A research team in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry has been awarded a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to participate in a multi-site study focusing on the impact of adolescent marijuana, alcohol and other drug use on the developing brain.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study will follow nearly 10,000 nine and 10-year-old children over the next several years, beginning prior to drug use and continuing through the period of highest risk for substance abuse and other mental health disorders. Nearly 500 local children are expected to participate in the study.

Duncan B. Clark, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, will lead the local research site. 

"There is much to learn about the effects of marijuana, alcohol and other substances on the development of the adolescent brain. At this time, there are inconsistent findings in small studies," said Dr. Clark. "For that reason, the NIH has decided to fund this very large prospective study to follow children before they have engaged in any substance use or abuse, through their teen years and into young adulthood."

Armed with the NIH funding, the Pitt team, which includes David Lewis, MD, Rolf Loeber PhD, Beatriz Luna, PhD, and Claudiu Schirda, PhD, will address key issues such as the impact of occasional versus regular substance use on brain development, the link between substance use and mental illness, physical health and development, and academic achievement, and which factors influence substance use and its consequences. Study results will be used to prioritize prevention and treatment research as well as influence public health strategies and policy decisions.

"This will be the first research project to study such a large group of individuals from early in development when most would not have used drugs to possibly peak use in adolescence, and to explore different pathways that contribute to decreases in substance use with maturation," said Dr. Luna. "This will enable us to understand predictors of use and the nature of effects of substance use during brain development through childhood and adolescence."

The ABCD Study was initiated by the Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH (CRAN), including the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse and the National Cancer Institute. With additional support  from other NIH organizations, including 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. 

For more information, visit the ABCD Study website.