Research Focus

The CCNC is dedicated to the examination of cognitive and affective correlates of neural systems which may mediate symptoms of psychiatric disorders and behaviors related to substance abuse. Currently, we explore the underlying neurobiology of bipolar disorder, substance abuse and other conditions using various approaches.

In addition, we apply behavioral science to help shape policies addressing juvenile advocacy and defense. Our ongoing initiative to educate policymakers, judges, attorneys and the general public regarding differences between adults and adolescents has affected local and national policy.

Techniques used in these investigations include:

  • Measures of neuropsychological performance
  • Clinical and diagnostic instruments
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods: functional MRI (fMRI), structural MRI (sMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS)


Marijuana: Neurobiological Correlates of Age of Onset

Recently, work from our group has highlighted differences between those who start smoking marijuana (MJ) regularly before age 16 compared to those who start later, reporting that earlier MJ use is associated with poorer cognitive performance, altered patterns of brain activation and reduced organization of white matter. Further, in earlier onset smokers, lower white matter organization is associated with higher levels of impulsivity.


Using Novel Technologies to Uncover the Neurophysiology of Bipolar Disorder

We employ a multimodal brain imaging approach, including white matter assessment and functional imaging data, combined with cognitive and behavioral measures, to determine the differences that characterize patients with bipolar disorder. This study also investigates the impact of medication, duration of illness, age of onset and substance use.


Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND)

Assessing the Impact of Medical Marijuana on Cognition

Phase I of the MIND program consists of an innovative study designed to examine the potential impact of medical marijuana on cognitive performance, clinical state, medication usage, and brain structure and function throughout the first two years of medical marijuana treatment.

Sublingual Cannabidiol for Anxiety

Phase II of the MIND program is an FDA-approved clinical trial of a high cannabidiol (CBD) sublingual tincture for the treatment of anxiety. Please see https://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT02548559 for more details.

Cannabinoid Use in Veterans

Phase III of the MIND program examines clinical state, cognition, and brain structure and function in veterans who are using cannabinoids to treat a variety of conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, and pain.


Internal Collaborations

Randy P. Auerbach PhD, Director Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Laboratory
  • Healthy development and the impact of depressive disorders
Franca Centorrino, MD, Director, Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Clinic
  • Bipolar disorder, impulsivity, and inhibitory control
Bruce M. Cohen, MD, PhD, Psychiatrist; Director, Program for Neuropsychiatric Research
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction in bipolar disorder
  • Neurocognitive profiles of patients with first episode psychosis
Kevin Hill, MD, Director, Substance Abuse Consultation Service, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse
  • D-cycloserine in chronic tobacco smokers
  • Nabilone treatment for marijuana use disorders
Kathryn Lewandowski, PhD, Director of Clinical Programming, McLean OnTrackTM
  • Impact of cognitive remediation on brain function in bipolar patients
Scott Lukas, PhD, Director, McLean Imaging Center; Director, Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory
  • Exploring citicoline as a treatment for marijuana use disorders
Beth Murphy, MD, PhD, Medical Director, Clinical Evaluation Center
  • Identification of inpatients at risk for suicidal tendencies
David Olson, MD, PhD, Clinical Director, McLean Imaging Center; Associate Director, Brain Imaging Center
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy and metabolite relaxometry in major depression
Dost Öngür, MD, PhD, Chief, Psychotic Disorders Division; Director, Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Research Program
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction in bipolar disorder
  • Neurocognitive profiles of patients with first episode psychosis
Brad Reich, MD, Psychosocial and Personality Research
  • fMRI of affective instability in borderline personality disorder and bipolar II


External Collaborations

Jill M. Hooley, DPhil, Director, experimental psychopathology and clinical psychology program, Harvard University, Cambridge
  • A neuroimaging study of reward processing in non-suicidal self-injury
Timothy E. Wilens, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Multimodal imaging to explore juvenile bipolar disorder and substance use
Janet R. Wozniak, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • The neural underpinnings of pediatric bipolar disorder in first-degree relative


IDEAA (Imaging Data in Emerging Adults with Addiction) Consortium

A multi-site consortium, comprised of investigators using common, overlapping neuroimaging and behavioral measures in well characterized marijuana smokers and healthy controls. Data will be pooled in order to create the largest sample of well-characterized emerging adult marijuana users and matched controls to date.

Krista M. Lisdahl, PhD, Director, UWM Brain Imaging and Neuropsychology (BraIN) laboratory, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Susan F. Tapert, PhD, University of California, San Diego
Francesca M. Filbey, PhD, Director, Filbey Lab, University of Texas, Dallas


Volunteer For Research

Without the participation of people like you, scientists could not make progress in understanding, preventing, and treating psychiatric illness and disability.

Participants in our studies are generally compensated for their time and travel expenses. To learn more about our clinical trials, please click here and use the search terms below.

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Marijuana
  • Staci Gruber

To discuss participating in one of our studies or to receive more information, please call 617.855.3653 or email brainstudy@mclean.harvard.edu. You may also privately message us via our Facebook page: facebook.com/MJBrainStudy.