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Reprint of “Adolescent cortical thickness pre- and post marijuana and alcohol initiation”

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Cortical thickness abnormalities have been identified in youth using both alcohol and marijuana. However, limited studies have followed individuals pre- and post initiation of alcohol and marijuana use to help identify to what extent discrepancies in structural brain integrity are pre-existing or substance-related. Adolescents (N=69) were followed from ages 13 (pre-initiation of substance use, baseline) to ages 19 (post-initiation, follow-up). Three subgroups were identified, participants that initiated alcohol use (ALC, n=23, >20 alcohol use episodes), those that initiated both alcohol and marijuana use (ALC+MJ, n=23, >50 marijuana use episodes) and individuals that did not initiate either substance regularly by follow-up (CON, n=23, <3 alcohol use episodes, no marijuana use episodes). All adolescents underwent neurocognitive testing, neuroimaging, and substance use and mental health interviews. Significant group by time interactions and main effects on cortical thickness estimates were identified for 18 cortical regions spanning the left and right hemisphere (ps<0.05). The vast majority of findings suggest a more substantial decrease, or within-subjects effect, in cortical thickness by follow-up for individuals who have not initiated regular substance use or alcohol use only by age 19; modest between-group differences were identified at baseline in several cortical regions (ALC and CON>ALC+MJ). Minimal neurocognitive differences were observed in this sample. Findings suggest pre-existing neural differences prior to marijuana use may contribute to initiation of use and observed neural outcomes. Marijuana use may also interfere with thinning trajectories that contribute to morphological differences in young adulthood that are often observed in cross-sectional studies of heavy marijuana users.

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