Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Brain Morphology: A Review of the Evidence
Cannabis and cannabinoid-based products are increasingly being accepted and commodified globally. Yet there is currently limited understanding of the effect of the varied cannabinoid compounds on the brain. Exogenous cannabinoids interact with the endogenous cannabinoid system that underpins vital functions in the brain and body, and they are thought to perturb key brain and cognitive function. However, much neuroimaging research has been confined to observational studies of cannabis users, without examining the specific role of the various cannabinoids (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, etc.). This review summarizes the brain structural imaging evidence to date associated with cannabis use, its major cannabinoids (e.g., Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol), and synthetic cannabinoid products that have emerged as recreational drugs. In doing so, we seek to highlight some of the key issues to consider in understanding cannabinoid-related brain effects, emphasizing the dual neurotoxic and neuroprotective role of cannabinoids, and the need to consider the distinct role of the varied cannabinoids in establishing their effect on the brain.
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