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Front Psychol. 2010 Dec 14;1:225. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00225. eCollection 2010.

Altered frontal cortical volume and decision making in adolescent cannabis users.

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  • 1The Brain Institute, University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT, USA.


Anticipating future outcomes is central to decision making and a failure to consider long-term consequences may lead to impulsive choices. Adolescence is a vulnerable period during which underdeveloped prefrontal cortical systems may contribute to poor judgment, impulsive choices, and substance abuse. Conversely, substance abuse during this period may alter neural systems involved in decision making and lead to greater impulsivity. Although a broad neural network which supports decision making undergoes extensive change during adolescent development, one region that may be critical is the medial prefrontal cortex. Altered functional integrity of this region may be specifically related to reward perception, substance abuse, and dependence. In the present investigation, we acquired structural magnetic resonance images (MRI), using a 3T Siemens Trio scanner, from 18 cannabis abusing adolescents (CA; 2 female and 16 male subjects; mean age, 17.7 years; range 16-19 years), and 18 healthy controls (HC; 6 female and 12 male subjects; mean age, 17.2 years; range 16-19 years). In order to measure medial orbital prefrontal cortex (moPFC) morphology related to substance abuse and impulsivity, semi-automated cortical reconstruction and volumetric segmentation of MRIs was performed with FreeSurfer. Impulsivity was evaluated with the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS). Our results indicate that cannabis abusing adolescents have decreased right moPFC volume compared to controls, p = 0.01, d = 0.92, CI(0.95) = 0.21, 1.59. Cannabis abusing adolescents also show decreased future orientation, as indexed by the BIS non-planning subscale, when compared to controls, p = 0.01, d = 0.89, CI(0.95) = 0.23, 1.55. Moreover, total moPFC volume was positively correlated with age of first use r (18) = 0.49, p < 0.03, suggesting that alterations in this region may be related to initiation of cannabis use or that early initiation may lead to reduced moPFC volume.


adolescence; cannabis; decision making; development; impulsivity; marijuana; orbitofrontal; prefrontal

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