Intoxication due to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol is characterized by disrupted prefrontal cortex activity

Keerthana Deepti Karunakaran, Michael Pascale, Nisan Ozana, Kevin Potter, Gladys N. Pachas, A. Eden Evins, Jodi M. Gilman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neural states of impairment from intoxicating substances, including cannabis, are poorly understood. Cannabinoid 1 receptors, the main target of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary intoxicating cannabinoid in cannabis, are densely localized within prefrontal cortex; therefore, prefrontal brain regions are key locations to examine brain changes that characterize acute intoxication. We conducted a double-blind, randomized, cross-over study in adults, aged 18–55 years, who use cannabis regularly, to determine the effects of acute intoxication on prefrontal cortex resting-state measures, assessed with portable functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Participants received oral THC (10–80 mg, individually dosed to overcome tolerance and achieve acute intoxication) and identical placebo, randomized for order; 185 adults were randomized and 128 completed both study days and had usable data. THC was associated with expected increases in subjective intoxication ratings (ES = 35.30, p < 0.001) and heart rate (ES = 11.15, p = 0.001). THC was associated with decreased correlations and anticorrelations in static resting-state functional connectivity within the prefrontal cortex relative to placebo, with weakest correlations and anticorrelations among those who reported greater severity of intoxication (RSFC between medial PFC-ventromedial PFC and DEQ scores, r = 0.32, p < 0.001; RSFC between bilateral mPFC and DEQ scores, r = –0.28, p = 0.001). Relative to placebo, THC was associated with increased variability (or reduced stability) in dynamic resting-state functional connectivity of the prefrontal cortex at p = 0.001, consistent across a range of window sizes. Finally, using frequency power spectrum analyses, we observed that relative to placebo, THC was associated with widespread reduced spectral power within the prefrontal cortex across the 0.073–0.1 Hz frequency range at p < 0.039. These neural features suggest a disruptive influence of THC on the neural dynamics of the prefrontal cortex and may underlie cognitive impairing effects of THC that are detectable with portable imaging. This study is registered in (NCT03655717).

Original languageEnglish
Early online date7 May 2024
StateE-pub ahead of print - 7 May 2024

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