Elevated gray and white matter densities in cocaine abstainers compared to current users

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Dec;218(4):681-92. doi: 10.1007/s00213-011-2360-y. Epub 2011 Jun 22.


Rationale: Numerous neuroimaging studies have demonstrated lower neural tissue density in chronic cocaine users, which may be linked to cognitive dysfunction.

Objectives: The goal of this study was to determine whether neural tissue density was also impaired in individuals abstinent from cocaine and whether any observed changes were associated with cognitive performance.

Methods: A total of 73 participants were included: 24 active cocaine users, 24 abstainers (abstinent for at least 1 month), and 25 nondrug-abusing controls rigorously matched for age, gender, and IQ. All participants performed a cognitive assessment battery and received an MRI which was analyzed using voxel-based morphometry.

Results: The abstainers had significantly higher gray matter density than the current cocaine users in neocortical areas including the frontal and temporal cortex. In contrast to the users, there was no difference in white matter density in the abstainers relative to the controls. The abstainers performed better than current users on several behavioral tasks. Within users and abstainers, cortical density was correlated with performance on memory and reaction time tasks. Subcortical gray matter density was lower in both the users and abstainers relative to the controls. Within abstainers, subcortical tissue density was correlated with the ability to set-shift.

Conclusions: These data suggest that individuals able to remain abstinent from cocaine for at least 1 month have elevated neocortical tissue density and perform better on multiple cognitive tests, relative to current cocaine users. Larger, longitudinal studies are needed to address this interaction between abstinence, cognition, and cortical tissue density directly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain Mapping
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Time Factors