I am a first year doctoral student in the behavior, cognition and neuroscience program at American University. My research interests center around the motivational properties of cannabinoids, particularly Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana. I am interested in how a number of environmental and experiential factors influence these properties and their neurobiological mediation. Our lab investigates the affective properties of abused drugs using animal models. We posit that the interplay between the rewarding and aversive effects of a given compound drives drug abuse and assessing these properties enables better predictions of abuse liability.
Marijuana abuse is particularly difficult to study in animals, as there is currently no reliable pre-clinical rat model. In my master’s thesis, I sought to optimize the conditions under which THC’s rewarding properties might be demonstrated by giving rats a history of THC prior to place conditioning with THC. An independent analysis of THC’s aversive effects was also run. My data showed that although a drug history of THC clearly weakened its aversive effects, there was no corresponding rise in reward. This contradicts previous work in mice, suggesting that there may be species differences in THC’s rewarding properties or that at the doses chosen, THC is simply not rewarding. My current work is investigating ways to improve the translational value of marijuana research in animals by administering cannabidiol (CBD), a prominent phytocannabinoid in cannabis, in conjunction with THC. I am also interested in the role of sex in the expression of cannabinoid reward and whether ovarian hormones mediate these differences.