Announcement of National Longitudinal Study of Neurodevelopmental Consequences of Substance Use

Notice Number: NOT-DA-14-011

Key Dates
Release Date: May 20, 2014

Related Announcements

Issued by
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)


Problem Statement:  Preclinical research suggests that nicotine, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs affect the developing brain in lasting ways, and cross-sectional comparisons of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data in humans indicate that abuse of a variety of drugs is correlated with structural and functional brain abnormalities.  However, no prospective study has been conducted to definitively assess the effects of drug exposure on human brain development and the resulting consequences. 

As the future of drug policy in the U.S. continues to be debated, there is an increased likelihood that youth will have greater access to and permissiveness toward some drugs, particularly marijuana.  It is within this context that the need to understand the effects of using marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs becomes more urgent than ever before.  Fortunately, advances in neuroscience over the last two decades have provided an enormous capacity to better understand human brain development.  For example, neuroimaging technology can now measure the effects of substance use on brain signatures of behavior and mental functions, and can identify both structural and functional brain changes.

Study Aims:  This study intends to answer the following major questions:
What is the impact of the use of marijuana, alcohol, tobacco and other substances on the developing human brain?  In what ways does use of one substance predispose toward or interact with use of others?  What are the neurodevelopmental pathways that link adolescent substance use and pre-existing or emerging mental illnesses? What is the effect of use of multiple substances in combination? 
What impact does use of these substances have on information processing, mood, academic achievement, motivation, social development, and other behaviors?

Partnering Agencies: The study will be led by the Collaborative Research on Addiction (CRAN) at NIH (National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA], and the National Cancer Institute [NCI]), in collaboration with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and possibly other NIH Institutes or Centers.  In addition, private-sector contributors/partners will be welcomed.

Study Design:  The study will consist of a large representative cohort (i.e. approximately 10,000) of early adolescent drug-naïve youth that will be followed over a 10-year period into early adulthood. A large sample size is needed to allow us to differentiate brain and behavioral effects between different combinations (and exposure levels) of psychoactive substances.  In addition, a large sample size will enable investigation of sex differences in exposure effects as well as other individual differences, such as environmental factors.  It is essential that the study begins before adolescence- before exposures begin, and when the brain is rapidly developing, reorganizing, and undergoing final formation of major connections—the time when enduring brain biology can be established or changed.

Multimodal neuroimaging, neuropsychological testing, and psychiatric evaluation will be used to document changes in adolescent brain function over the span of the study.  Outcome measures will include substance use, academic achievement, IQ, and cognitive skills.  Finally, genetic samples will be collected to enable analysis of genetic and gene X environment interactions.

It is envisioned that successful execution of this program will require a broad interdisciplinary team of investigators with collective expertise in adolescent development, substance use and abuse, longitudinal prospective study designs, neuroimaging techniques, multi-site harmonization of imaging and neurocognitive data collection, psychosocial and psychiatric risk factors for drug abuse, and affective and cognitive neuroscience.

It is intended that all data will be shared in an open-access arrangement shortly after collection (akin to data from the Human Connectome Project, in order to facilitate rapid broad discovery science opportunities by the developmental neuroscience community.

Input and advice from the extramural community will be actively encouraged.  The NIH will hold a workshop May 27-28 at 6001 Executive Blvd Bethesda MD 20892 to discuss issues involved in a program of this scope. This workshop is open to the public.  This will be followed in Summer 2014 with a formal Request for Information on potential issues in such a study.  In addition, the NIH intends to host an open satellite event/meeting at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in Washington DC, in November 2014.


Please direct all inquiries to:

Susan R.B. Weiss, Ph.D.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Telephone: 301-443-6487