Cannabis and brain repair – is exercise the key?

Australia has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world. Within the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, around nine million Australians (35%) reported using cannabis at some time in their lives.

Cannabis is known to have broad-ranging and significant adverse health effects including heightened risk of developing psychotic symptoms, and impairments in learning, memory, and socio-educational achievements. MICCN’s work, among others, has consistently revealed that long-term cannabis use is linked with structural and functional degradation of the brain’s hippocampus – leading to a decline in cognitive impairment and poor clinical outcomes.

Science has shown that deterioration of hippocampal structure, function, and biochemistry due to cannabis use can be reversed, but this requires two or more years of abstinence from cannabis; something a heavy cannabis user is likely to find challenging.

MICCN’s Professor Murat Yücel and team are therefore investigating alternative ways to accelerate hippocampal recovery, and reduce the cognitive impairments and mental health symptoms associated with cannabis use. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has emerged as a simple and safe yet powerful candidate.

With four years of support from a newly awarded NHMRC Project Grant, Professor Yücel and his team will recruit people with a history of long-term and heavy cannabis use into a 3-month supervised HIIT intervention or an active control condition, to determine whether HIIT can expedite hippocampal recovery, reduce cannabis use, ameliorate psychopathology, and improve cognitive and general wellbeing.

“The NHMRC Project Grant supports research into recovery from the negative effects of cannabis use and offers heavy users a new hope in improving their health and wellbeing. Participants in the study will join us in a new facility for lifestyle and technology-based interventions, BrainParkTM, once construction is complete next year.” Professor Yücel said. “I am grateful to the NHMRC and David Winston Turner Endowment Fund for their ongoing support of our research. Together, we will achieve improved treatment outcomes for people with addiction.”

MICCN congratulates Professor Yücel on the award of the grant.

For more information on Professor Murat Yücel’s research, please contact him on t: 03 9902 9765,

Similar studies offering lifestyle and technology-based interventions will be undertaken at MCCN’s new BrainParkTM facility. Find out more here.

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