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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A special announcement from HRI

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Kenneth Murray, a revered community leader and long-time member of HRI’s Board of Directors.

As a member of the HRI Board, Ken provided vital oversight to HRI as our organization progressed from a small start-up to a nationally focused entity. He recognized early on the importance of collaboration with other organizations, and was instrumental in creating the spirit of co-operation to enhance collective impact that guides HRI’s strategic approach to this day.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a true gentleman and extend our condolences to Ken’s wife, Marilyn, and his family,” says Ron Schlegel, Chair of the HRI Board.

“I’ve known Ken for over 30 years and have been inspired by his deep and unwavering commitment to using research and education to promote the best possible quality of life for people who are aging or affected by mental illness and addiction.”

Ken’s professional legacy is remarkable. By one colorful account of his life, he began by nailing wooden egg cartons together at J.M. Schneider Inc. in Kitchener, Ontario. His work ethic and business savvy would earn him many promotions over the years; in 1969, he was appointed President and CEO of the company. During his 17-year term as President and CEO, he saw Schneider’s sales grow from $70 million to $650 million.

During his time at Schneider’s, Ken recognized the importance of mental health and well-being among his employees and their families. He took every opportunity to create employment conditions conducive to mental health and would go on to become a notable philanthropist, committed to advancing mental health initiatives.

Perhaps the project closest to Ken’s heart was the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Project (MAREP). His first wife, Helen, lived her last years with Alzheimer’s disease. Learning first-hand just how devastating this illness could be, Ken assembled a team and created MAREP. The organization integrates research and education to improve dementia care practices and quality of life for people diagnosed with age-related cognitive impairments.

In 2001, Ken was appointed a member of the Order of Canada for his generous contributions to community organizations, including the Universities of Waterloo and Guelph, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Community Foundation. He was also the recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal for his community service.

Ken used his corporate leadership, his philanthropy and his wisdom to make a profound difference to a great many people in his lifetime. His legacy is enormous and truly inspiring.

Thank you, Ken, for all you’ve done to advance HRI’s mission and beyond that, to do so much in so many ways to improve the lives of Canadians.

Kenneth Murray’s obituary and details about his celebration of life can be found here.

Save the date: HRI Research Day

Homewood Research Institute (HRI) is proud to help the Canadian Mental Health Association #getloud about mental health with a special event on May 9, 2019.

Join us for HRI Research Day – Spring 2019, a free public event where the HRI team will be available to answer your questions about mental health and addiction research.

  • Find out how we’re engaging thought leaders across Canada to address some of our nation’s most pressing mental health and addiction challenges
  • Learn about applied research and how it’s helping to transform the way we treat mental health and addiction in real time
  • Get details on the latest research projects underway at HRI and how they can help people across Canada and beyond

Date: Thursday, May 9, 2019
Time: 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (light lunch included)
Venue: 10C (42 Carden St. Guelph – 4th Floor Community Classroom)
RSVP: Click to register today
Cost: Free

This event is helping to raise awareness about mental health in celebration of CMHA Mental Health Week. For more information about how you can help Canada #getloud during Mental Health Week, click here.

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HRI scientist awarded funding to advance promising trauma research

Cognitive tool aims to help veterans and military members

On February 1, Homewood Research Institute (HRI) announced the expansion of vital research that provides hope for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Early studies led by HRI among inpatients being treated for PTSD suggest that a cognitive training program called Goal Management Training (GMT) helps to reduce symptoms common among people with PTSD, including difficulty with memory, attention, planning and organization.

Thanks to a three-way funding partnership between the Military Casualty Support Foundation, The Cowan Foundation, and RBJ Schlegel Holdings, research will now be expanded to two outpatient clinics in Ontario to evaluate the utility of GMT among military members and veterans with PTSD.

Dr. Margaret McKinnon is Homewood Research Chair in Mental Health and Trauma and the principal investigator behind the GMT studies. She hopes to replicate early findings from inpatient studies among outpatient groups. Her team will evaluate the impact of GMT in the military population at Operational Stress Injury clinics in both Toronto and London.

The introduction of GMT among military professionals is timely: Veterans Affairs Canada reports that nearly 20,000 veterans and armed forces members have now been diagnosed with PTSD.1

Related reading:
Goal therapy treatment helps ease life for veterans with PTSD, CBC
(February 8, 2019)

Further funding to benefit public safety personnel

On February 8, McMaster University announced that Dr. McKinnon was also the recipient of a one-year $150,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). McKinnon is one of 22 researchers to receive funding to support the advancement of research that will help people with post-traumatic stress injuries.

Importantly, Dr. McKinnon will focus her studies on public safety personnel – including paramedics, correctional workers, police officers and firefighters – who are frequently exposed to traumatic events that increase their risk of developing post-traumatic stress injuries. A randomized control trial will explore how GMT can benefit public safety workers with PTSD and co-morbid conditions.

