Story_image_CBD_anxiety

Do cannabinoids actually reduce anxiety?

July 12, 2019 | Science

Even before its legalization in Canada, cannabis was seen as a therapeutic cure-all. But when Lyndsay Pinder, now a psychology honours grad, looked into its potential as a therapy for anxiety, she discovered that the evidence was more anecdotal than scientific. Working with her faculty supervisor, Dr. Melike Schalomon, she set out to research the effects of cannabidiol exposure using zebrafish.

Title of work: “Effects of Acute Exposure to Cannabidiol on Zebrafish Behaviour”

About the research

Lyndsay wanted to determine if cannabidiol (CBD), an extract of cannabis plants, actually has an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect on humans. To do that, she looked at the effects of CBD on zebrafish because of their similar neurochemistry to humans.

Lyndsay used the novel tank dive test (in which fish demonstrate anxiety-like behaviour by diving to the bottom of the body of water in response to stress). The zebrafish were divided into three groups and given either a high dose of CBD, a low dose or none at all (the control group). Lyndsay then observed each group and measured how much time they spent in the bottom of the tank compared to the top.

“What we saw with CBD in this particular test was that there was no significant difference,” says Lyndsay. “So whether they were on the high dose or the low dose, the fish spent pretty much the same amount of time in either the top or the bottom compared to the control, so that didn't support my hypothesis that the CBD would have an anxiolytic effect.”

However, Lyndsay noticed a reduction in the velocity of swimming and time spent moving, which could indicate that the CBD was sedating the fish, but it could also represent some kind of effect on anxiety, even though the test didn’t support that hypothesis.

Is the research ongoing?

The novel tank dive test is just one of many behavioural tests that can be performed, and Lyndsay insists that it’s important to do as many as possible before drawing any conclusions, which is why the research is ongoing.

What's next?

In September, Lyndsay begins a master’s degree in occupational therapy at the University of Alberta. She recommends that students considering grad school get involved in research. “It gives you a competitive edge against other graduate school applicants who don’t have any familiarity with conducting research yet,” she says. “It also better prepares you for the transition into a masters or PhD environment, which are usually heavily research-based as compared to a classroom-based undergraduate environment.”
 

Lyndsay received an Undergraduate Student Research Initiative (USRI) project grant in 2018 for her research. Learn more about funding opportunities for students.

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Share your work

There are many ways to share – and celebrate – work you’re proud of, including MacEwan’s Student Research Day (where Lyndsay presented her research) and a range of on-campus student conferences and forums.




 
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