Ziva Cooper, PhD
Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology (in Psychiatry)
The persistent use of psychoactive substances despite the known physiological risks and social consequences ("addiction") is a public health issue that crosses cultural, geographical, and temporal boundaries. Intrigued by the enduring power of these substances to maintain drug-taking behavior, Dr. Ziva D Cooper seeks to directly explore the biological and environmental variables that determine the addictive potential of highly abused substances, like stimulants (cocaine), cannabinoids (marijuana), and opiates (heroin).
In 2007, she completed her PhD in Biopsychology from the University of Michigan where she investigated the behavioral and physiological effects of abused substances using animal models of addiction. She then came to Columbia University to apply her preclinical training in Psychopharmacology to investigate the neurobiology of highly abused, Schedule 1 substances in volunteers.
Her current work focuses on the direct physiological and behavioral effects of marijuana and crack-cocaine in humans, and the biological variables that contribute to their addictive properties. Administering these drugs in a controlled environment allows for the study of their direct effects, a critical aspect of understanding how these drugs produce their changes in behavior and the brain. These studies also provide the foundation to explore potential therapeutics for marijuana- and cocaine-use disorders, for which there are currently no FDA-approved medications. In addition to investigating the addictive-related effects of marijuana, Dr. Cooper is also conducting research probing the potential therapeutic effects of cannabinoids. In a recent publication, Cooper and colleagues identified the pain-relieving effects of THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana, and demonstrated conditions under which it can be administered so as to curtail its addictive properties.
Dr. Cooper has published over 25 scientific publications and three book chapters on the neurobiology of substance abuse. She has received Early Career Investigator awards from premier professional societies including the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, and has been invited to speak at several national and international scientific meetings.
The focus of the reseach is understanding the physiological, behavioral, and neurobiological effects of abused substances—specifically cannabinoids (marijuana), cocaine, and opioids—and the environmental and biologic variables that alter these effects.
Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Cocaine Smoked with Marijuana: Substances are rarely abused independently, thus, determining the physiological and behavioral effects of abused drugs administered independently and simultaneously under well-controlled conditions is an imperative preliminary step to advance the area of substance-abuse treatment in dually dependent populations. Marijuana abuse and dependence among the cocaine-dependent population is widespread. Although there has been a great deal of research investigating the behavioral and physiological effects of cocaine and marijuana independently, there are few reports documenting how marijuana alters cocaine’s behavioral and physiological effects and no studies directly assessing how marijuana alters relapse to cocaine use. Dr. Cooper and colleagues are interested in identifying variables that contribute to the abuse liability and health risks associated with this drug combination by investigating how marijuana and cocaine-associated cues may impact the subjective, reinforcing, and physiological effects of smoked cocaine. These findings will clarify the role of the cannabinoid system on cocaine’s effects while also providing clinically relevant information to direct treatment strategies for this dually dependent population.
Analgesic Effects of Cannabinoids (Marijuana, THC, nabilone, CBD): Laboratory animal studies have demonstrated the analgesic effects of drugs that act on the cannabinoid system; however, these effects have yet to be clearly elucidated in humans. To better understand the potential clinical application of cannabinoids for pain management, Drs. Cooper, Haney and Comer are investigating the analgesic efficacy of smoked marijuana and oral THC in the Cold-Pressor Test (CPT), a laboratory model of pain. The CPT has predictive validity for clinical use of analgesics. Determining the efficacy of cannabinoids in an experimental model of pain will provide important endpoints of this effect to further investigate the potential role for clinical use of smoked marijuana and/or oral THC as analgesics.