Cannabis abuse and brain morphology in schizophrenia: a review of the available evidence

Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2013 Feb;263(1):3-13. doi: 10.1007/s00406-012-0346-3. Epub 2012 Aug 21.


Substance abuse is the most prevalent comorbid psychiatric condition associated with schizophrenia, and cannabis is the illicit drug most often abused. Apart from worsening the course of schizophrenia, frequent cannabis use especially at an early age seems to be an important risk factor for developing schizophrenia. Although a large body of neuroimaging studies gives evidence for structural alterations in many different brain regions in schizophrenia patients, there is still limited knowledge of the impact of cannabis abuse on brain structure in schizophrenia. We performed a systematic review including structural magnetic resonance imaging studies comparing high-risk and schizophrenia patients with and without cannabis abuse and found inconclusive results. While there is some evidence that chronic cannabis abuse could alter brain morphology in schizophrenia in patients continuing their cannabis consumption, there is no convincing evidence that this alteration takes place before the onset of schizophrenia when looking at first-episode patients. There is some weak evidence that cannabis abuse could affect brain structures in high-risk subjects, but replication of these studies is needed.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology
  • Marijuana Abuse / pathology*
  • Marijuana Abuse / psychology
  • PubMed / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenia / epidemiology
  • Schizophrenia / pathology*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology