Staci Gruber, PhD
Director, Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core
Director, Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND)
- Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Staci Gruber, PhD, is the director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core and the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) program at McLean Hospital. She is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Her research focuses on the application of neurocognitive models and neuroimaging to better characterize risk factors for substance misuse and psychiatric conditions.
Dr. Gruber studies the impact of marijuana on the brain using neurocognitive, clinical and diagnostic assessments, and multimodal brain imaging techniques. She works to educate policymakers and the general public about the neurobiologic differences between adults and adolescents as well as additional factors that contribute to the impact of marijuana on the brain. In 2014, Dr. Gruber launched MIND, the first program of its kind designed to clarify the specific effects of medical marijuana use on a number of outcome measures.
Dr. Gruber’s Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core (CCNC), established in 2008, is dedicated to studying the relationship between symptoms of psychiatric disorders and substance use, and the ways in which we think, solve problems, and process information.
Through the use of various magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques and neuropsychological, clinical, and diagnostic instruments, Dr. Gruber’s goal is to identify risk factors for psychiatric disorders and substance use, particularly the examination of cognitive and affective correlates of neural systems that may mediate symptoms of psychiatric disorders and behaviors related to substance abuse. She also examines the impact of recreational marijuana use as well as the trajectory of brain development in healthy adolescents and adults.
Dr. Gruber’s lab collaborates with numerous investigators on studies related to the neurobiology of various psychiatric disorders including bipolar disorder, depression, non-suicidal self-injury, substance misuse, and other conditions. Techniques used in these investigations include measures of neuropsychological performance, specifically executive function, clinical and diagnostic instruments, and multimodal neuroimaging techniques focused on brain structure and function.
Her work has highlighted differences between those who start using marijuana regularly before age 16 compared to those who start later, reporting that earlier marijuana use is associated with poorer cognitive performance, altered patterns of brain activation, and reduced white matter organization.
In order to build upon these findings, Dr. Gruber founded the Imaging Data in Emerging Adults with Addiction (IDEAA) consortium, a multisite initiative, in conjunction with Dr. Krista Lisdahl at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Together with Dr. Susan Tapert at the University of California, San Diego, and Dr. Francesca Filbey at the University of Texas, Dallas, data from studies using common neuroimaging and behavioral measures was pooled across sites to create the largest sample to date of well-characterized emerging adult cannabis users and matched controls.
Dr. Gruber also directs the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) Program, designed to support a wide range of studies that generate ecologically valid, empirically sound data regarding medical cannabis use. Through these investigations, MIND examines the unique and synergistic effects of cannabis and its constituents to determine the efficacy of cannabinoids for specific conditions and diseases and to clarify the overall impact of cannabinoid-based treatments on physical and mental health.
MIND is poised to improve patients’ overall well-being by striving to harness the therapeutic potential while minimizing harms of cannabinoid-based treatment. Primary outcome variables across MIND studies include measures of cognition, brain structure and function, clinical state/mood, pain, sleep, quality of life and other health-related measures, conventional medication use, adverse/side effects, and use/misuse liability.
Phase I of the MIND program includes an innovative study designed to examine the potential impact of medical marijuana (MMJ) on cognitive performance within various clinical populations. Additional research studies have also been launched in the MIND program, including a study examining the effects of MMJ treatment in a cohort of veterans as well as a clinical trial of a whole-plant derived cannabidiol (CBD) product for the treatment of anxiety. In addition, the Women’s Health Initiative at MIND (WHIM) is dedicated to addressing women’s health and disorders that disproportionately affect women. Additional projects are on the horizon, which aim to examine the impact of cannabinoids in numerous conditions.
The MIND program has established itself as one of the premier medical cannabis research programs in the United States. Studies from MIND have generated important findings but have also highlighted areas in need of future investigation. Through ongoing and future research initiatives, including collaborations with local, national, and international researchers, MIND is uniquely and ideally positioned to have a significant impact on clinical care and public policy.
- Bruce M. Cohen, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Juliana Cohen, PhD, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Merrimack College
- Hilary S. Connery, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Francesca Filbey, PhD, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Addictive Behaviors, (CrAve) Lab, UT Dallas
- Brent P. Forester, MD, MSc, Tufts Medicine
- Jill M. Hooley, DPhil, Harvard University
- Milissa Kaufman, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Kathryn Eve Lewandowski, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Krista Lisdahl, PhD, UWM Brain Imaging and Neuropsychology (BraIN) Laboratory
- Scott E. Lukas, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Beth L. Murphy, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Lisa Nickerson, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Dost Öngür, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Susan Tapert, PhD, UC School of Medicine
- Roger D. Weiss, MD, McLean Hospital
- Timothy Wilens, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
- Janet R. Wozniak, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
- Chun Zuo, PhD, McLean Hospital
Gruber SA, Sagar KA, Dahlgren MK, Racine MT, Smith RT, Lukas SE. Splendor in the grass? A pilot study assessing the impact of medical marijuana on executive function. Frontiers in Psychopharmacology 2016;7:355.
Sagar KA, Gruber SA. Marijuana matters: reviewing the impact of marijuana on cognition, brain structure and function, & exploring policy implications and barriers to research. International Review of Psychiatry 2018;30(3):251-267.
Gruber SA, Sagar KA, Dahlgren MK, Gonenc A, Smith RT, Lambros A M, Lukas SE. The grass might be greener: medical marijuana patients exhibit altered brain activity and improved executive function after 3 months of treatment. Frontiers in Pharmacology 2018;8:983.
Education & Training
- 1991 BMus in Jazz Studies/Vocal Performance, New England Conservatory of Music
- 1991 BS in Psychology, Tufts University
- 1995 EdM in Human Development and Psychology, Harvard Graduate School of Education
- 2000 MS in Psychology/Experimental Cognitive Neuroscience, Tufts University
- 2002 PhD in Psychology/Experimental Cognitive Neuroscience, Tufts University
- 2000-2002 Research Fellow, Psychiatry, McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School
- 2002-2003 Post-Doctoral Fellow, Neuroimaging and Neuropsychology, McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School