Congratulations to Karina Thiessen and Haley Vecchiarelli, who have recently been awarded the CCIC Neuroscience Fellowship in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research via the Brain Canada Rising Stars Trainee Award program. In partnership with the M. Wayne and J. Coleman Family Fund and the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids (CCIC), the CCIC Neuroscience Fellowship in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research was one of the seven available 2023 Trainee Award Opportunities in the Brain Canada Rising Stars Trainee Award program. A donation of $10,000 from M. Wayne and J. Coleman Family Fund/CCIC was matched by the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF) on a 1:1 basis, increasing the total funding envelope available to $20,000 to grant 2 awards as financial support to full-time graduate students (M.Sc., Ph.D.), postdoctoral fellows, and medical residents conducting research at a Canadian institution in the field of cannabis/cannabinoids. The recipients were recommended by external reviewers established by Brain Canada and applications that were highly ranked by reviewers were awarded a 2023 CCIC Neuroscience Fellowship in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. This year, trainees granted a stipend award, whose research considered sex and gender, were offered an additional financial top-up of $2,000 to further support and recognize their efforts in incorporating sex- and gender-based analysis (SGBA) in their research projects.
The CCIC is committed to supporting evidence-based research and education concerning the endocannabinoid system, the therapeutic applications of cannabinoids, and the potential health benefits, harms and societal impacts of cannabis use. We are thrilled that this now includes supporting Canadian trainees like Karina and Haley, who are on the cutting-edge of cannabinoid and neuroscience research. Read on to learn more about these outstanding trainees!
Karina Thiessen, PhD candidate
Karina Thiessen is a Neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia under the supervision of Dr. Christian Schütz at the Behavioral, Reward, Affect + Impulsivity (B.R.A.I.N.) Lab. She is also a trainee member of the MATRIX-N Research Cluster and a student representative of the UBC Neuroscience Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. Broadly, the focus of her research is risk factors and treatment of substance use and mental health disorders. Currently, she is examining the relationships between cognitive and psychoneuroimmunological processes and substance use using a range of methods, including Magnetic Resonance Imaging, immunoassays, cognitive testing, and subjective reports. Her work centers both on cannabis-using populations and people with severe concurrent mental health and substance use disorders. Among other projects, she is currently working on a clinical trial examining the effects of cannabis on stress. Karina is passionate about mental health and hopes that her research will contribute to a better understanding of the intersections between mental health, substance use, and neuroscience.
Summary of Karina Thiessen’s research project:
Nearly 50% of Canadians have used cannabis at least once in their lifetime. The vast majority of cannabis users report using cannabis to reduce stress. While there is some evidence to suggest that cannabis may impact the body’s stress regulation systems via the endocannabinoid system, there remains limited experimental evidence that cannabis does indeed reduce acute stress and the effects of cannabis on the brain during acute stress are not well understood. The current randomized control trial aims to examine the effects of oral cannabis on acute stress response in humans using a combination of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, psychoneuroimmunological assays, and subjective assessments.
Haley Vecchiarelli, Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Vecchiarelli is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Victoria under the supervision of Dr. Marie-Ève Tremblay. She completed her PhD at the University of Calgary under the supervision of Dr. Matthew Hill. This project is a collaboration between Dr. Tremblay’s and Dr. Jibran Khokhar’s at the University of Western Ontario.
Summary of Dr. Haley Vecchiarelli’s research project:
Microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells, are vital for healthy brain function. This is partially accomplished through their interactions with the primary brain cells, neurons, and those cells’ connections, synapses. Microglia are highly responsive to changes in the environment, including lifestyle factors, which can modify their functions and interactions with neurons and synapses, leading to alterations in behaviour, such as memory. Cannabis use has been recently legalized in Canada; however, our knowledge of how cannabis affects these important cells is not well-understood. Although previous work points to the potential of cannabis as an immunomodulatory agent, this work was performed with models that do not employ the same cannabis strains or routes of administration that humans use. Therefore, this work is the first of its kind to study the effect of inhaled cannabis on microglia using commercially available strains. It will provide, in both male and female mice, a multi-modal understanding of the effects of acute and chronic exposure on microglia, including their physiological and immunological roles. This is important to determine any therapeutic potential of cannabis use or contribute to implementing harm reduction and mitigation strategies in the case of any detrimental effects. We will establish how cannabis modulates microglial structure and function at baseline, so that we can next understand how the microglial response to cannabis changes in response to stress, infection, aging, and other contexts. Altogether this project will provide necessary information on the effects of inhaled cannabis on microglia, creating a foundation for the emergence of a new field of research.