September 27, 2013

Related NIDA Notes Article

Dr. Marilyn Huestis


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Length: 03:29 minutes | Download the MP3 (2.40 MB)



I’m Marilyn Huestis.

I’m the Chief of Chemistry and Drug Metabolism at the Intramural Research Program at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

We’ve done really interesting work that directly affects public health and safety.

And that’s where I’m very motivated is to actually see that it changes things like reducing deaths from drugged driving or reducing the effects on children when mothers use drugs during pregnancy, and so these are our main areas of interest.

What we’re best known for is for cannabis or marijuana research.

We’ve been doing this for more than 25 years.

We do controlled dosing studies in marijuana users, so these are individuals who volunteer to participate in these studies, and it helps us.

We can do everything from brain imaging to physiological effects, subjective effects—which is why people use the drug—and we’re able to look at cognitive functioning under the effects of the drug along with its concentrations in many different matrices.

So, we’ve looked for marijuana in hair, in saliva and oral fluid, in blood, in plasma, in all these different matrices after acute use, after chronic use, so we can really understand and interpret what kind of effects would be ongoing at the time of these concentrations.

We have a terrible new public health problem, which is emerging designer drugs.

You may have heard of them—Spice or bath salts—these are names of very dangerous drugs that are highly potent, that are … have come into the country initially as legal because they weren’t covered by our drug laws, and we’re playing constant catchup trying to get these drugs scheduled.

They don’t react in normal drug tests, so we have an answer to that, as NIDA’s response to this.

We’ve created a designer drug initiative here at the IRP. We now are culturing human hepatocytes, human liver cells, that we can give these new drugs to and have them metabolize the drugs, and then we take them and we go to our very sophisticated, high-resolution, triple time-of-flight mass spectrometers, and it’s like a puzzle to determine what the metabolism is.

So we’ve made a big effort in this regard to do this as rapidly as we can and to publish the data that the whole world can use to be able to identify the presence of these drugs in human tissues.