IMAGING STUDY: Prefrontal cortex morphometry in abstinent adolescent marijuana users: subtle gender effects


Susan F. Tapert, 3350 La Jolla Village Drive (151B), San Diego, CA 92161, USA. E-mail:


Adult human studies suggest frontal dysfunction associated with chronic marijuana (MJ) use, but due to continued neuromaturation, adult studies may not generalize to adolescents. This study characterized prefrontal cortex (PFC) morphometry in chronic MJ-using adolescents following 1 month of monitored abstinence. Data were collected from MJ users (n = 16) and controls (n = 16) aged 16–18. Extensive exclusionary criteria included co-morbid psychiatric and neurologic disorders. Substance use and anatomical measures were collected after 28 days of monitored abstinence. PFC volumes were ascertained from manual tracing by reliable raters on high-resolution magnetic resonance images. After controlling for lifetime alcohol use, gender and intracranial volume, MJ users did not differ from controls in PFC volume. However, marginal group-by-gender interactions were observed (P < 0.09): female MJ users demonstrated comparatively larger PFC volumes while male MJ users had smaller volumes compared with same-gender controls. Further, group status and total PFC volume interacted in predicting executive functioning (P < 0.05). Among MJ users, smaller PFC total volume was associated with better executive functioning while the opposite pattern was seen among the controls. These preliminary results indicate that gender may moderate the relationship between MJ use and PFC morphometry. Given the relationship between larger PFC total volumes and poorer executive functioning among MJ users, female MJ users may be at increased risk for neurocognitive consequences. Future research will measure PFC gray and white matter separately and follow boys and girls over adolescence to examine the influence of MJ use on neurodevelopment.