Heavy cannabis use, dependence and the brain: A clinical perspective

Emese Kroon, Lauren Kuhns, Eva Hoch, Janna Cousijn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


AIMS: To summarize and evaluate our knowledge of the relationship between heavy cannabis use, cannabis use disorder (CUD) and the brain.

METHODS: Narrative review of relevant literature identified through existing systematic reviews, meta-analyses and a PubMed search. Epidemiology, clinical representations, potential causal mechanisms, assessments, treatment and prognosis are discussed.

RESULTS: Although causality is unclear, heavy and dependent cannabis use is consistently associated with a high prevalence of comorbid psychiatric disorders and learning and memory impairments that seem to recover after a period of abstinence. Evidence regarding other cognitive domains and neurological consequences, including cerebrovascular events, is limited and inconsistent. Abstinence after treatment is only achieved in a minority of cases; treatment targeted at reduction in use appears have some success. Potential moderators of the impact of CUD on the brain include age of onset, heaviness of use, CUD severity, the ratio of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol to cannabidiol and severity of comorbid disorders.

CONCLUSIONS: Current evidence of long-term effects of daily cannabis use and cannabis use disorder on brain-related outcomes is suggestive rather than conclusive, but use is associated with psychiatric morbidity and with cognitive impairments that recover after a period of abstinence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-572
Number of pages14
Issue number3
Early online date13 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Authors.
Addiction published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Society for the Study of Addiction.

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