Sex and dependence related neuroanatomical differences in regular cannabis users: findings from the ENIGMA Addiction Working Group

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Translational Psychiatry


Males and females show different patterns of cannabis use and related psychosocial outcomes. However, the neuroanatomical substrates underlying such differences are poorly understood. The aim of this study was to map sex differences in the neurobiology (as indexed by brain volumes) of dependent and recreational cannabis use. We compared the volume of a priori regions of interest (i.e., amygdala, hippocampus, nucleus accumbens, insula, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), anterior cingulate cortex and cerebellum) between 129 regular cannabis users (of whom 70 were recreational users and 59 cannabis dependent) and 114 controls recruited from the ENIGMA Addiction Working Group, accounting for intracranial volume, age, IQ, and alcohol and tobacco use. Dependent cannabis users, particularly females, had (marginally significant) smaller volumes of the lateral OFC and cerebellar white matter than recreational users and controls. In dependent (but not recreational) cannabis users, there was a significant association between female sex and smaller volumes of the cerebellar white matter and OFC. Volume of the OFC was also predicted by monthly standard drinks. No significant effects emerged the other brain regions of interest. Our findings warrant future multimodal studies that examine if sex and cannabis dependence are specific key drivers of neurobiological alterations in cannabis users. This, in turn, could help to identify neural pathways specifically involved in vulnerable cannabis users (e.g., females with cannabis dependence) and inform individually tailored neurobiological targets for treatment.

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Australian Catholic University



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