Branch Out scholarship funds research on how vapourized cannabis affects microglia


Sophia Loewen (Tremblay Lab; pictured) has received an Undergraduate Grant from the Branch Out Neurological Foundation to fund her summer research on cannabis and microglia.

In collaboration with postdoc Dr. Haley Vecchiarelli (Tremblay Lab), Sophia will study the effects of vaporized cannabinoids on the brain’s resident immune cells. They will use state-of-the-art imagining techniques to investigate changes in microglial density and shape, as well as in their interactions with other cells, under the influence of acute cannabis exposure.

This work is part of a project done in collaboration with Dr. Jibran Khokhar and Hayley Thorpe at the University of Guelph and Western University.

Though vapourizing is the most common way for people to consume cannabis, little research has been done on how vapourized cannabinoids could modify the immune cells’ function. (Other studies have shown that injected cannabis can modulate neuroinflammation caused by microglia.)

“Understanding the effects of cannabinoids on microglia is important because these immune cells perform a wide variety of tasks necessary for the proper formation and function of the brain,” says Sophia.

“Once we determine a baseline of how vaporized cannabis—both via acute and chronic exposure—affects healthy brains, further research can investigate how cannabis can serve as a treatment to help normalize microglia in injury and disease states,” she adds. “Alternatively, it can provide insight into when cannabis can be a detriment. Without these important baseline studies, our understanding is limited.”

The preliminary results of the project indicate that cannabis does affect microglia, but those effects differ depending on the region of the brain and the strain of cannabis used. Sophia and Dr. Vecchiarelli have presented these preliminary results at the 13th Hershey Conference on Developmental Brain Injury in Union, USA; the Mediterranean Neuroscience Society Meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia; and the International Cannabinoid Research Society 2022 in Galway, Ireland.

Dr. Vecchiarelli plans to continue working on the project after Sophia completes her summer research co-op. Sophia will go on to conduct her graduate studies in the Tremblay Lab, investigating the outcomes of maternal immune activation on microglia.

The Branch Out Neurological Foundation is a Canadian not-for-profit organization that supports alternative, tech-based, and non-pharmaceutical research on neurological conditions.