Deputy Director, National Institute on Drog Abuse, United States

Wilson M. Compton, M.D., M.P.E. is Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health.  NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction related to preventing drug abuse, treating addiction and addressing the serious health consequences of drug abuse, including related HIV/AIDS and other health conditions.  In his current role, Dr. Compton’s responsibilities include providing scientific leadership in the development, implementation, and management of NIDA’s research portfolio and working with the Director to support and conduct research to improve the prevention and treatment of drug abuse and addiction.

Prior to his current appointment, Dr. Compton served as the Director of NIDA’s Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research from 2002 until 2013. In this leadership role, he oversaw the scientific direction of a complex public health research program of national and international scope addressing: 1) the extent and spread of drug abuse, 2) how to prevent drug abuse, and 3) how to implement drug abuse prevention and treatment services as effectively as possible. Of note, he led the development of a large scale longitudinal population study to assess the impact of new tobacco regulations in the United States.  This project is jointly sponsored by NIDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with yearly data collection from an expected 50,000 study participants, including both surveys and biological assessments of tobacco exposures, risk factors and health outcomes.

Before joining NIDA, Dr. Compton was Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Master in Psychiatric Epidemiology Program at Washington University in Saint Louis as well as Medical Director of Addiction Services at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in Saint Louis.  Dr. Compton received his undergraduate education from Amherst College. He attended medical school and completed his residency training in psychiatry at Washington University. 

During his career, Dr. Compton has achieved multiple scientific accomplishments: he was selected to serve as a member of the DSM-5 Revision Task Force; is the author of more than 130 articles and chapters including widely-cited papers drawing attention to the emerging prescription drug abuse problems in the U.S.; and is an invited speaker at multiple high-impact venues, including multiple presentations to federal judges in presentations sponsored by the Federal Judicial Center.  These judicial presentations have focused on how the science of addiction may improve policy and practices related to addicts within the criminal justice system.

Dr. Compton is a member of numerous professional organizations, including the Alpha Omega Alpha medical education honor society. Dr. Compton is the recipient of multiple awards and in 2008, he received the Senior Scholar Health Services Research Award from the American Psychiatric Association, in 2010 the Paul Hoch Award from the American Psychopathological Association, in both 2012 and 2013, he was selected to receive the Leveraging Collaboration Award from the Food and Drug Administration. In 2013, Dr. Compton received the prestigious Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award for Meritorious Service.


14:30-16:00 6 NOVEMBER

Marijuana: Science in the context of a shifting social and legal environment

Drug addictions are quintessential gene-environment-development disorders that respond to environmental shifts, including changes in social and legal domains. A key recent example is the shifting landscape of marijuana (MJ) related legal policies, with reduced penalties for possession, expanded access for use of MJ to treat health conditions and full commercial MJ sales in some locations. Complicating the situation is the fact that MJ has been changing, with increased potency of the plant, extraordinary potency of plant extracts, and widespread availability of oral forms of MJ extracts. The MJ plant contains more than 500 chemicals, including more than 100 cannabinoid compounds (of which THC is just one). These substances interact with endocannabinoid receptors which play a central role in the formation of neural connections, both early in life and during adolescence. By acting ubiquitously on the endocannabinoid system, MJ alters the finely calibrated functioning of various brain areas. One large New Zealand longitudinal study found up to an 8 point IQ loss in heavy adolescent MJ users who developed persistent MJ use disorders. To help understand these potential developmental concerns, a major longitudinal study is now being conducted by NIH, the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Epidemiological and pre-clinical evidence also suggests an addiction priming effect for nicotine when taken during adolescence, and alcohol may also have deleterious effects on brain development. Nicotine, alcohol and MJ, alone and in combination, will be studied in the ABCD study. While MJ is not associated with overdose deaths, claiming that MJ is “safe” overlooks the subtler long-term developmental hazards that are less immediately visible and less easy to quantify. In addition, a complete picture of MJ cannot focus solely on harms and risks; these need to be weighed against potential benefits as well as possible social harms of existing restrictions. Fundamentally, the ways that countries proceed on the question of MJ policies needs to be informed by science.

Disclaimer:  The findings and conclusions of this presentation are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institutes of Health or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.