Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry

A dose of perspective

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By Ciara Parsons

Roger Hudson confesses that science and school were not at the top of his list of interests when he was growing up. He credits one of his Grade 11 high school teachers for fostering his interest in science, which has led him to his current position as an MSc candidate in neuroscience.

By the time Hudson hit university, he had developed a keen interest in the applications of science, health care and the factors that influence health and wellness. With a strong desire to help others, he set out to pursue a bachelor’s degree at York University in social work, but later made the switch to psychology at the University of Guelph after realizing his interests were stronger in this area.

While at Guelph, Hudson began volunteering in a neurobiology lab that focused on the learning and memory mechanisms of addiction.

Today, he is working alongside his supervisor, Steven Laviolette, PhD, to study how different doses of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) interact and affect learning and neutral and emotional memory.

THC is the principal psychoactive constituent of marijuana and is damaging to brain development. Alternatively, CBD is the non-intoxicating aspect of marijuana and is thought to be able to regulate the effects of THC.

Explaining neutral memory, Hudson said it refers to memories that have no real emotional basis behind them. Emotional memory, however, refers to memories that hold feelings of excitement, sadness or avoidance.

“One of the main tasks I work on in Laviolette’s lab is fear conditioning. This is where we induce fear-oriented memories in our test-subjects, so that we can try to then alter the expression of these memories through the co-administration of THC or CBD,” said Hudson.

“After we have completed this, we see how our test-subjects have been affected by the doses of THC and CBD, and analyze whether the drugs have influenced the formation of these emotional memories,” he added.

Hudson believes this research can be applied to the study of schizophrenia, as people living with this mental disorder have irregular emotional memory.

“When we listen to the radio and we hear static, those of us without schizophrenia would write it off as completely unimportant. But someone with schizophrenia may ascribe undue importance to this static, such as external forces trying to communicate with them or as something very meaningful,” he said. “An emotional memory may be formed, which may then influence their future behaviour.”

Hudson aims to shed light on the basic neurobiology of schizophrenia by demonstrating how the endocannabinoid system in the brain influences the onset of schizotypal symptoms in otherwise normal functioning people. He also believes it may have implications for policy development around marijuana, as it may inform guidelines related to marijuana legalization.

Since THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana and can actively potentiate the development of psychosis, Hudson would like to explore which ratios of THC to CBD, the non-intoxicating compound within marijuana, lead to the most ‘effective’ therapeutic benefits of marijuana.

Traditionally, research on marijuana has been difficult to conduct as a result of access barriers and restrictions. Hudson believes legalization will allow the scientific community to conduct greater amounts of research on marijuana and may lead to a better understanding of how it affects individuals on both a biological and behavioural level.

“Stigma contributes to a lot of the misconceptions associated with research I’m completing. Because people see it as an illegal drug, or rather as a ‘criminal’ drug, sometimes it’s not taken as seriously—but I think in the future, as the prominence of this type of research on the endocannabinoid system and its relevancy in society becomes more apparent to the wider-population, the stigma will reverse,” said Hudson.

Hudson is passionate about his research and aspires to pursue doctoral studies after he has finished his master’s degree. His long-term career goals are focused on contributing new knowledge to the field of neurobiology and making an impact on the lives of those who can benefit from his work.