeated use of nicotine was positively associated with significantly smaller thalamus volumes in middle-aged males.

    Authors concluded: “This is the largest exploratory analysis integrating brain imaging with self-report cannabis and comorbid substance use data. After correcting for multiple testing, there was no effect of cannabis use on the volume at any subcortical region of interest in young adults or middle-aged males. … In the context of expanding medicalization and decriminalization and the concerns surrounding the consequences of increased cannabis availability, our findings suggest that normal variation in cannabis use is statistically unrelated to brain morphology as measured by subcortical volumes in non-clinical samples.”

    The findings are consistent with those of prior brain imaging studies reporting that cannabis exposure appears to have little to no significant adverse impact upon brain morphology — particularly when compared to the dramatic effects associated with the alcohol exposure.

    The study’s findings fail to replicate those of a well-publicized 2014 paper which alleged that even casual marijuana exposure may be linked to brain abnormalities, particularly in the amygdala.

    Last week, a meta-analysis of 69 separate studies reported that cannabis exposure in adolescents and young adults is not associated with any significant, residual detrimental effects on cognitive performance. The results from a pair of recently published longitudinal twin studies similarly report that cannabis use is not independently associated with any residual change in intelligence quotient or executive function.

    An abstract of the study, “Testing associations between cannabis use and subcortical volumes in two large population-based samples,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 10, 2015

    Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Previously Reported Changes In Brain MorphologyIt was less than a year ago when the mainstream media was chock-full of headlines like this one: ‘Brain changes associated with casual marijuana use in young adults, study finds.’ The alarmist headlines were in response to a controversial paper published by researchers at Harvard University in Boston and Northwestern University in Chicago which alleged to have found differences in brain morphology in a cohort of 20 college-age marijuana users as compared to 20 non-users. The study’s investigators attributed the differences to subjects’ cannabis use.

    But a funny thing happened when a team of scientists from the University of Colorado and the University of Kentucky tried to replicate these results in a separate, larger sample (158 participants) of subjects after rigorously controlling for both groups’ use of alcohol.

    They couldn’t.

    Writing in the January 28 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, authors summarized:

    “[T]his retrospective study examined brain morphology in a sample of adult daily marijuana users (n = 29) versus nonusers (n = 29) and a sample of adolescent daily users (n = 50) versus nonusers (n = 50). Groups were matched on a critical confounding variable, alcohol use, to a far greater degree than in previously published studies.

    We acquired high-resolution MRI scans, and investigated group differences in gray matter using voxel-based morphometry, surface-based morphometry, and shape analysis in structures suggested to be associated with marijuana use, as follows: the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and cerebellum.

    No statistically significant differences were found between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest. Effect sizes suggest that the failure to find differences was not due to a lack of statistical power, but rather was due to the lack of even a modest effect.”

    Why the contradictory results? Investigators speculated that previously reported imaging studies failed to adequately control for the impact of alcohol, a substance that “unlike marijuana, … has been unequivocally associated with deleterious effects on brain morphology and cognition in both adults and adolescents.” In other words, researchers theorized that previously reported differences in the brain images of marijuana consumers as compared to non-users were likely because of subjects consumption of booze, not cannabis.

    They concluded, “In sum, the results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures. … [I]t seems unlikely that marijuana use has the same level of long-term deleterious effects on brain morphology as other drugs like alcohol. The press may not cite studies that do not find sensational effects, but these studies are still extremely important.”

    An abstract of the study, “Daily Marijuana Use Is Not Associated with Brain Morphometric Measures in Adolescents or Adults,” is online here.