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Cannabis and alcohol use, and the developing brain

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Sex hormones and white (and grey) matter in the limbic system, cortex and other brain regions undergo changes during adolescence. Some of these changes include ongoing white matter myelination and sexually dimorphic features in grey and white matter. Adolescence is also a period of vulnerability when many are first exposed to alcohol and cannabis, which appear to influence the developing brain. Neuropsychological studies have provided considerable understanding of the effects of alcohol and cannabis on the brain. Advances in neuroimaging have allowed examination of neuroanatomic changes, metabolic and neurotransmitter activity, and neuronal activation during adolescent brain development and substance use. In this review, we examine major differences in brain development between users and non-users, and recent findings on the influence of cannabis and alcohol on the adolescent brain. We also discuss associations that appear to resolve following short-term abstinence, and attentional deficits that appear to persist. These findings can be useful in guiding earlier educational interventions for adolescents, and clarifying the neural sequelae of early alcohol and cannabis use to the general public.

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