Cannabis use in early psychosis is associated with reduced glutamate levels in the prefrontal cortex

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2018 Jan;235(1):13-22. doi: 10.1007/s00213-017-4745-z. Epub 2017 Oct 26.


Rationale: Recent studies have shown that cannabis may disrupt glutamate (Glu) signaling depressing Glu tone in frequent users. Current evidence have also consistently reported lower Glu-levels in various brain regions, particularly in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of chronic schizophrenia patients, while findings in early psychosis (EP) are not conclusive. Since cannabis may alter Glu synaptic plasticity and its use is a known risk factor for psychosis, studies focusing on Glu signaling in EP with or without a concomitant cannabis-usage seem crucial.

Objective: We investigate the effect of cannabis use on prefrontal Glu-levels in EP users vs. both EP non-users and healthy controls (HC).

Methods: Magnetic resonance spectroscopy was used to measure [GlumPFC] of 35 EP subjects (18 of whom were cannabis users) and 33 HC. For correlative analysis, neuropsychological performances were scored by the MATRICS-consensus cognitive battery.

Results: [GlumPFC] was lower in EP users comparing to both HC and EP non-users (p < 0.001 and p = 0.01, respectively), while no differences were observed between EP non-users and HC. A greater [GlumPFC]-decline with age was observed in EP users (r = -.46; p = 0.04), but not in EP non-users or HC. Among neuropsychological outcomes, working memory was the only domain that differentiates patients depending on their cannabis use, with users having poorer performances.

Conclusions: Cannabis use is associated with reduced prefrontal [GlumPFC] and with a stronger Glu-levels decline with age. Glutamatergic abnormalities might influence the cognitive impairment observed in users and have some relevance for the progression of the disease.

Keywords: Cannabis; Cognition; Early psychosis; Glutamate; Magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / complications
  • Marijuana Abuse / metabolism*
  • Marijuana Abuse / psychology*
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Psychoses, Substance-Induced / diagnostic imaging
  • Psychoses, Substance-Induced / metabolism*
  • Psychoses, Substance-Induced / psychology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Glutamic Acid