Effects of cannabis use on human brain structure in psychosis: a systematic review combining in vivo structural neuroimaging and post mortem studies

Curr Pharm Des. 2012;18(32):5070-80. doi: 10.2174/138161212802884861.


It is unclear yet whether cannabis use is a moderating or causal factor contributing to grey matter alterations in schizophrenia and the development of psychotic symptoms. We therefore systematically reviewed structural brain imaging and post mortem studies addressing the effects of cannabis use on brain structure in psychosis. Studies with schizophrenia (SCZ) and first episode psychosis (FEP) patients as well as individuals at genetic (GHR) or clinical high risk for psychosis (ARMS) were included. We identified 15 structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (12 cross sectional / 3 longitudinal) and 4 post mortem studies. The total number of subjects encompassed 601 schizophrenia or first episode psychosis patients, 255 individuals at clinical or genetic high risk for psychosis and 397 healthy controls. We found evidence for consistent brain structural abnormalities in cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptor enhanced brain areas as the cingulate and prefrontal cortices and the cerebellum. As these effects have not consistently been reported in studies examining nonpsychotic and healthy samples, psychosis patients and subjects at risk for psychosis might be particularly vulnerable to brain volume loss due to cannabis exposure.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Marijuana Abuse / complications
  • Marijuana Abuse / pathology*
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • Psychoses, Substance-Induced / etiology*