Last updated on May 2020

Neural Mechanisms of Cannabinoid-impaired Decision-Making in Emerging Adults

Brief description of study

Emerging adults are a particularly vulnerable group for experiencing the immediate and potentially lifelong negative impacts of habitual cannabis use, and trends suggest that cannabis use disorder (CUD) will soon escalate in this population. The proposed research will combine clinical pharmacology, non-invasive brain stimulation, and neuroimaging techniques to establish the brain mechanisms of cannabinoid-impaired decision-making processes in emerging adults with CUD. Results from this project will inform CUD prevention/treatment efforts in this high-risk group and address a growing public health concern.

Detailed Study Description

This mentored career development award (K01) will enable Dr. Michael J. Wesley to achieve his long-term goal of becoming an independent investigator with a clinical research program examining cannabis use disorder (CUD) in emerging adults, which is a current NIDA funding priority. Dr. Wesley is a new Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Medicine. The activities proposed in this award build on Dr. Wesley's background in neuroimaging and drug abuse research and will allow him to accomplish these specific short-term objectives: Become an expert in (1) clinical pharmacology and (2) non-invasive brain stimulation research, and enhance/develop his (3) knowledge of the responsible conduct of research, (4) skills for scientific communication and grant writing, and (5) ability to manage an independent research program. UK has numerous faculty and projects focused on drug abuse research and is an ideal environment for Dr. Wesley to successfully complete this award. Dr. Wesley has assembled a stellar mentoring team consisting of Dr. Josh Lile (Mentor), who runs a successful NIH-funded clinical pharmacology research program at UK and Drs. Mark George (Co-Mentor) and Colleen A. Hanlon of the Brain Stimulation Laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina, Together they will guide and oversee Dr. Wesley's training in clinical pharmacology, brain stimulation, and scientific communication and grant writing. Dr. Wesley has proposed to engage in a series of formal classes, lab exchanges, and research seminars/meetings that will assist him in accomplishing the objectives of this award.

The proposed research project is novel, innovative, and rigorous. It will combine the acute administration of 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, with brain stimulation and neuroimaging to examine the role of the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and connected brain areas in drug-impaired decision-making processes. Specifically, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) will be used to raise or lower DLPFC functionality following the administration THC in randomized, double-blind, placebo- and sham-controlled experiments.

Aim 1 will test the hypotheses that excitatory TMS (raising DLPFC functionality; Exp. 1) will attenuate, whereas inhibitory TMS (lowering DLPFC functionality; Exp.2) will enhance, the impairing effects of THC on study outcomes.

Aim 2 will use neuroimaging to test the hypothesis that individual differences in brain structure and function predict the specific and/or combined effects of THC and TMS on study outcomes. Results from this project will improve the investigator's understanding of the mechanisms involved in cannabis-impaired decision-making, which will inform CUD management and address a growing public health concern.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT03944954

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