Largest Brain Study of 62,454 Scans Identifies Drivers of Brain Aging

Sample brain scans of a 20, 50 and 80 year old persons

Schizophrenia, cannabis use, and alcohol abuse are just several disorders that are related to accelerated brain aging.

COSTA MESA, CA, August 21, 2018 – In the largest known brain imaging study, scientists from Amen Clinics (Costa Mesa, CA), Google, John’s Hopkins University, University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, San Francisco evaluated 62,454 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans of more than 30,000 individuals from 9 months old to 105 years of age to investigate factors that accelerate brain aging. SPECT tomography) evaluates regional cerebral blood flow in the brain that is reduced in various disorders.

Lead author, psychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, MD, founder of Amen Clinics, commented, “Based on one of the largest brain imaging studies ever done, we can now track common disorders and behaviors that prematurely age the brain. Better treatment of these disorders can slow or even halt the process of brain aging. The cannabis abuse finding was especially important, as our culture is starting to see marijuana as an innocuous substance. This study should give us pause about it.”

The current study used brain SPECT imaging to determine aging trajectories in the brain and which common brain disorders predict abnormally accelerated aging. It examined these functional neuroimaging scans from a large multi-site psychiatric clinic from patients who had many different psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Researchers studied 128 brain regions to predict the chronological age of the patient. Older age predicted from the scan compared to the actual chronological age was interpreted as accelerated aging. The study found that a number of brain disorders and behaviors predicted accelerated aging, especially schizophrenia, which showed an average of 4 years of premature aging, cannabis abuse (2.8 years of accelerated aging), bipolar disorder (1.6 years accelerated aging), ADHD (1.4 years accelerated aging) and alcohol abuse (0.6 years accelerated aging). Interestingly, the researchers did not observe accelerated aging in depression and aging, which they hypothesize may be due to different types of brain patterns for these disorders.

Commenting on the study, George Perry, PhD, Chief Scientist at the Brain Health Consortium from the University of Texas at San Antonio, said, “This is one of the first population-based imaging studies, and these large studies are essential to answer how to maintain brain structure and function during aging. The effect of modifiable and non-modifiable factors of brain aging will further guide advice to maintain cognitive function.”

Co-investigator Sachit Egan, Google Inc. (Mountain View, CA), said, “This paper represents an important step forward in our understanding of how the brain operates throughout the lifespan. The results indicate that we can predict an individual’s age based on patterns of cerebral blood flow. Additionally, groundwork has been laid to further explore how common psychiatric disorders can influence healthy patterns of cerebral blood flow.”

Drivers of Brain Aging

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or depression, Amen Clinics can help. We will help you learn more about your brain and assist with early diagnosis and intervention. Call us today at (888) 288-9834 or visit our website to schedule a visit.


  1. I enjoyed reading the article and findings. I would like to see Artificial Intelligence applied against the massive data that was collected and run analysis against that. I would think we will discover more valuable information than what was initially discovered. Would be happy to discuss with you. .

    Suliman Mukatren

    Comment by Suliman Mukatren — August 21, 2018 @ 3:04 PM

  2. I am interested to know more about marijuana use. Are all forms of marijuana created equal? Is smoking the buds worse than taking oral solutions or transdermal patches? Is having a seizure worse for your brain than marijuana use? Books on brain health very rarely address treatment of seizures. Is there any good treatment besides marijuana available?

    Comment by Tahnia Mendes — August 22, 2018 @ 3:45 AM

  3. Were there any differences within a given disorder if it was treated with medication or not? (And if they were treated long-term or not)? For example, did clients who took stimulants for ADHD long-term still show the aged brain that those who were not medicated showed?

    Comment by Lori Brenno — August 22, 2018 @ 4:08 AM

  4. One thing missing about the affect of ADHD is were those tested on ADHD drugs or not? In other words, were the subjects of the test medicated or not? If they were was the aging caused by the use of drugs or ADHD?

    Comment by Joseph Bruhn — August 22, 2018 @ 4:59 AM

  5. I am interested to see what the statistics are in regards to EMF and the brain, sine this world is addicted to cell phone use, Bluetooth, etc. I know individuals who have passed due to brain tumors and heavy cell phone use.

    Comment by Anna — August 22, 2018 @ 6:56 AM

  6. Were mediations accounted for?

    Comment by Darci — August 22, 2018 @ 7:31 AM

  7. It amazed me that cigarette smoking was not in the study and I personally look forward to more details on ADHD findings from this research. Keep Researching and sharing results.

