Previously, regular cannabis use leads to changes in the brain

What are the consequences of early cannabis use?

Researchers have now found that there is a clear correlation between early and regular adolescent cannabis use and brain changes that affect our behavior and decision-making.

Columbia University's latest research found that early and regular use of cannabis caused various changes in brain neural circuits. The results of the study were published in the journal "Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry".

Is the adolescent brain particularly vulnerable?

If people with the observed changes in the brain stopped using cannabis recently, these changes were less pronounced. However, if the affected people started using cannabis early on, the changes were stronger and more persistent, the researchers report. Most adults who used problematic substances most likely had problems with drugs and alcohol as early as adolescence. In this phase of development, the neural circuits on which the cognitive control processes are based are even more susceptible to interference. In this respect, the adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of cannabis use.

Participants had to solve cognitive control tasks

The results of the study are based on fMRI data (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), which was collected from 28 adolescents and young adults with significant cannabis use between the ages of 14 and 23 years. The control group was 32 people who did not consume cannabis. The participants were scanned during the execution of a cognitive control task, in which cognitive conflicts have to be solved. In comparison to non-users, adolescents and young adults with significant cannabis use showed a reduced activation in the so-called frontostriatic circuits, which support cognitive control and conflict resolution.

Previous cannabis use had a greater impact

The researchers also examined the extent to which the regions in the frontostriatic cycle were functionally interconnected. A connection between the beginning of the regular use of cannabis and the extent of the disruption of the frontostriatic regions was found. This suggests that earlier chronic use could have a greater impact on development than use at a later age.

Results could improve therapies

The results are a first step towards identifying therapeutic evidence in the brain to reduce addictive behavior by improving self-regulation. Interventions based on neuronal stimulation (e.g. transcranial magnetic stimulation; TMS) and behavioral interventions (e.g. cognitive training) that specifically target brain regions to control control processes could be helpful as additional intervention strategies for cannabis use disorders, the researchers explain. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Deficient Functioning of Frontostriatal Circuits During the Resolution of Cognitive Conflict in Cannabis-Using Youth, (accessed June 24, 2019), JAACAP

Video: Marijuana: Heavy Users Risk Changes to Brain (January 2022).