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Brain Sci. 2013 Mar 22;3(1):396-414. doi: 10.3390/brainsci3010396.

White matter integrity pre- and post marijuana and alcohol initiation in adolescence.

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VA San Diego Healthcare System Psychology Service (116B), 3350 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego, CA 92126, USA; (J.J.); (S.B.) ; Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive (0603), La Jolla, CA 92093, USA; (L.M.S.); (M.A.I.).


Characterizing the effects of alcohol and marijuana use on adolescent brain development is important for understanding potential alterations in neurodevelopment. Several cross sectional studies have identified group differences in white matter integrity after initiation of heavy alcohol and marijuana use, however none have explored white matter trajectories in adolescents pre- and post initiation of use, particularly for marijuana users. This study followed 16 adolescents with minimal alcohol and marijuana use at ages 16-18 over three years. At follow-up, teens were 19-22 years old; half of the participants initiated heavy alcohol use and half initiated heavy alcohol and marijuana use. Repeated-measures ANOVA revealed 20 clusters in association and projection fibers tracts (p < 0.01) in which a group by time interaction was found. Most consistently, white matter integrity (i.e., fractional anisotropy) decreased for those who initiated both heavy alcohol and marijuana use over the follow-up interval. No effect of time or change in white matter integrity was seen for those who initiated alcohol use only in the majority of clusters. In most regions, at the baseline time point, teens who would later initiate both alcohol and marijuana use demonstrated white matter integrity greater than or equal to teens that initiated alcohol use only. Findings suggest poorer tissue integrity associated with combined initiation of heavy alcohol and marijuana use in late adolescence. While OPEN ACCESS pre-existing differences may also be related to likelihood of substance use, the present data suggest an effect on tissue integrity for these teens transitioning to combined alcohol and marijuana use in later adolescence.


adolescence; alcohol; brain; cognition; development; diffusion tensor imaging; marijuana; white matter

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