Center for Addiction Medicine

Bertha K. Madras, PhD

Bertha Madras Headshot

Psychobiologist, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse at the McLean Hospital, Professor of Psychobiology, and Founding Chair of the Division on Neurochemistry at Harvard Medical School

Contact:     (617) 855-2406


Dr Madras led a multidisciplinary, collaborative team of experts in medicinal chemistry and drug design, molecular and cell biology, behavioral biology and brain imaging to investigate psychoactive and therapeutic drug mechanisms in nonhuman primates and humans, focusing on dopamine signaling systems and medication development, cloning of multiple drug targets, and genotype/ phenotype associations, with the goal of clarifying immediate and downstream targets of psychoactive drugs and developing novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to alleviate the burden of neuropsychiatric disorders. She holds 19 US and 27 international patents. She served as Deputy Director for Demand Reduction in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position confirmed unanimously by the US Senate. She now serves on the White House Opiate Task Force. In government service, she focuses on public health challenges of addictive disorders, especially those related to marijuana and opioid use. She has organized three White House medical education conferences and convened government groups to educate healthcare providers on the need to identify and intervene with at risk patients and to raise awareness of the trajectory and consequences of current opioid prescribing practices. At ONDCP, she initiated policy and grant initiatives, including SBIRT, and made state medical licensing boards and medical associations aware of the need to educate physicians on the consequences of vastly increased opioid prescriptions. Her complex portfolio included oversight of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) drug policy, where she supported rapid publication of their research into roadside testing of multiple drugs/metabolites and a research program to determine the relationship between blood and saliva drug levels and prevalence of accidents. She now leads a preclinical research program focused on contrasting responses of the adolescent and adult brain to drugs of abuse (e.g. THC and psychostimulants) and serves as a consultant on marijuana and other drugs for the U.S. Department of Justice, for the CDC (SBIRT), the Vatican, and the World Health Organization (WHO). She authored a definitive report on the medicinal uses of cannabis (Dec. 2015) and co-authored the 2016 report on the health and social effects of marijuana for the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.


Current Projects

Long term THC elicits distinct changes in adolescent brain dopamine signaling

1R01DA042178 2017-22

Aim 1 will quantify age- and sex-dependent expression of D1-D2 heteromer and whether modulation of heteromer activity is reflected in rewarding or aversive behaviors. Aim 2 will measure THC effects on D1-D2 heteromer expression, on behaviors, on plausible downstream mediators of behaviors, as a function of age and sex, and whether modulation of D1-D2 heteromer activity affects THC-induced behaviors. Aim 3 will manipulate D1-D2 heteromer expressing neurons in NAc and consequences to THC-induced behaviors. Aim 4 will determine if THC alters DCC expression in adolescent primate prefrontal cortex and dopamine prefrontal cortex circuitry. These novel biological substrates of THC will yield insights into heightened THC (or marijuana) reward in adolescents, or increased anxiety in females, and a possible mechanism by which adolescent marijuana use can elevate the risk for psychosis and cognitive impairment. Conceivably, novel targets for medications development may emerge from these newly identified biological substrates.

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