Objective: Shifting policies and widespread acceptance of cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes have fueled worries of increased cannabis initiation and use in adolescents. In particular, the adolescent period is thought to be associated with an increased susceptibility to the potential harms of repeated cannabis use, due to being a critical period for neuromaturational events in the brain. This review investigates the neuroimaging evidence of brain harms attributable to adolescent cannabis use. Methods: PubMed and Scopus searches were conducted for empirical articles that examined neuroimaging effects in both adolescent cannabis users and adult user studies that explored the effect of age at cannabis use onset on the brain. Results: We found 43 studies that examined brain effect (structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging) in adolescent cannabis users and 20 that examined the link between onset age of cannabis use and brain effects in adult users. Studies on adolescent cannabis users relative to nonusers mainly implicate frontal and parietal regions and associated brain activation in relation to inhibitory control, reward, and memory. However, studies in adults are more mixed, many of which did not observe an effect of onset age of cannabis use on brain imaging metrics. Conclusions: While there is some evidence of compromised frontoparietal structure and function in adolescent cannabis use, it remains unclear whether the observed effects are specifically attributable to adolescent onset of use or general cannabis use–related factors such as depressive symptoms. The relative contribution of adolescent onset of cannabis use and use chronicity will have to be more comprehensively examined in prospective, longitudinal studies with more rigorous measures of cannabis use (dosage, exposure, dependence, constituent compounds such as the relative cannabinoid levels).
- substance use disorder