BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Addictions in Medicine Gives Way to Cannabis Research

AUTHOR: Fiza Arshad

On November 8th, 2017, I attended the “Addictions in Medicine Half Day” hosted by the Michael DeGroote School of Medicine, where the focus was on different aspects of addiction, including the most controversial topics in the field – the legalization of cannabis and the fentanyl crisis. The following sessions were presented:  addiction and medicine by Dr. James MacKillop, evidence-based treatment of addiction by Dr. Jennifer Brasch, a review of the cannabis’ risk-benefit profile by Drs Michael Amlung and Mitchell Levine; and the opioid epidemic by Dr. Norman Buckley. The primary aim was to provide psychiatry residents with a complete picture of mental health disorders that are not otherwise covered during a medical student’s training. 

Dr. MacKillop briefly discussed substance use and behavioural addictions, and the effects of the former during development. His talk ended with an introduction to the “Contemporary Biopsychosocial Model, cementing the overall discussion into broader perspectives – biological, psychological and social”.  

Dr. Brasch focused on the psychology from a clinician’s point of view as she briefly introduced addiction-related disorders and the prescribed medications during withdrawal. Dr. Levine provided a holistic analysis of studies on Cannabis Use Disorder and of medical marijuana in pain disorders, for example. Dr. Amlung followed-up with the discussion on the acute and potential chronic effects of marijuana use. The day ended with Dr. Buckley’s discussion on the different recommendations related to opioid use for medical and recreational purposes. 

Throughout the day, residents asked critical questions on addictions treatment and research. In particular, the discussion revolving around the treatment of withdrawal symptoms and of chronic pain made evident the lack of practical research in these areas. As a trainee researcher in addictions, this day also brought to light the different challenges in experimental work as well as the work that is lost in translation. Interestingly, these research gaps become even more evident when policy changes at the national level are put into effect without a prior body of scientific work supporting it. 


To that end, and in keeping with July 1st when cannabis will be legalized, McMaster University recently launched a virtual, collaborative hub, the Michael DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. It includes faculty members from different fields, such as pain, trauma, mood disorders, pharmacology, health economics and policy-making. For MiNDS students, this will provide an interesting opportunity for collaboration or to simply learn about cannabis research and have a say in the national conversation – is marijuana use good or bad? 

For interested readers, a great way to join this debate is to attend the Inaugural Cannabis Research Conference on February 9th and 10th. See the link below for                                                                     more information: