Using Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy to Measure Effects of Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol on Prefrontal Activity and Working Memory in Cannabis Users

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Intoxication from cannabis impairs cognitive performance, in part due to the effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis) on prefrontal cortex (PFC) function. However, a relationship between impairment in cognitive functioning with THC administration and THC-induced change in hemodynamic response has not been demonstrated. We explored the feasibility of using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to examine the functional changes of the human PFC associated with cannabis intoxication and cognitive impairment. Eighteen adult regular cannabis users (final sample, n = 13) performed a working memory task (n-back) during fNIRS recordings, before and after receiving a single dose of oral synthetic THC (dronabinol; 20-50 mg). Functional data were collected using a continuous-wave NIRS device, in which 8 Sources and 7 detectors were placed on the forehead, resulting in 20 channels covering PFC regions. Physiological changes and subjective intoxication measures were collected. We found a significant increase in the oxygenated hemoglobin (HbO) concentration after THC administration in several channels on the PFC during both the high working memory load (2-back) and the low working memory load (0-back) condition. The increased HbO response was accompanied by a trend toward an increased number of omission errors after THC administration. The current study suggests that cannabis intoxication is associated with increases in hemodynamic blood flow to the PFC, and that this increase can be detected with fNIRS.