Modulation of auditory and visual processing by delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol: An fMRI study

Toby T. Winton-Brown, Paul Allen, Sagnik Bhattacharrya, Stefan J. Borgwardt, Paolo Fusar-Poli, Jose A. Crippa, Marc L. Seal, Rocio Martin-Santos, Dominic Ffytche, Antonio W. Zuardi, Zerrin Atakan, Philip K. McGuire

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79 Citations (Scopus)


Although the effects of cannabis on perception are well documented, little is known about their neural basis or how these may contribute to the formation of psychotic symptoms. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the effects of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) during visual and auditory processing in healthy volunteers. In total, 14 healthy volunteers were scanned on three occasions. Identical 10 mg THC, 600 mg CBD, and placebo capsules were allocated in a balanced double-blinded pseudo-randomized crossover design. Plasma levels of each substance, physiological parameters, and measures of psychopathology were taken at baseline and at regular intervals following ingestion of substances. Volunteers listened passively to words read and viewed a radial visual checkerboard in alternating blocks during fMRI scanning. Administration of THC was associated with increases in anxiety, intoxication, and positive psychotic symptoms, whereas CBD had no significant symptomatic effects. THC decreased activation relative to placebo in bilateral temporal cortices during auditory processing, and increased and decreased activation in different visual areas during visual processing. CBD was associated with activation in right temporal cortex during auditory processing, and when contrasted, THC and CBD had opposite effects in the right posterior superior temporal gyrus, the right-sided homolog to Wernicke's area. Moreover, the attenuation of activation in this area (maximum 61, 15, 2) by THC during auditory processing was correlated with its acute effect on psychotic symptoms. Single doses of THC and CBD differently modulate brain function in areas that process auditory and visual stimuli and relate to induced psychotic symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1340-1348
Number of pages9
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • auditory
  • cannabidiol
  • cannabis
  • delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol
  • sensory
  • visual

Cite this

Winton-Brown, T. T., Allen, P., Bhattacharrya, S., Borgwardt, S. J., Fusar-Poli, P., Crippa, J. A., Seal, M. L., Martin-Santos, R., Ffytche, D., Zuardi, A. W., Atakan, Z., & McGuire, P. K. (2011). Modulation of auditory and visual processing by delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol: An fMRI study. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(7), 1340-1348.