McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School, has received a $500,000 gift that funds their new Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) Program. The donation, announced on October 6, comes from best-selling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell.
Most studies on medical marijuana to date have focused on its efficacy, or on patients’ symptoms. MIND head researcher Staci A. Gruber, director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core at McLean and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, hopes that the new initiative, the first of its kind, will begin to answer questions about whether medical marijuana affects cognitive function, positively or negatively—and why—by gathering empirical data about change over time within patients.
The initial phase of the program is expected to run for approximately two years. Researchers will collect data from subjects who, suffering from conditions including pain, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, have been certified to take medical marijuana but have no substantial history of recreational use, and have not yet begun this course of treatment. Participants will take a number of cognitive tests, on paper and on the computer, and will undergo brain scans. The studies will also gather clinical information on the patients’ perceptions about how they feel, and about their quality of life. After a baseline is established, the subjects will maintain weekly contact with the researchers, checking in physically with the hospital at the three-month, six-month, and one-year mark for more extensive tests, including some using multi-modal imaging equipment. If the program were to grow, Gruber says, the next phase would use the collected data to design and conduct clinical trials, administering the drug to individuals.