Neurostructural Correlates of Cannabis Use in Adolescent Bipolar Disorder

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2021 Mar 17;24(3):181-190. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyaa077.


Background: Little is known regarding the association of cannabis use with brain structure in adolescents with bipolar disorder (BD). This subject is timely, given expanded availability of cannabis contemporaneously with increased social acceptance and diminished societal constraints to access. Therefore, we set out to examine this topic in a sample of adolescents with BD and healthy control (HC) adolescents.

Methods: Participants included 144 adolescents (47 BD with cannabis use [BDCB+; including 13 with cannabis use disorder], 34 BD without cannabis use [BDCB-], 63 HC without cannabis use) ages 13-20 years. FreeSurfer-processed 3T MRI with T1-weighted contrast yielded measures of cortical thickness, surface area (SA), and volume. Region of interest (amygdala, hippocampus, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex) analyses and exploratory vertex-wise analysis were undertaken. A general linear model tested for between-group differences, accounting for age, sex, and intracranial volume.

Results: Vertex-wise analysis revealed significant group effects in frontal and parietal regions. In post-hoc analyses, BDCB+ exhibited larger volume and SA in parietal regions, and smaller thickness in frontal regions, relative to HC and BDCB-. BDCB- had smaller volume, SA, and thickness in parietal and frontal regions relative to HC. There were no significant region of interest findings after correcting for multiple comparisons.

Conclusion: This study found that cannabis use is associated with differences in regional brain structure among adolescents with BD. Future prospective studies are necessary to determine the direction of the observed association and to assess for dose effects.

Keywords: adolescent; bipolar disorder; cannabis; neuroimaging.