The brain effects of cannabis in healthy adolescents and in adolescents with schizophrenia: a systematic review

Psychiatry Res. 2013 Dec 30;214(3):181-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2013.07.012. Epub 2013 Oct 17.


Cannabis is widely used in adolescence; however, the effects of cannabis on the developing brain remain unclear. Cannabis might be expected to have increased effects upon brain development and cognition during adolescence. There is extensive re-organisation of grey (GM) and white matter (WM) at this time, while the endocannabinoid (eCB) system, which is involved in the normal physiological regulation of neural transmission, is still developing. In healthy adolescent cannabis users there is a suggestion of greater memory loss and hippocampal volume changes. Functional studies point to recruitment of greater brain areas under cognitive load. Structural and DTI studies are few, and limited by comorbid drug and alcohol use. The studies of cannabis use in adolescent-onset schizophrenia (AOS) differ, with one study pointing to extensive GM and WM changes. There is an intriguing suggestion that the left parietal lobe may be more vulnerable to the effects of cannabis in AOS. As in adult schizophrenia cognition does not appear to be adversely affected in AOS following cannabis use. Given the limited number of studies it is not possible to draw firm conclusions. There is a need for adequately powered, longitudinal studies.

Keywords: Delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabinol; Endocannabinoid; Grey matter; White matter.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cannabis* / adverse effects
  • Cannabis* / chemistry
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Dronabinol / adverse effects
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Abuse / physiopathology*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / drug effects
  • Nerve Fibers, Unmyelinated / drug effects
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / drug effects
  • Parietal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Psychometrics
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Dronabinol