- Examined drug effects of tobacco, marijuana and combined marijuana + nicotine use.
- Hippocampal volumes were smaller in marijuana users (with or without nicotine).
- Abnormal brain-behavior relationships in combined marijuana + nicotineusers.
Combined use of marijuana (MJ) and tobacco is highly prevalent in today’s population. Individual use of either substance is linked to structural brain changes and altered cognitive function, especially with consistent reports of hippocampal volume deficits and poorer memory performance. However, the combined effects of MJ and tobacco on hippocampal structure and on learning and memory processes remain unknown. In this study, we examined both the individual and combined effects of MJ and tobacco on hippocampal volumes and memory performance in four groups of adults taken from two larger studies: MJ-only users (n = 36), nicotine-only (Nic-only, n = 19), combined marijuana and nicotine users (MJ + Nic, n = 19) and non-using healthy controls (n = 16). Total bilateral hippocampal volumes and memory performance (WMS-III logical memory) were compared across groups controlling for total brain size and recent alcohol use. Results found MJ and MJ + Nic groups had smaller total hippocampal volumes compared to Nic-only and controls. No significant difference between groups was found between immediate and delayed story recall. However, the controls showed a trend for larger hippocampal volumes being associated with better memory scores, while MJ + Nic users showed a unique inversion, whereby smaller hippocampal volume was associated with better memory. Overall, results suggest abnormalities in the brain-behavior relationships underlying memory processes with combined use of marijuana and nicotine use. Further research will need to address these complex interactions between MJ and nicotine.