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NIH launches landmark study on substance use and adolescent brain development

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Posted September 28, 2015

The US National Institutes of Health awarded 13 grants to research institutions around the country as part of a landmark study about the effects of adolescent substance use on the developing brain. The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study will follow approximately 10,000 children beginning at ages 9 to10, before they initiate drug use, through the period of highest risk for substance use and other mental health disorders. Scientists will track exposure to substances (including nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana), academic achievement, cognitive skills, mental health, and brain structure and function using advanced research methods.

“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, M.D., 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.”

“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,” said George Koob, Ph.D., director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “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 ABCD Study will seek to address many questions related to substance use and development that will help inform prevention and treatment research priorities, public health strategies, and policy decisions, including:

  • What is the impact of occasional versus regular use of marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, and other substances, alone or in combination, on the structure and function of the developing brain?
  • How does the use of specific substances impact the risk for using other substances?
  • What are the brain pathways that link adolescent substance use and risk for mental illnesses?
  • What impact does substance use have on physical health, psychological development, information processing, learning and memory, academic achievement, social development, and other behaviors?
  • What factors (such as prenatal exposure, genetics, head trauma, and demographics) influence the development of substance use and its consequences?

The 13 grants will fund a Coordinating Center, a Data Analysis and Informatics Center, and 11 research project sites. The requests for applications and other information about the ABCD Study, including protection of patient confidentiality and parental consent, can be found at https://addictionresearch.nih.gov/adolescent-brain-cognitive-development-study. The ABCD Study was initiated by the Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH (CRAN), a consortium of institutes that include a focus on addiction research. CRAN is comprised of NIDA, NIAAA and the National Cancer Institute. Other NIH collaborators in this project are the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.

Source: NIH

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