The effects of synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) on brain structure and function

A. Livny, K. Cohen, N. Tik, G. Tsarfaty, P. Rosca, A. Weinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is an increasing use of “Novel Psychoactive Substances” containing synthetic cannabinoids worldwide. Synthetic cannabinoids (SC) are highly addictive and cause severe adverse effects. The purpose of our study was to assess whether chronic use of SC alters brain volume and function. Fifteen SC chronic users and 15 healthy control participants undertook an MRI scan to assess brain volume and function while performing a working memory N-back task and a response-inhibition Go-No-Go task. SC users showed impaired performance on the N-back task but not on the Go-No-Go task. They also showed reduced total gray matter volume compared with control participants, as well as reduced gray matter volume in several cortical regions including the middle frontal gyrus, frontal orbital gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, insula, anterior cingulate cortex and the precuneus. Moreover, SC users showed diminished brain activations in the precuneus, cuneus, lingual gyrus, hippocampus and cerebellum while performing the N-back task. No differences were found in brain activation while performing the response-inhibition task. This is the first study showing overall reduced grey matter volume and specific reduced grey matter volumes in chronic SC users. Furthermore, this study showed for the first time impairment in the neural brain mechanisms responsible for working memory in SC users. Our results of reduced grey matter density and diminished activation during a working memory task in SC users, may suggest vulnerability of the frontal-parietal network in chronic SC users.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1047-1057
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Cannabis
  • Executive function
  • Go-No-Go task
  • Grey-matter
  • N-back
  • Synthetic cannabinoids
  • VBM
  • fMRI


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