Information about BPRL research studies

Welcome to our research studies information page, and thanks for your interest.

This page has the following information: who we are - how to participate - possible concerns about participation - current research studies.

Who We Are

The Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory is directed by Dr. Scott Lukas, a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. We study the biological and psychological effects of legal and illegal drugs, including alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and marijuana. We also study new treatment methods for people who have become dependent on these drugs.

Our staff includes several psychologists and psychiatrists, and several Research Assistants who carry out most of the day to day research activities. We have doctors available 24 hours a day to ensure the safety and well-being of the people who participate in our research studies.

For more information about who we are, where we are, and what our research lab looks like, visit our Laboratory Information page.

Interested in Being a Research Participant?

We appreciate your interest and your taking the time to visit this page. We recognize that without the participation of people like you, the medical sciences and their many benefits would not be possible.

At the same time, we take seriously our responsibility to inform you fully about what participating in our studies involves, and to address from the start any questions or concerns you might have (see below, "Questions or Concerns About Participating in Researcn?"

How To Participate

If you feel comfortable taking the next step toward participation, here's what happens next...

  1. Call and leave a message on our volunteer line, 617 855-3823.
  2. We will call you back within 48 hours (weekdays).
  3. If there is a good "match" with one of our studies, and you still feel comfortable, a first visit is scheduled.

Questions or Concerns About Participating in Research?

People understandably have questions and concerns about participating in medical research. In this section we address some of the more common questions and concerns, both about medical research in general and the kinds of studies we conduct in particular, which you may find helpful for deciding whether or not to take the next step.

  • Is it safe?
        All of the procedures in our studies have been approved by the Institutional Review Board of the McLean Hospital. This oversight committee is responsible for ensuring that all research studies are designed and carried out with participant safety as the top priority. In addition to complying with this administrative overview, we always strive to ensure the safety and well-being of our research participants.
        Some, but not all, of our studies have potential risks associated with monitoring physiological information (e.g., sampling blood) or the effects of receiving certain drugs. During and after such procedures we are careful to minimize participants distress and help them manage any that may arise.
  • Will I be fully informed of potential risks and benefits before I agree to participate?
        Before someone begins any study procedures, she or he is provided with a "informed consent document" that describes the nature of the research study and its procedures, including how long it will take, why we are recruiting certain people, and all of the procedures involved, any potential risks and benefits associated with participation. This is done so that she or he can decide, after asking additional questions if necessary, whether or not to participate.
        This procedure itself is known as "informed consent," and is a key element in the conduct of ethical research. Every informed consent document has been reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board of McLean Hospital (see above). Only if and when someone decides to participate, and the information consent document is signed by both the participant and a research staff member, does the actual research begin. Finally, all participants are provided with a copy of their signed informed consent document, and encouraged to ask additional questions at any time.
  • Can I stop in the middle if I change my mind?
        Definitely. As described in every informed consent document (see above), participants can decide at any time that they do not want to continue participating in a study, and do not even have to provide reasons why. Furthermore, there are no penalties associated with ending study participation before all procedures have been completed. However, we will always advise participants if there may be health risks associated with ending participation (in rare cases, for example, if someone is taking a medication that can cause side effects due to abrupt termination).
  • Will information about me be kept confidential?
        Yes. Information disclosed or revealed at any time, from initial phone conversations to determine whether one might be eligible or want to participate in a study through any and all study procedures, is only shared with research team members who need to know to perform their job.
        Any research documents and records with identifying information (name, address, etc.) are separated and stored separately from other research data (questionnaire responses, etc.), in a locked file cabinet in a locked room. Documents, records and any other form of data with no identifying information (only coded identification numbers for participants) is stored in locked file cabinets in locked rooms. These and other safeguards to protect participants' privacy are also described in the information consent document for each study (see above).
  • How much of my time will it take?
        That depends on the study. We have treatment studies that involve 2-3 visits per week for several months, and single-visit studies that take 2 or 3 hours.
  • If I have a serious problem with alcohol or drugs, does your staff understand and appreciate what that can be like?
        This is our area of greatest expertise and experience. Our research staff either have many years of experiencing working with people who have struggled with such problems, or have been trained by senior research staff who have such experience. We are also careful to hire staff members who demonstrate great sensitivity to these issues.
  • Will I be paid for my time and inconvenience?
        Yes, and all payments are provided in accordance with norms of ethical practice in the United States and at McLean Hospital, as determined and regulated by the Institutional Review Board (see above).

Other Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I have to live in Massachusetts to be a participant?
        Participants must have a current Massachusetts address. A dorm address is fine.
  • Do you have research appointments during evenings and weekends?
        For many of our studies we can schedule evening appointments; weekends are usually not possible.

Current Studies

We are currently recruiting participants for several studies. They address a variety of research questions, about several legal and illegal drugs, and require different amounts of time from participants.

We have two main types of studies, those involving laboratory procedures aside from standard interviews and questionnaires, and those requiring participants to record day to day experiences (outside the lab) over periods from days to months. Below we have further grouped our studies according to the topics they address.

For each type of study, there are brief descriptions and links to advertisements for specific studies. Clicking on the title opens advertisements in a new window, in the PDF file format. (If you have not installed the Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can do so here.)

Studies on treatments for problems with alcohol and other drugs

  • Herbal medication for alcohol abuse. Does a common Chinese herb change how the body reacts to alcohol? These studies involve an evaluation of alcohol drinking behavior or measurement of brain alcohol levels with MRI technology.
  • Treatment-seeking individuals who have recently completed alcohol detoxification are needed to assess the effects of an FDA-approved medication on alcohol intake and cravings.
  • Cigarette smokers are needed to study the effects of nicotine on the brain. Participants will smoke while in a MRI and answer questions about their mood.
  • A new 'no-needle' acupuncture treatment is being studies to see if it reduces drug use and drug cravings. This study involves 30 minute periods of mild (tingling) electrical stimulation to the hand and arm, plus daily recordings in diaries.
  • Two studies (1 and 2) are looking at the interaction of marihuana, THC (the active ingredient of marihuana), and sleep deprivation. These studies require several overnight sleeping sessions in our sleep laboratory.

Traumatic experiences, emotions and motivation
    Do traumatic experiences affect emotions and motivation? This study involves two 3-hour visits to the lab and examines whether traumatic experiences cause changes in brain areas responsible for emotions and motivation. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests will be conducted.

2004-2007 Scott Lukas, Ph.D.
Last revised 10/17/07