News - Jun 2019

Exploring the use of CBD in treating alcohol use disorder

The CBD industry is booming. CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a chemical compound derived from the cannabis plant that is marketed as a cure-all and added to everything from bath bombs to dog treats.

But has the hype of CBD gotten ahead of the science?

“The use of medical cannabis in Canada has increased by 2000 per cent since 2014, but the evidence to support its therapeutic benefits simply isn’t there,” says Dr. James MacKillop, Senior Scientist at Homewood Research Institute (HRI) and Director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. Dr. MacKillop is overseeing research that will help to address this need for evidence in Canada.

One of the most pressing questions surrounding the therapeutic application of CBD relates to its potential for treating addiction – specifically, alcohol use disorder.

Jasmine Turna

Dr. Jasmine Turna

Recently, Dr. Jasmine Turna, an HRI Research Trainee and post-doctoral student working under Dr. MacKillop’s supervision, shared findings from a systematic review exploring CBD’s utility in treating alcohol use disorder. The review, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, sought to characterize existing literature from animal studies to evaluate the credibility of CBD as a potential treatment option for alcohol addiction.

In a webcast hosted by Homewood Health Centre on April 25th, Dr. Turna shared her findings with clinicians, researchers and other mental health professionals.

Three themes emerged from the literature review:

  1. CBD may have the potential to limit alcohol-related liver damage.
  2. CBD may reduce brain degeneration associated with alcohol use, thereby protecting cognition.
  3. CBD may influence factors like impulse control and anxiety, thereby possibly reducing the risk of relapse.

Previous research on CBD suggests that the compound has notable anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may explain its potential to limit liver damage and neurodegeneration. CBD’s influence on relapse, on the other hand, could be attributed to its ability to affect risk factors associated with relapse, such as anxiety and impulsivity.

Next steps

While animal studies have generated promising findings, further research is now needed to determine whether these findings will translate to human studies. Dr. Turna’s review identifies three key areas in which CBD may produce therapeutic effects, providing clear avenues for human clinical trials. These include:

  1. Alcohol motivation: how does CBD affect cravings and withdrawal?
  2. Neurocognition: what effect does CBD have on the brain’s reward systems, learning, memory and cognitive function?
  3. Liver function: how does CBD impact liver enzymes indicative of liver health?

View the Webcast               Read the Article

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Do mental health apps work? HRI and The RBC Foundation want to find out.

As the need for mental health resources grows, technology will play an increasingly important role in the delivery of mental health services. In recent years, mental health apps have proliferated, providing smartphone users with fast and cost-effective access to portable resources that address everything from anxiety to eating disorders.

But how effective are mental health apps? With little to no research to support the claims of app developers, healthcare providers and consumers struggle to select and make the best use of these resources.

RBC funds project to help HRI find answers

A recent partnership between Homewood Research Institute (HRI) and The RBC Foundation will help to bring clarity to app users – particularly to youth who rely heavily on apps and smartphone technology.

The RBC Foundation has generously donated $207,000 to support a project aimed at examining the quality of mental health apps. HRI will work with faculty members from Harvard Medical School, including Dr. Yuri Quintana from the Division of Clinical Informatics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, to carry out this research.

The funding announcement was made on May 9 at a public event hosted by HRI in Guelph, Ontario. Led by HRI, the mental health app project has two goals:

  1. Develop a framework to evaluate the effectiveness of mental health apps, and
  2. Identify top-quality apps aimed at addressing mental health problems, specifically among youth (pending further funding).

HRI has engaged Dr. Yuri Quintana, Director of Global Health Informatics at Harvard Medical School and a world leader in digital health services, to guide technical development on the project.

Building a roadmap for the future

As the field of digital psychiatry grows, so too does the need to identify credible online resources. By building tools that enable the large-scale evaluation of mental health apps, The RBC Foundation and HRI are helping to create an evidence-informed roadmap for future users of digital mental health services.

Outcomes of the project will be relevant to healthcare providers and other agencies around the globe that use mental health apps to supplement psychiatric treatment.

Representatives from the RBC Foundation proudly present HRI with funding to complete the mobile app project. (L-R: Mike DeBorger, Senior Account Manager, RBC; Rick Tessaro, Senior Account Manager, Real Estate, RBC; Francine Dyksterhuis, Regional President, Southwestern Ontario, RBC; Rob Schlegel, Chief Financial Officer, RBJ Schlegel Holdings; Dr. Roy Cameron, Executive Director, HRI; Mary Lou McCutcheon, Vice President, Commercial Financial Services, Agriculture, RBC; Mark Eaton, Vice President, Real Estate Markets, RBC; Cindy Chao, Senior Manager, Youth Strategy & Innovation, RBC)

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HRI shares findings and makes major funding announcement at HRI Research Day 2019

On May 9, 2019, guests from across South-Western Ontario were invited to attend a special event celebrating the impact of mental health research.

First responders, mental health professionals and other community members were in attendance for HRI Research Day, an annual event hosted by HRI. Guests had the opportunity to speak with HRI staff, scientists and trainees about research projects underway that are helping to improve treatment outcomes for Canadians living with mental illness and addiction.

Some of the research topics included:

HRI also announced a new partnership and a donation of $207,000 from the RBC Foundation, which will support a project aimed at improving digital mental health resources for youth.

Representatives from RBC were on-site to share details of the project, which will involve experts from HRI and Harvard Medical School and focus on evaluating the quality of mobile mental health apps. The project will benefit consumers and healthcare providers alike, generating evidence about how to select and make the best use of mental health apps.

Members of HRI’s trauma research team. L-R: Dr. Margaret McKinnon, Homewood Research Chair in Mental Health and Trauma; Heather Millman, Project Coordinator; Alina Protopopescu, HRI Research Trainee (McMaster University); Chantelle Lloyd, HRI Research Trainee (Western University)

Anna Park, HRI Research Trainee (McMaster University)

HRI Research Trainees from McMaster University L-R: Sophia Roth, Bethany Easterbrook, Aamna Qureshi, Anna Park, Chantalle Lloyd

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