U.K. Researchers Launch Study Exploring Weed’s Effects on the Brain
Researchers in the United Kingdom are currently recruiting volunteers for a study designed to explore the effects of cannabis on the human brain. Subjects selected for the full study will be paid for their participation in the research, which is being undertaken as part of King’s College London’s Cannabis & Me project.
The researchers conducting the study have said that the research is “paramount” to understanding the science behind cannabis, which they say is used daily by approximately 200 million people worldwide and is subject to legalization efforts in countries around the globe. Dr. Marta Di Forti, a leading cannabis and psychosis researcher and the leader of the new study, noted that “Cannabis is consumed daily by many recreationally but also for medicinal reasons.”
“But in the UK, the prescription of medicinal cannabis remains rare,” Di Forti added, as quoted by the Daily Mail. “Our study aims to provide data and tools that can make physicians in the UK and across the world more confident, where appropriate, in prescribing cannabis safely.”
To conduct the two-part study, researchers are recruiting 6,000 volunteers aged 18 to 45 who live in London. Participants selected for the study must either be regular cannabis users, have never tried the drug, or have used cannabis fewer than three times.
The first part of the study involves a 40-minute online survey. Those who complete the initial survey will be entered into a drawing. Researchers will then select participants to complete a face-to-face assessment. Those who complete the in-person assessment will be paid £50 (nearly $60).
The preliminary questionnaire will ask participants about their experience with cannabis and why they take it, including use prompted by trauma, medical conditions, or social situations. The survey will also explore how mood and anxiety can change the way participants think and feel and influence their use of cannabis, particularly in social situations.
Face-To-Face Assessments for Some Participants
From the survey participants, the researchers will select a subgroup of volunteers to complete a face-to-face assessment at the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. This portion of the study consists of three parts including a more detailed survey, a blood test and a virtual reality everyday scenario. The second questionnaire will delve into participants’ experiences with situations including trauma or adversity. Volunteers will also be asked if their consumption of cannabis has changed since they completed the original survey.
The blood test will be used to determine levels of THC and CBD in the participants. The blood test will also be used to quantify similar compounds naturally produced by the body known as endocannabinoids to determine if the level of these substances varies among cannabis users and non-users. Additionally, the blood analysis will give the researchers data on gene structure and epigenetics, which are changes in how genes are expressed. Di Forti noted that other research suggests that tobacco smokers have epigenetic changes, but there is no research exploring if cannabis can cause similar changes.
The last part of the study will utilize virtual reality technology to put participants in a common, day-to-day scenario such as a visit to a supermarket. The study subjects will also answer questions before and after the virtual reality experience to determine how they respond to social interactions.
A separate study will collect the same information from people undergoing treatment for psychosis believed to be caused by cannabis. Di Forti said that the goal of this portion of the research is to determine if there are biological factors that could make a person more susceptible to psychosis brought on by cannabis use, which has been observed in some patients. With the information, it is hoped that those who can use cannabis safely can be identified.
London residents interested in participating in the study can complete an initial screening survey online.