    Comment by Robert Bettinger — August 22, 2018 @ 10:43 AM

  8. As others have asked how do medications play into the findings?

    Comment by Colleen Carrier — August 22, 2018 @ 1:38 PM

  9. When I smoke marijuana, it gets me in a creative mood and increases sensorial experiences. Nothing beats it for a Grateful Dead show, or watching a sunset. But it also causes loss of trains of thought, so getting “stoned” could definitely impact memory loss. However, CBD and small doses of THC enhance focus and break through ADHD. But I am finding that any dependency on any substance should be replaced by meditation, yoga and other spiritual disciplines. Ram Das may have gotten his stroke from all the LSD and DMT, but recovering was due to meditation, mindfulness and especially— heartfulness. Let us learn from him.

    Comment by Vic zurbel — August 23, 2018 @ 4:15 AM

  10. Don’t know if the study is, but for sure this article is stupid: why? Because the term use and abuse is freely used without any sense (see the title, and then image for ex.). Use, abuse? Smoking tobacco and in general smoking activity occours with many marijuana users, marjiuana can also be vaporized, ate,… where is tobacco in this chart?

    Comment by Paolo Sita — August 25, 2018 @ 8:16 AM

  11. Hi Tahnia,

    There are many medications for epilepsy that do not cause the damage to the brain that marijuana does. If you are looking for natural treatments, ketogenic diets are often effective.

    Good luck,

    Dr. Chlastka

    Comment by Edward Chastka, M.D. — August 26, 2018 @ 12:03 PM

  12. Yes, neurofeedback is an excellent ‘alternative’. In my opinion it can be a first option for many brain disorders.

    Comment by Felix Carrion — August 27, 2018 @ 5:35 PM

  13. Hum-hum… Let’s sit and think here.

    The second slide, “Drivers of Brain Aging”, is actually dishonest and is a lie by omission: it hides the fact that sufferers of schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD have been prescribed psych-drugs (medications) for life. Psych-drugs are highly toxic. In the cases of schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD, prescribed psych-drugs are the real cause of life shortening.

    To be honest, Dr. Daniel Amen must present us SPECT scans of brains of persons prescribed psych-drugs for years, most notably the Top sales:

    1. Abilify (aripiprazole),
    2. Zyprexa (olanzapine),
    3. Risperdal (resperidone),
    4. Clonidine (N-(2,6-dichlorophényl)-4,5-dihydro-1H-imidazol-2-amine)
    5. Celexa (citalopram),
    6. Ritalin and Concerta (methylphenidate),
    7. Trazodone (trialodine)
    8. Intuniv (guanfacine)
    9. Trileptal (oxcarbazepine)
    10. Wellbutrin (bupropion)
    11. Maniprex (lithium)
    12. Leponex (clozapine)

    Furthermore, to be really honest, Dr. Daniel Amen must present us SPECT scans of brains prescribed mixtures of psych-drugs.

    Not doing so decreases his personal credibility.

    So, looking forward to see these SPECT scans no longer hidden from our views, but published with free access.

    Thank you!

    Comment by Luc De Bry, Ph.D. — September 5, 2018 @ 8:03 PM

  14. Why not let us look at entire article? The abstract interestingly mentions “men” as a factor for accelerated brain aging (although not mentioned here). Presumably this means that just being male increases brain aging?! The study doesn’t seem to account for medications. Does having been treated with medications for schizophrenia improve the result? We are always taught that treating schizophrenia with medications helps prevent further brain damage. Lithium has been shown to be neuroprotective – does treatment of bipolar with lithium make a difference? Regarding cannabis, there is evidence that CBD actually improves cognition. If people use cannabis with higher CBD content does it make a difference? What about the fact that Carl Sagan was a known pot smoker – he obviously wasn’t cognitively impaired! Dr. Amen makes no mention of meth use – anyone who has seen a patient who abused meth knows it profoundly affects their brain. How about the use of benzodiazepines like xanax or anticholinergic drugs such as antihistamines and even anti-depressants – all of which have been implicated in cognitive decline. Just based on my clinical experience, I would predict that a healthy pot smoker who exercises and takes care of himself is going to be doing better cognitively than a sedentary diabetic who smokes cigarettes and takes lorazepam everyday. One could also question the validity of SPECT to measure brain aging. Sure the difference in perfusion seems likely relevant, but pairing with cognitive testing would lend greater validity. Also seems to ignore factors such as diet, exercise, diabetes, blood pressure control that are known to affect cognitive decline. So I wonder what Dr. Amen is trying to really prove here.

