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Cannabis and the Developing Brain

Cannabis and the developing brain

Author Jon Tattrie | Publication Date February 22, 2019

Originally published on

A ground-breaking study underway at the QEII Health Sciences Centre will scan brains to see what effect cannabis has on the white matter — the tissue in the brain composed of nerve fibres - of young patients dealing with psychotic disorders.

Dr. Phil Tibbo, QEII psychiatrist and the Dr. Paul Janssen Chair in Psychotic Disorders, wants to understand how cannabis — and THC in particular — affect neural connections in developing brains. Dr. Tibbo and his team, including Drs. Sherry Stewart, Candice Crocker, James Rioux and Jacob Cookey, think it may weaken the connections for younger and regular users of cannabis.

“The use of cannabis in adolescence increases the risk of developing psychosis or schizophrenia,” he says. “The younger that you use, the higher that risk. The more that you use during adolescent years, the higher the risk.”

The three-year study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Research Nova Scotia Trust, recently got underway and will compare people aged 18-30 in four groups of 90 people. One group will be people with early-phase psychosis who use cannabis, and one group will be those with early-phase psychosis who do not use cannabis. The other two groups will be people without those disorders — one group that uses cannabis and one that doesn’t. While Halifax is the primary site for this study, some of the participants will be recruited from London, Ontario with the help of co-investigators Drs. Lena Palaniyappan and Ali Khan.

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