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J Psychopharmacol. 2012 Jan;26(1):177-88. doi: 10.1177/0269881111405362. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

Adolescent exposure to cannabis as a risk factor for psychiatric disorders.

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DBSF and Neuroscience Center, University of Insubria, Busto Arsizio, Italy.


Adolescence represents a critical period for brain development and the endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in the regulation of neuronal refinement during this period. Cannabis is the most consumed drug among adolescent people and its heavy use may affect maturational refinement by disrupting the regulatory role of the endocannabinoid system. In animals, adolescent cannabinoid exposure has been reported to cause long-term impairment in specific components of learning and memory and to differentially affect emotional reactivity with milder effects on anxiety behaviour and more pronounced effects on depression-like behaviour. Moreover, adolescent exposure to cannabinoids might represent a risk factor for developing psychotic-like symptoms at adulthood. Also epidemiological studies suggest that heavy adolescent cannabis use may increase the risk of cognitive abnormalities, psychotic illness, mood disorders and other illicit substance use later in life. In conclusion, the available data point to the hypothesis that heavy cannabis use in adolescence could increase the risk of developing psychiatric disorders, especially in people who already have a vulnerability to develop a psychiatric syndrome. Only few papers have investigated the neurobiological substrates of this vulnerability, thus further studies are needed to clarify the molecular mechanisms underlying the effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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