One of the great things about America is how much we do for others and how much we do for research.

This week I went to a seminar at McLean Hospital, a premier treatment and research institution for mental health. They have all kinds of programs for mental health problems for children, adolescents and adults. They even have a program for geriatric adults and they have not one, but two schools on the grounds. That is amazing!

However what impressed me most was the sheer amount of research in which McLean Hospital is involved. It is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, so it’s not surprising that they focus on research, along with patient care.

As marijuana gets to be more prevalent in America (Canada just legalized recreational marijuana), it is important to do the research and to let the public know what the findings are. One researcher who presented, Dr. Stacie Gruber, looks quite young but has been at this for a very long time. She works with mice and with people. Her facts will give readers of this column pause.

What the research says is that 8.9 percent of the adult population use marijuana regularly, and that even high school students smoke marijuana more than they use alcohol (although the percentage differs by only one percent – 5 percent for alcohol and 6 percent for marijuana). Dr. Gruber was the lead author on a paper in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, which found “smokers performed more poorly than controls on several measures of executive function. Age of onset analyses revealed that these between-group differences were largely attributed to the early onset group, who were also shown to smoke twice as often and nearly 3 times as much MJ per week relative to the late onset smokers. Age of onset, frequency, and magnitude use were all shown to impact cognitive performance.”

McLean is also the leader in ketamine therapy. Originally used as an anesthetic, it also has amazing antidepressant effects. From their literature, they state:

Ketamine is used to help depressed individuals who have not responded to at least two courses of medications most often prescribed for depression, or are suffering from acute suicidal thoughts or behaviors and urgently require a fast-acting intervention. Ketamine therapy may also be used, in consultation with a patient’s prescribing psychiatrist, to assist patients who must discontinue medications and remain off these medications for an extended period – a so-called ‘wash-out’ process – in preparation for starting a medication from a different class of drugs. In these cases, ketamine therapy is referred to as a ‘ketamine bridge.’ … Patient consultations determine whether ketamine infusions, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is the appropriate course of treatment for the patient’s psychiatric symptoms, diagnoses, and treatment goals. If a thorough evaluation indicates that ketamine is the right approach, an appointment is made with the service for a ketamine infusion.

The doctor who runs the program is Robert Meisner, and he has quite an impressive history himself: “He graduated from Princeton University, attended Harvard Medical School, and served as a resident in internal medicine and in anesthesia, critical care, and pain medicine prior to training in psychiatry.” That is really something for a clinician and researcher!

At the seminar, we heard a lot about CBT and how it is being used. Its full name is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and it is used as the modern day “talk therapy.” What they found is anxiety usually begins when people are children, and that CBT in young adults and even older adults is very effective. The psychiatrist who is running that program is Dr. Jane Eisen. She worked at both Brown and Mt. Sinai in New York before heading to McLean.

Perhaps one of the most innovate things that McLean is working on is the concept of a “peer specialist.” This is someone who has been though it as a patient and is now in recovery enough to help others. What a wonderful idea! This peer specialist is available to current patents and can talk them through their needs and desires. The person we talked to was asked on a regular basis to talk with patients and to be integrated into their treatment.

There are so many new and amazing things going on in the field of psychiatry, and McLean Hospital is at the forefront of most new things happening. We should all pay attention to the work they are doing.

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