Introduction: Cannabis use has a high prevalence in young youth and is associated with poor psychosocial outcomes. Such outcomes have been ascribed to the impact of cannabis exposure on the developing brain. However, findings from individual studies of volumetry in youth cannabis users are equivocal. Objectives: Our primary objective was to systematically review the evidence on brain volume differences between young cannabis users and nonusers aged 12-26 where profound neuromaturation occurs, accounting for the role of global brain volumes (GBVs). Our secondary objective was to systematically integrate the findings on the association between youth age and volumetry in youth cannabis users. Finally, we aimed to evaluate the quality of the evidence. Materials and Methods: A systematic search was run in three databases (PubMed, Scopus, and PsycINFO) and was reported using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. We run meta-analyses (with and without controlling for GBV) of brain volume differences between young cannabis users and nonusers. We conducted metaregressions to explore the role of age on volumetric differences. Results: Sixteen studies were included. The reviewed samples included 830 people with mean age 22.5 years (range 14-26 years). Of these, 386 were cannabis users (with cannabis use onset at 15-19 years) and 444 were controls. We found no detectable group differences in any of the GBVs (intracranium, total brain, total white matter, and total gray matter) and regional brain volumes (i.e., hippocampus, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and total cerebellum). Age and cannabis use level did not predict (standardized mean) volume group differences in metaregression. We found little evidence of publication bias (Egger's test p>0.1). Conclusions: Contrary to evidence in adult samples (or in samples mixing adults and youth), previous single studies in young cannabis users, and meta-analyses of brain function in young cannabis users, this early evidence suggests nonsignificant volume differences between young cannabis users and nonusers. While prolonged and long-term exposure to heavy cannabis use may be required to detect gross volume alterations, more studies in young cannabis users are needed to map in detail cannabis-related neuroanatomical changes.
Keywords: adolescence; cannabis; magnetic resonance imaging; meta-analysis; metaregression; volumes.