NIH Will Study Effects of Substance Use on Developing Brain

Teen smoking
Teen smoking
The study will look at the effects of substance use in over 10,000 U.S. children, starting at age 9.

In light of recent research, which indicated that more college-age and high school students smoke more marijuana daily than they do cigarettes, the National Institutes of Health has announced a new nationwide study and grant initiative that will study the effects of adolescent substance use on brain development.

The NIH awarded 13 research grants to institutions across the U.S. in order to contribute to the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which will follow upwards of 10,000 children from the ages of 9 to 10, before initial drug use, through the period of highest risk for substance use and mental health disorders. During the study period, substances used, including nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana, will be tracked, along with academic achievement, cognitive skills, mental health, and brain structure and function.

“The ABCD Study is an important opportunity to closely examine, in humans, the hypothesized link between adolescent alcohol abuse and long-term harmful effects on brain development and function,” George Koob, PhD, director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), said in a statement. “Recent human studies have revealed an acceleration in the typical decline in volume of neocortical areas and smaller increases in white matter volume in adolescents who transitioned to heavy drinking compared to those who did not using magnetic resonance imaging.”

The study, which includes 11 research project sites and three data and information centers, will focus on addressing many of the unanswered questions around occasional and regular substance use, including impact on brain structure and function, risk of using other substances, the link between substance use and mental illness, its impact on physical health and information processing, and environmental and genetic factors that may influence development of substance use.

“With advances in neuroimaging and other investigative tools, we will be able to look in greater detail at the impact of substance use on young people,” said Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Adolescents have access to high potency marijuana and greater varieties of nicotine delivery devices than previous generations. We want to know how that and other trends affect the trajectory of the developing brain.”

ABCD Study research will be conducted at the following project sites:

  1. Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York City/ Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City
  2. University of Pittsburgh
  3. SRI International, Arlington, Virginia
  4. University of Hawaii at Manoa/ Neurobehavioral Research, Inc., Wailuku, Hawaii
  5. Florida International University, Miami
  6. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor/ University of Florida, Gainesville
  7. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/ University of Colorado, Boulder/ Washington University, St. Louis/ Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
  8. Oregon Health & Science University, Portland/ University of Vermont, Burlington
  9. Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles/ University of California, Los Angeles
  10. University of California, San Diego/ Laureate Institute for Brain Research, Tulsa
  11. University of Utah, Salt Lake City