Preliminary results from a pilot study examining brain structure in older adult cannabis users and nonusers

Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2019 Mar 30;285:58-63. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2019.02.001. Epub 2019 Feb 10.


Exploring associations among cannabis use, brain structure, and cognitive function in older adults offers an opportunity to observe potential harm or benefit of cannabis. This pilot study assessed structural magnetic resonance imaging in older adults who were either current cannabis users (n = 28; mean age 69.8 years, 36% female) or nonusers (n = 28; mean age 66.8 years, 61% female). Recruitment targeted users who reported at least weekly use for at least the last year, although users had 23.55 years of regular cannabis use on average (SD=19.89, range 1.5-50 years). Groups were not significantly different in terms of sex, years of education, alcohol use, or anxiety symptoms, but were significantly different in age and depression symptoms. Users and nonusers did not differ in terms of total gray or white matter volumes controlling for age and depression symptoms, but users showed greater regional volume of left putamen, lingual cortex, and rostral middle frontal cortex. No significant differences between groups were observed in performance on a brief computerized cognitive battery. These results suggest that cannabis use likely does not have a widespread impact on overall cortical volume while controlling for age.

Keywords: Aging; Cannabis; Cortical thickness; Neuroimaging; Older adults; Volume.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / trends*
  • Male
  • Marijuana Use / psychology*
  • Marijuana Use / trends*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects