By Megan Thielking
NEW YORK — When she started collecting brains, neuroscientist Yasmin Hurd’s peers wondered what she could possibly be thinking.
Studying animals made way more sense as a way to trace how chronic drug use changes the brain, they thought — after all, how was Hurd going to parse the long-term effects from the trauma of the overdoses that killed the brain donors?
She waved her colleagues off. She wanted to know what was happening in human brains, not in mice.
So she began filling up freezers with slices of brain tissue from hundreds of overdose victims, most of them killed by too much cocaine.
“We had a lot of freezers, sadly,” said Hurd, who now runs the Addiction Institute at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. And then, early in the 2000s, she noticed a tidal shift: Suddenly, the overdoses were dominated by heroin.
She saw the opioid crisis coming. Ever since, she’s been trying to figure out how to intervene — could she modify or reverse the way addiction changed the brains being studied in her lab?
Hurd has homed in on cannabidiol, one of the two main compounds plucked from the marijuana plant. She thinks it might hold the potential to curb cravings for heroin and other opioids.
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