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J Addict. 2013;2013:461029.

A preliminary study of functional brain activation among marijuana users during performance of a virtual water maze task.

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Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health, McLean Hospital, 115 Mill Street, Mail Stop 204, Belmont, MA 02478-1064, USA ; McLean Imaging Center, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA ; Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.


Numerous studies have reported neurocognitive impairments associated with chronic marijuana use. Given that the hippocampus contains a high density of cannabinoid receptors, hippocampal-mediated cognitive functions, including visuospatial memory, may have increased vulnerability to chronic marijuana use. Thus, the current study examined brain activation during the performance of a virtual analogue of the classic Morris water maze task in 10 chronic marijuana (MJ) users compared to 18 non-using (NU) comparison subjects. Imaging data were acquired using blood oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) functional MRI at 3.0 Tesla during retrieval (hidden platform) and motor control (visible platform) conditions. While task performance on learning trials was similar between groups, MJ users demonstrated a deficit in memory retrieval. For BOLD fMRI data, NU subjects exhibited greater activation in the right parahippocampal gyrus and cingulate gyrus compared to the MJ group for the Retrieval - Motor control contrast (NU > MJ). These findings suggest that hypoactivation in MJ users may be due to differences in the efficient utilization of neuronal resources during the retrieval of memory. Given the paucity of data on visuospatial memory function in MJ users, these findings may help elucidate the neurobiological effects of marijuana on brain activation during memory retrieval.


cannabis; cingulate gyrus; marijuana; parahippocampus; spatial memory; watermaze

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