This is your brain on pot: Neuroscientist studies long-term effects of medical marijuana

Belmont, Massachusetts – Staci Gruber vividly remembers his first hit of marijuana when she was in college. Made her so paranoid, she locked herself in a bathroom. She could not decide whether to stay in hiding or run. But he knew that was never going to try the pot again.

She did not lose interest in the drug, however. Currently, he directs the 2-year-old neuroscientist Discovery Research marijuana, or mind project at McLean Hospital in this suburb of Boston. With cognitive and neuroimaging tests, MIND is conducting a longitudinal study of medical marijuana .

“There is much we do not know about the long-term effects, and that’s what I’m here to learn,” Gruber said.

The article continues after the announcement

Gruber 49 has already left its mark on the field.

a small study published in 2013 that found teenagers and young adults who smoked marijuana was passed were more likely exhibit impulsive behavior than their peers and were more likely to have certain changes in the white matter of the brain. A follow-up study found that these changes could reorganize brain regions associated with inhibitions. This year, the research team Gruber also found that chronic recreational users pot had worse cognitive functioning and executive, especially if they started using marijuana in adolescence.

current job mind implies that adults who are legally allowed to use marijuana-based products to medical conditions. Researchers are particularly interested in non-psychoactive component of the marijuana plant, such as cannabidiol, an ingredient in many preparations of medical marijuana.

“We have this one word, marijuana, we believe that means that every part of the plant, and does not. Cannabinoids that study are not even getting you high” Gruber said. “But if you are in favor of medical marijuana or against it, what we really need is information.”

Marijuana has been studied before. But previous research has focused on the cognitive effects of smoking marijuana recreationally. Previous studies of medical marijuana have sought especially on efficiency -. how well it treats the symptoms of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and HIV / AIDS

Gruber and his colleagues, however, are trying to determine the long and short term the impact of medical marijuana on cognition, structure and brain function, quality of life, sleep and other clinical measures.

“[This] is a primary concern for patients considering the treatment cannabinoid concern, and may have implications for public policy,” Gruber said.

Gruber lab
Kayana Szymczak for STAT Gruber directs investigations of marijuana for Discovery neuroscientist at McLean Hospital.

Looking in the brain

The first phase of the study is observational mind. Before patients begin treatment, Gruber and his colleagues established a baseline – the use of images, interviews and performance testing work -. To see what the brains of patients look like before they use medical marijuana

Patients then record the amount of marijuana they are using, and how often. At intervals of three, nine, 12, 18 and 24 months, the researchers considered the conduct more tests, brain scans, and interviews to measure the effects of cannabis on the brain structures, cognition and everyday life.

This is the part of research that will be more valuable Gruber said Madeline Meier, a researcher of marijuana at the University of Arizona.

“The most important objective right now is to obtain high quality data on potential harms and benefits of cannabis,” Meier said.

There are 30 participants in the study; Gruber plans to enroll up to 200. A separate study will examine mind military veterans who use cannabinoids.

“People drive two to three hours sometimes to get [here for] study,” Gruber said. “They are very committed. They really want to know what effect it will have on them.”

While waiting for long-term results, researchers mind have made some tentative findings. Found, for example, that marijuana could alleviate the symptoms of people with bipolar disorder and a drug for stroke and disease Alzheimer can [19459040] reverse the cognitive effects chronic consumption of recreational marijuana.

previous conclusions of Gruber, raising red flags about the dangers of using recreational marijuana, have attracted the attention of some activists, such as the program of drug prevention based in Seattle SAMA, abbreviation of Science and Management of addictions.

“We took her out here because she had made this great research on adolescents and THC,” said SAMA President Kim Brackett. “We call it ‘scientific rock star.” She has a very good way to translate scientific information in a way that non-scientists can understand, from grandparents to 8 years old. “

New interest in research funding

Patients in the studies of mind to bring their own marijuana products, which analyzes the team Gruber for power. the study of marijuana can be a challenge because the Federal drug Enforcement Administration classifies as a drug of Class 1, a category reserved . for substances with a high potential for addiction and no medicinal value DEA recently considered changing that classification -. But undecided

As a result, the federal government is currently the only authoritative source of cannabis for clinical trials of medical marijuana. “But that’s not what people are using,” said Francesca Filbey, investigating marijuana at the University of Texas at Dallas . “The only way science can study what you do is let them do it.”

Gruber, Filbey, and several other researchers have formed a consortium called IDEAA , share their research data. Its aim is to make their data widely available, and for more funding for research on marijuana.

“We also hope to do some joint projects – never better – they can get funds,” Gruber said. “People are warming to the idea of ​​marijuana as medicine and funding is opening.”

For now, the project Gruber is funded by private donations. The first was in 2014 when the mind started with a donation of $ 500,000 to McLean Hospital wife Gruber, author Patricia Cornwell thriller. The couple married in 2006, after visiting Cornwell met when McLean to get a book.

“She was making a lot of very good questions,” Gruber said. “Then I realized I wanted to meet and talk more. We went for dinner and ended up talking about neuroscience until 2 o’clock in the morning.”

Gruber first arrived at McLean Hospital in the 1990s to work as a lab assistant to complete two degrees in schools 10 miles apart. He majored in psychology at Tufts University in suburban Boston. She was also studying jazz vocal performance and the New England Conservatory of Music.

“I spent most of those years just run,” Gruber said, shaking his head in memory. “You look back and wonder,” How could I do that? I could never do that now. “I think it’s good to be young.”

In college, Gruber got an internship at McLean in a laboratory study of the effects of marijuana in college students. “ From there,” she said with a grin waiting for, “I was hooked.”

She continued to work at McLean while earning graduate degrees in experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience at Tufts and Harvard University, where she is now associate professor.

’emotion and soul is brought’

While Gruber has always liked music, it is only recently fully embraced that side of herself .

“When I was little, I used to sing in the closet because I was terrified that I was not good,” she said. “But then I had this music teacher who said,” Hey you, you should have one. ”

In the greenhouse, they fell in love with singing jazz, he said resonated with her much more than classical arias.

“If they do not feel what you’re doing, what is the point I?” he said. “And that’s true in science, too. Scientifically You can break all these musical pieces, such as tone and pitch, but the emotion and soul to make it real is needed. In science, you can make all of the most important finds in the world, but if you can not communicate them, what are they? “

Today, Gruber has a studio at home and a Youtube channel their music , which includes versions of popular songs along with his own compositions. he has recorded two CDs.

But, he insisted, “I’m still the child in the closet. That is, I get media call to discuss medical marijuana and I can do that, but the song? I’m a neurologist. Do I really want people to hear me sing a Sara Bareilles cover?

“Well I do not feel comfortable at 100 percent of the time,” said Gruber. “You have to put yourself out there, sing and be true and be you.”

That’s just what he asks of the study subjects, he said.

“The most important thing is to make people tell the truth, sometimes on illegal activity, so you have to trust you,” she said. “I did not know it was going to be able to do studies like this if I could not connect with people.”

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