Puberty as a highly vulnerable developmental period for the consequences of cannabis exposure


Miriam Schneider, Central Institute of Mental Health (ZI), Department of Psychopharmacology, J5, 68159 Mannheim, Germany. E-mail:


During puberty, neuronal maturation of the brain, which began during perinatal development, is completed such that the behavioral potential of the adult organism can be fully achieved. These maturational events and processes of reorganization are needed for the occurrence of adult behavioral performance but simultaneously render the organism highly susceptible to perturbations, such as exposure to psychoactive drugs, during this critical developmental time span. Considering the variety of maturational processes occurring in the endocannabinoid system during this critical period, it is not surprising that the still-developing brain might by highly susceptible to cannabis exposure. Emerging evidence from human studies and animal research demonstrates that an early onset of cannabis consumption might have lasting consequences on cognition, might increase the risk for neuropsychiatric disorders, promote further illegal drug intake and increase the likelihood of cannabis dependence. These findings suggest that young people represent a highly vulnerable cannabis consumer group and that they run a higher risk than adult consumers of suffering from adverse consequences from cannabinoid exposure. The aim of the present review is to provide an overview over the possible deleterious residual cannabinoid effects during critical periods of postnatal maturation and to offer a more precise delineation of the vulnerable time window for cannabinoid exposure.