Brain Canada Rising Stars Award funds research on how cannabis alters microglia

imagePost-doctoral fellow Dr. Haley Vecchiarelli (Tremblay Lab) recently received a 2023 Brain Canada Rising Stars Trainee Award. Specially, Dr. Vecchiarelli received the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids (CCIC) Neuroscience Fellowship in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. This award will fund her work, done in collaboration with Dr. Jibran Khokhar’s laboratory at the University of Western Ontario, focusing on how cannabis exposure alters microglia.

Microglia, the brain's resident immune cells, are vital for healthy brain function. This is partially accomplished through their interactions with neurons – the primary brain cells – and those cells’ synapses – the places where neurons connect and communicate. Microglia are highly responsive to changes in the environment, which can modify their functions and interactions with neurons and synapses, leading to alterations in behaviour and brain functions like memory. Environmental changes can include lifestyle factors, such as consuming cannabis.  Cannabis use has been recently legalized in Canada; however, our knowledge of how it affects these important cells is not well-understood.

Although previous work points to the potential of cannabis as an immunomodulatory agent, this work was performed with models that do not employ the same cannabis strains or routes of administration that humans use. Dr. Vecchiarelli’s work is the first of its kind to study the effect of inhaled cannabis on microglia using commercially available strains. It will provide a multi-modal understanding of how cannabis exposure affects microglia, including how it affects the cells’ physiological and immunological roles. This research will help determine if cannabis use has any therapeutic potential or, if detrimental effects are discovered, contribute to future harm reduction and mitigation strategies.