Yale University delves into the science of cannabis

YSM to Create Yale Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoid Science

As states across the country legalize the sale of cannabis, a new center at Yale will study its effects on the brain and mental health. The Yale School of Medicine recently announced the creation of the new Yale Center for the Science of Cannabis and Cannabinoids, which will study the acute and chronic effects of cannabis and cannabinoids on neurodevelopment and mental health. Its inaugural director will be Deepak Cyril D'Souza, Albert E. Kent Professor of Psychiatry and expert in cannabinoid pharmacology.

THEannouncement of the establishment of the center was made on January 30, 2023 by Nancy J. Brown, MD, dean of the Jean and David W. Wallace School of Medicine and holder of the CNH Long Chair in Internal Medicine; and John H. Krystal, MD, Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Professor of Translational Research; professor of psychiatry, neuroscience and psychology; and chairman of Yale's Department of Psychiatry.

Brown and Krystal said in their announcement that the launch of the center comes at a time when the commercialization of cannabis is in booming in the USA. Cannabis retailing began in Connecticut in January, and the center will put Yale at the forefront of studies into its effects on human health.

The new center will use a multifaceted and multidisciplinary approach to study the acute and chronic effects of cannabis and cannabinoids, Drs Brown and Krystal said. Initial funding will be provided by the Department of Psychiatry, with support from the Dean's Office. The funding will support pilot studies towards the development of a P50 center grant application focused on cannabis, cannabinoids, neurodevelopment, and mental health.

The establishment of this center comes as cannabis retail begins in Connecticut. Twenty-one states have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana.

D'Souza recently sat down with Yale News to discuss the goals of the new center, what he wants to achieve as director and how the public can get involved. The interview has been edited and condensed.

To start, can you explain the difference between “cannabis” and “cannabinoids”?

Deepak Cyril D'Souza: Cannabis contains a number of chemicals including cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenoids. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which produces the main psychoactive effects of cannabis, is a cannabinoid. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body. CBD [cannabidiol] is another cannabinoid present in cannabis plants, but it does not produce the typical psychoactive effects of THC.
Why launch the center now?

Mr. D'Souza: With the changing cannabis landscape, now is a good time. Connecticut recently started selling cannabis at retail, and in states across the country, laws have changed to make cannabis more accessible. There are also changes in the potency and availability of cannabis and its derivatives. More and more people are using cannabis and it is reasonable to think that young people will be the victims, just like tobacco and alcohol.

Have changing laws made it easier to study cannabis?

D'Souza: There have been regulatory hurdles in the past and hopefully with some of these changes it will be easier for more researchers to do this kind of work.
What are your goals as director?

D'Souza: The first is to bring people together. An important aspect of a center is bringing together people who have complementary interests and skills in a way that may not have been possible before. I would like to create a forum where, on a regular basis, people can come together to discuss ongoing projects and opportunities for collaboration.

The second objective is to create a center that is self-sufficient. It takes resources to sustain a center, and although the Dean's Office and the Chair of Psychiatry have generously contributed funding for a pilot program, we would like to submit a major grant application in two or three years. This type of grant would support the center over a longer period.

What types of questions will the center ask?

D'Souza: For now, the center is largely interested in the impact of cannabis on brain development and mental health. But that doesn't mean there aren't other topics of interest and relevance, and as we launch pilot projects, the center's goals may become more focused.

But we will approach the questions from different angles. For example, there are observational studies that we can do on humans and experimental studies that we cannot do. This is where complementary approaches come in, where studies on animals or on brain organoids become relevant and complementary to work on humans.

How will projects and researchers be affiliated with the centre?

D'Souza: I've assembled a group of researchers at Yale who do everything from basic to clinical research who will work with me to review applications for pilot funding. We hope to announce this process in the coming weeks.

Changes in recreational cannabis policies are happening quickly. What do you want the public to know about the center?

D'Souza: Ultimately, we do this to generate the highest quality information that people can use to make decisions at many different levels – individuals, cities, public health departments, states, for example.

I have already received emails from people in the community asking for more information about the center and its goals. Some people asked me if the center was going to be for or against cannabis. And my answer is that we just want to gather information about the science of cannabis and cannabinoids. We want to advance science.

People also asked how they could get involved. And while it's a bit premature for that, as soon as we have studies approved by our institutional review boards, people will have the opportunity to participate.

Tags : United States (US)Medical research and scientific advancesMental health and physical health

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