A systematic review of neuroimaging and acute cannabis exposure in age-of-risk for psychosis

Transl Psychiatry. 2021 Apr 13;11(1):217. doi: 10.1038/s41398-021-01295-w.


Acute exposure to cannabis has been associated with an array of cognitive alterations, increased risk for neuropsychiatric illness, and other neuropsychiatric sequelae including the emergence of acute psychotic symptoms. However, the brain alterations associating cannabis use and these behavioral and clinical phenotypes remains disputed. To this end, neuroimaging can be a powerful technique to non-invasively study the impact of cannabis exposure on brain structure and function in both humans and animal models. While chronic exposure studies provide insight into how use may be related to long-term outcomes, acute exposure may reveal interesting information regarding the immediate impact of use and abuse on brain circuits. Understanding these alterations could reveal the connection with symptom dimensions in neuropsychiatric disorders and, more specifically with psychosis. The purpose of the present review is to: 1) provide an update on the findings of pharmacological neuroimaging studies examining the effects of administered cannabinoids and 2) focus the discussion on studies that examine the sensitive window for the emergence of psychosis. Current literature indicates that cannabis exposure has varied effects on the brain, with the principal compounds in cannabis (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol) altering activity across different brain regions. Importantly, we also discovered critical gaps in the literature, particularly regarding sex-dependent responses and long-term effects of chronic exposure. Certain networks often characterized as dysregulated in psychosis, like the default mode network and limbic system, were also impacted by THC exposure, identifying areas of particular interest for future work investigating the potential relationship between the two.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabidiol*
  • Cannabinoids*
  • Cannabis* / adverse effects
  • Dronabinol
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging
  • Psychotic Disorders* / diagnostic imaging


  • Cannabinoids
  • Cannabidiol
  • Dronabinol