Carl Hart Explains His Drug Research Lab

Dr. Hart is an Associate Professor of Psychology in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University, and Director of the Residential Studies and Methamphetamine Research Laboratories at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.  A major focus of Dr. Hart’s research is to understand complex interactions between drugs of abuse and the neurobiology and environmental factors that mediate human behavior and physiology.  

He is the author or co-author of dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles in the area of neuropsychopharmacology, co-author of the textbook, Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior, and a member of a NIH review group.  Dr. Hart was recently elected to Fellow status by the American Psychological Association (Division 28) for his outstanding contribution to the field of psychology, specifically psychopharmacology and substance abuse.

  • Transcript


Question: What is a typical lab project?

Hart:    We have several labs in which we are investigating the effects of psycho active drug use in humans.  The residential labs specifically allows us greater control it’s a laboratory in which we could, we can monitor our participants 24 hours a day and experimenters have little or no actions and so it allows us to monitor the best we can more naturalistic behavior.  So we monitor participants via cameras, microphones, and online computer systems and in that way we don’t get in the way or we don’t, we can then discover we can then discover perhaps new behaviors that may occur.  Typically in the residential lab participants are on a daily schedule in which they work, work for 8 hours a day and work being defined as they complete various cognitive test batteries, they complete subjective move scales of course they have, they are physiologically monitors through out the day.  So they will do that for about 8 hours and of course they will also have breaks in between those various work periods or work task battery periods and then after that 8 hour period they will have access to social activities like video tape movies, video games, and they can also interact with other participants.  So we try to make it, we try to model what happens in the real world when people are working 9 to 5 shifts or so. 

Question: Are there benefits to using drugs at work?

Hart:    So in the shift change studies that we do, we try to model folks working irregular shift schedules and because when you work irregular work schedules we have seen some of the most dramatic cognitive impairments that we’ve seen during our studies but you can attenuate these disruptions that are caused by changing people shift schedule by giving medications or drugs like medafonil that’s a stimulant, that’s  approve to treat narcolepsy and also shift change schedules disruptions you so, that’s been a benefit and we also all know that when you give low oral doses of amphetamines, they do the same, they attenuate these disruptions in a performance cause by shift change but this isn’t new that sort of thing isn’t new.  The US military has known this for at least 6 years and that’s why these medications are used in the US military particularly with folks who are working extended hours.

Question: What’s the most extreme drug reaction you’ve ever seen?

Hart:    I guess I can answer this in 2 ways.  What is the most dramatic effect I’ve seen in general and doing this type of work and then what’s the most dramatic drug effect that I’ve seen?  The most dramatic effect that I’ve seen in general doing this type of work is we do shift change schedules in which we have people work from 8 in the morning until 4 in the evening or 9 to 5 and then we’ll have them do that for a week and then we will abruptly change them to work in a shifts in which they wake up at midnight and they wake, they work until 8 AM and they will do that for a week and then we’ll switch them back to the day shifts.  So when you do that type of, when you have that type of design, you start to see dramatic effects because people sleep patterns are disrupted and you start to see dramatic effect on cognitive performance.  Cognitive performance is really impaired doing that, that those are the most dramatic effect I have seen doing this type of work.  now, the most dramatic drug effect that I have seen I think may be related to, maybe marijuana when you have people smoke marijuana, they don’t talk as much I mean when participants interact during a social period, they talk quite a bit but when they are intoxicated with marijuana, they don’t talk they like be tend to want to socialize, to be with each other but talking dramatically decreases.

Question: Why do people get stressed when they are high?

Hart:    Humans have always engaged in some activity that would alter their consciousness I mean, since humans been on, [desire] people will get high, that’s a fact.  That’s alcohol is available.  That’s why number of these legal substances are available.  Where does it stem from?  I think people are curious at some level and they want to alter their current state of being I mean, that could be from curiosity, that could be from stressed, that can be from some other sort of ailments, or problem that they are experiencing or could just be from boredom but humans have always attempted to alter their consciousness.  Kids whoa re on a playground for example, they spin around and they get dizzy, altering their, the way they currently feel.