Brian D. Kangas, PhD

Brian D. Kangas, PhD

McLean Hospital Title
  • Director, Cognition Biology Laboratory

Harvard Medical School Title
  • Assistant Professor of Psychiatry


Brian D. Kangas, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Cognition Biology Laboratory at McLean Hospital. He first studied behavioral pharmacology while completing his PhD under the direction of Dr. Marc Branch at the University of Florida followed by a post-doctoral fellowship under the direction of Dr. Jack Bergman at McLean Hospital. His research program is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the biopharmaceutical industry.

Dr. Kangas is the recipient of several research awards including a K01 award from the National Institutes of Health and the B.F. Skinner New Researcher Award from the American Psychological Association.

Research Focus:

Dr. Kangas’ research examines the effects of psychoactive drugs on complex behavioral repertoires and cognitive processes relevant to pain perception, addiction, and other neuropsychiatric conditions. He is engaged in the development and empirical validation of novel laboratory apparatus and techniques to further this study.

Dr. Kangas’ research efforts are generally divided between two drug categories—drugs of abuse and candidate therapeutics. Because the effects of abused drugs on cognition are arguably some of the most important and least understood, one aim of his work is to gain a better understanding of how drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and the prescription opioids affect learning, memory, vigilance, and other cognition-related behavior.

A second aim of his research is to design experimental techniques to evaluate the potential side effects of novel therapeutics on various aspects of cognitive function. He works to demonstrate a reliable null effect on complex behavioral measures following administration of doses that are known to have medicinal value. This work, he believes, can serve as important preclinical predictors of a novel pharmacotherapy’s safety.

For Dr. Kangas, the examination of drugs of abuse and candidate therapeutics can often be studied in a reciprocal manner to inform each other. That is, many efforts in drug development strive to improve preexisting pharmacotherapies by decreasing adverse side effect profiles while maintaining medicinal value. For example, prescription opioids are very effective in the treatment of many painful conditions, but also have well-known addiction liability. Likewise, cannabis products can serve as excellent anti-nausea, anti-emetic, and appetite stimulant agents to assist those, for example, undergoing chemotherapeutic treatment; however, they also produce deleterious and unwanted effects on learning and memory. Designing studies that examine the preexisting drug as a standard allows Dr. Kangas and his colleagues to engage in direct within-subject appraisals of candidate therapeutics.

Selected Publications:

Kangas BD, Leonard MZ, Shukla VG, Alapafuja SO, Nikas SP, Makriyannis A, Bergman J. Comparisons of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and anandamide on a battery of cognition-related behavior in nonhuman primates. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 2016;357, 125-133.

Leonard MZ, Alapafuja SO, Ji L, Shukla VG, Liu Y, Nikas SP, Makriyannis A, Bergman J, Kangas BD. Cannabinoid CB1 discrimination: effects of endocannabinoids and catabolic enzyme inhibitors. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 2017;363, 314-323.

Kangas BD, Bergman J. Touchscreen technology in the study of cognition-related behavior. Behavioural Pharmacology 2017;28, 623-629.

PubMed search for Dr. Kangas

Education & Training

  • 2003 BA in Psychology, Southern Illinois University
  • 2005 MS in Behavior Analysis, University of North Texas
  • 2009 PhD in Psychology, University of Florida
  • 2011-2013 Post-Doctoral Fellowship, McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School


Phone: 617.855.2148
Office Address: Belmont campus - Oaks Building