    Comment by Donna C — September 11, 2018 @ 10:24 PM

  15. Hiya. I would like to ask -my son from March 2017 is ill. Never ever before was any symptoms. A most time he was in menthal hospital,any medicin not work for him because he had after negative symptoms as epilepsy or now him heart is bigger.
    Now doctor said if my 21 years old son probably have schizofrenia. We are polish,but we live in England from 6 years. I was read books dr Daniel Amen about SPEC scan. I dont see in England this clinic. How you can help for my son check him brain?probably he can’t go to USA because he have this problem health. We fight for him life and health from last year..
    How is possible open this clinic in England or Poland ?with do scan SPEC?I am interest for that,first reason is my son,but also i know if a lots peoples need a help on this way .
    Thank you
    Edyta Krasuska

    Comment by Edyta — September 11, 2018 @ 11:11 PM

  16. In the midst of putting together an accomplishment to describe the absolute rage at the surface of myself living at all times to be judged as crazy, or dangerous individual because you haven’t a clue how he or she thinks.
    I m a woman 73 yrs old at with what I see as the end of my life have had a lifetime experiences living with Bi Polor and ADHD, and Post Traumatic Stress Sicknesss, so at my haste to spit out the truth just for the sake of making a point quicker, the truth here , theses syndromes are everyday in every way made worse by what knowledge we do not have what is ones understanding about Bi Polor, what is it , are we scientifically called Mental Illness like Bi Polor Illness phycophrephrentic and without think can we say what is it ,. I say if you want to know more ask I’ll tell you what I know from living it ,,and well it’s like to tell you the truth I can’t count and subtract but can remember a Po fro the third grade called , “The Congo”or receipt famous writers ,..pages upon pages, even chapters by chapters without any problem. Go figure. Am I dangerous only when one messes with my mind does he or she get maybe hurt , feelings.period”.”

    Comment by Devi — November 4, 2018 @ 11:49 AM

  17. Dr Amen I resect your work and pray it is as thoroughly carried on to gather as close to truth as possible… The truth regarding , I my own case Depression with some manic episode that I could experience my most brilliant and successful yes of my life. My life was an adventure, where I had no Home and knew I could never fit in anywhere I was called crazy for having torettes syndromes. It’s simply isn’t true I am very sensitive and take life very seriously of course with there being the joke there in there , however likely with you as the butt of the joke. Brilliant Mind behind the Bi Polor individual. Hardly a killer a raveinganiac unless mixed with.ALCOHOL… Will anyone respond, if not what’s a open forum to join into

    Comment by Devi, ..AKA Gloria Axexander — November 4, 2018 @ 8:22 PM

  18. Yes, I agree with this. My mother had early onset dementia and had been prescribed at least 3 of the known meds that contribute to this for YEARS. Why not do a study on people taking these meds? Not doing so is suspect.. Makes me think you may be in the pocket of big pharma.

    Comment by Sarah — January 7, 2019 @ 10:13 AM

  19. I find it difficult to believe that alcohol abuse yielded only a 0.6 increase in aging. I live in an area where there are many alcoholics whose brain aging is very obvious in their 50s…..

    Comment by Ellen-Sue Diamant — February 4, 2019 @ 7:53 AM

  20. I would be interested in seeing how EMFs affect the brain also, and at what frequencies and power levels, if possible.

    Comment by Wayne — February 4, 2019 @ 1:16 PM

  21. My son at the age of 22 did go to Daniel Amen clinic in Atlanta GA., last year (2018) had the scan of his brain, interesting results. He was a healthy child till his adolescence when he started marijuana and alcohol abuse, graduated his junior year, then onto college, that’s when we notice his behavior changing. After rehab, and scans, doctors have made several diagnoses, it’s been costly and painful as a parent to watch your child suffer with mental issues when things were find.
    Now on medications for life with medical doctors tweeting on a month to month bases, he is working P-T and starting back to school one class at a time. Thank You Amen Clinic for the bigger picture of his brain, not sold on ordering your vitamins, to fix the problem, after a year taking what you recommend I see know differences, love to rescan to see if it did help!

    Comment by Terry — February 4, 2019 @ 3:57 PM

  22. Thank you for your post! I had the same exact response. Clearly anyone who knows about neuroleptics is aware that they are likely a factor in these findings. To not mention that medications may be a factor is not responsible.

    Comment by Kristin — February 5, 2019 @ 4:36 AM

  23. I agree with this comment: I was very surprised that alcohol didn’t have a stronger negative effect….. what would be the explanation?

    Comment by hm — March 4, 2019 @ 9:54 AM

  24. My sentiments exactly! I don’t know if I believe that this study isn’t bias. Who funded the study?

    Comment by Jonathan Ogden — April 27, 2019 @ 11:53 AM

  25. This is my first time pay a visit at here and i am
    in fact happy to read everthing at alone place.

    Comment by Cheapest weed Costa Mesa — November 26, 2023 @ 3:00 PM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us