Our current areas of research:
Psychopharmacology of Memory and Memory Therapeutics
Symptoms of PTSD, anxiety disorders and addictions reflect the behavioural output of maladaptive memory processes. Once formed and consolidated, traumatic and drug-related memories are too easily triggered, resulting in intrusive memories and flashbacks in PTSD, and drug craving and compulsive drug seeking in addictions. Using an experimental medicine framework, our studies investigate the determinants of early memory formation, and test pharmacological and behavioural methods for disrupting consolidation and reconsolidation of the maladaptive memories that underlie symptoms of PTSD and addictions. We hope these studies will help us identify the most promising approaches for clinical development.
Another line of research investigates the optimal conditions for reactivating (or ‘destabilizing’) maladaptive reward memories. These studies aim to identify parameters for producing reliable retrieval-dependent interference of these memories, an essential step in developing efficacious treatments that can overwrite such memories in addictive disorders.
The Unity project (psychedelicunit.com, @PsychedelicUNIT) encompasses several studies that are looking at the effects of the psychedelic drug, dimethyltryptamine (DMT) on mood, language processing and memory functioning. Related studies involve (i) developing standardized ‘preparation’ protocols for research subjects and clinical volunteers involved in psychedelic studies and (ii) strategies for achieving ‘psychedelic ends through non-psychedelic means’ (i.e. methods for generating psychedelic states through non classic psychedelic drugs, and other methods).
Exploring the Therapeutic Potential of Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide is an NMDA receptor antagonist and dissociative anaesthetic that shares many pharmacological properties with ketamine. It has been found to be a rapidly-acting antidepressant (like ketamine) and our studies have shown that it can be used to modify memory processes relevant to PTSD and substance use problems. Our current studies are investigating whether nitrous oxide might be an effective supplement to psychological treatments for PTSD and other psychological disorders. We are also examining whether nitrous oxide can be used as a pharmacological model of psychosis and whether its dissociative effects might be exploited to enhance the effects of psychotherapeutic interventions.
Psychopharmacological and Electrical Stimulation Techniques to Enhance Contemplative Practices
Mindfulness and compassion-oriented therapies are a relatively recent development in clinical psychology. Despite their promise, some people are unable to benefit from these treatments, because they require cognitive abilities and/or well-functioning neurophysiological systems, which are compromised in psychological disorders. We are testing several drug treatments (e.g. modafinil, a wakefulness promoting drug) and neurostimulation approaches (e.g. transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation) as methods for lowering the threshold at which adaptive attentional and social-affiliative systems are activated. We believe that this might make it easier for people to make use of meditative techniques.
In a series of three related studies, CannTeen aims to find out how the use of cannabis affects the brain, cognitive function and psychological well-being, comparing teenagers and adults. The participant-testing phase of this project has now been completed and the results of this work are being published. Click here to find out more!