Related reading:
Wilfrid Laurier, Guelph researchers receive grants to study PTSD in public safety workers, CBC
(February 8, 2019)
France and Hamilton team up to study depression, The Hamilton Spectator
(February 14, 2019)



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How Grateful Patients are Giving Back to Help Others

Research demonstrates that the practice of gratitude improves immune function, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

Patients recovering from mental illness and addiction often ask how they can show their gratitude for a clinician, staff member or other individual who has played a key role in their recovery. We are pleased to announce a new program that allows patients who have benefitted from our research to do just that.

Homewood Research Institute (HRI) has launched the Grateful Patient Program, a donation program that enables patients to recognize someone special. And with every donation, grateful patients will also support others following in their footsteps on the road to recovery.

Patients are invited to donate and share their comments about an individual who contributed to making their recovery journey a success. Honourees will receive a letter of recognition, and all funds will support research at HRI that is designed to help future patients get better, faster.

Every donation will support the discovery of new treatments, the refinement of existing practices and the evaluation of alternative treatment approaches – all in pursuit of better mental health for Canadians.

The Grateful Patient Program is one more way that patients can play a vital role in advancing HRI’s vision of world where no life is held back or cut short by mental illness or addiction. And it offers people in recovery another means of practicing gratitude and celebrating those who have helped them along the way.

To make a one-time gift or monthly donation of gratitude today, click here.

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Press Release: New Study Provides Hope for Those Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Guelph, February 1, 2019 – Trauma is more complex than originally thought. People diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience changes in cognitive functioning, such as difficulty with memory, attention, concentration, planning and organization. Despite the fact that these challenges can severely impact one’s ability to function at work, school, home or in social settings, few studies have investigated treatments aimed specifically at improving thinking skills among individuals with PTSD.

A new study led by Homewood Research Institute (HRI) is exploring an innovative way to address this gap, treating the symptoms of PTSD through a cognitive training program called Goal Management Training (GMT).

GMT aims to reduce the symptoms of PTSD by helping people recover the ability to stop automatic responding, monitor progress on tasks and goals, and achieve those goals. The training has been used successfully in other patient populations – including people with brain injuries – to improve concentration, memory, and organization. This is one of the first times that the GMT program has been tested among those diagnosed with PTSD.

Preliminary results from studies involving patients receiving treatment for PTSD at Homewood Health suggest that GMT helps to improve thinking speed, memory and the pursuit of personal goals. GMT also led to reductions in depression and self-reported cognitive difficulties. Recently, GMT research has expanded and is now being trialed among individuals in the community with a history of military-related trauma and those who have worked as public safety personnel, such as firefighters, paramedics or police officers.

“Based on our studies to date, GMT holds great promise for improving quality of life and cognitive function for individuals with PTSD,” says Dr. Margaret McKinnon, Homewood Research Chair in Mental Health and Trauma, Associate Professor & Associate Chair of Research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, Psychologist in the Mood Disorders Program at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, and the principal investigator behind the study. “

But she cautions: “It does not replace standard treatment for PTSD, but rather focuses on cognitive function and quality of life.”

This vital research is made possible thanks to the generous support of The Military Casualty Support Foundation, The Cowan Foundation, and RBJ Schlegel Holdings, who have formed a three-way partnership and will collectively invest $200,000 over two years to expand GMT research in outpatient clinics treating military members and veterans to determine if previous findings can be replicated in non-residential settings.

“GMT provides hope for those who are suffering from PTSD,” says Theresa Hacking, President of the Military Casualty Support Foundation.

“We want to help military members and their families now, and GMT appears to be the way forward. We are honoured to pioneer this new treatment.”

In the coming months, HRI will implement Goal Management Training programs in both Toronto and London. The nine-week program will run year-round and will invite 12 participants per session. Doing so will not only help researchers understand the impact of GMT in outpatient environments, but it will allow individuals to access a program that may prove to be significantly beneficial to their quality of life.

“On behalf of The Cowan Foundation Board, we are proud to partner and support this program,” says Mary D’Alton, Executive Director of The Cowan Foundation.

“It closely aligns with the Foundation’s goal of improving the lives of Canadians, including those experiencing PTSD.”

“We are very pleased with this unique opportunity to partner with the Military Casualty Support Foundation, RBJ Schlegel Holdings and HRI,” says Heather McLachlin, President of Cowan Insurance Group.

“We see this research as having unlimited potential for those dealing with PTSD and their families.”

“HRI is grateful to The Cowan Foundation, the Military Casualty Support Foundation and RBJ Schlegel Holdings for their investment in this project,” says Roy Cameron, Executive Director of Homewood Research Institute.

“Their support enables Dr. McKinnon and her team to offer GMT to military members in a way that makes it possible to use evaluation to refine the way this new service is delivered as it rolls out.”

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Roy Cameron 
Executive Director
Homewood Research Institute
Office: 519-824-1010, ext. 32578

Dr. Margaret McKinnon
Homewood Research Chair in Mental Health and Trauma
Associate Professor & Associate Chair, Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University Psychologist, Mood Disorders Program
St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton
Homewood Research Institute
Office: 519-824-1010, ext. 32252