If you’ve ever seen the Columbia University subway ads calling for drug research volunteers, you may have wondered exactly who is on the other end of the line. A call may lead you to Dr. Ziva Cooper, an assistant professor of neurobiology and research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. She studies the biological impact of illicit drugs, including marijuana. Her cannabis research has looked at such issues as how pot interacts with other psychoactive substances and at ways to help patients benefit from its supposed pain-reducing effects while limiting the possibilities for abuse.
Her studies have taken on heightened significance as states move to legalize medical or recreational marijuana. New York may be next, under a medical-marijuana plan announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, marijuana has not undergone testing or approval by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration — putting Dr. Cooper and her colleagues on the front lines of understanding the science of the substance.