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GW4 BioMed MRC DTP PhD studentship: Advances in clinical management and laboratory detection of synthetic cannabinoids (“Spice”)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, November 25, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the ‘GW4 BioMed MRC Doctoral Training Partnership’ which is offering up to 18 studentships for entry in September 2020.

The DTP brings together the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter to develop the next generation of biomedical researchers. Students will have access to the combined research strengths, training expertise and resources of the four research-intensive universities.


Lead supervisor: Dr Tom Freeman, Department of Psychology, University of Bath
Co-supervisors: Dr Ian Blagbrough (Bath), Dr Christopher Pudney (Bath) and Prof Graeme Henderson (Bristol)


Cannabis and cannabinoids have generated considerable scientific interest in recent years. Cannabis can now be prescribed as a medicine in the UK. By contrast, synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) found in street products such as “Spice” are prohibited from medicinal use. Due to their high cannabinoid receptor binding affinity, SCRAs carry a substantial risk of adverse effects including mental (psychotic symptoms, anxiety) and physical outcomes (seizures, death).

SCRAs are the most widely used drug in UK prisons (33% reported past month use compared to 14% for cannabis and 8% for heroin), and the most prevalent novel psychoactive substance requiring addiction treatment. Clinical management of SCRAs is hindered by a lack of evidence-based guidelines. Laboratory detection of SCRAs is obfuscated by the rapidly evolving nature of different SCRA compounds, and the inability of conventional methods to detect these.

This studentship will address these challenges in a series of novel, interdisciplinary Open Science studies:

1. What is the clinical presentation of SCRA disorders? Working at the UK’s leading SCRA clinics, you will characterise the ‘SCRA withdrawal syndrome’ and profile of SCRA dependency compared to natural cannabis.

2. Can pharmacological detoxification assist with SCRA management? You will evaluate a novel pharmacological detoxification procedure that could improve clinical outcomes for patients and inform UK guidelines.

3. How can novel analytical techniques improve the detection of SCRAs? You will be trained in quantitative Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy and a novel cutting-edge method of Fluorescence Spectral Fingerprints developed at the University of Bath. You will apply these methods to samples of “Spice” and saliva collected from patients in studies 1 and 2.

4. How can novel analytical techniques inform clinical management of SCRAs? Here you will combine data from studies 1-3 to investigate the following questions: Does the profile of SCRA compounds in patients’ samples of “Spice” predict their drug dependency and withdrawal symptoms? Can salivary measures of SCRAs be used as a biological marker of abstinence?

This is a truly interdisciplinary studentship offering high-quality training in psychopharmacology, analytical chemistry, biochemistry and advanced statistics. You will be trained in dissemination and generating impact, with the potential to influence clinical practice in national clinics, the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the EU Drugs Agency, the Society for the Study of Addiction, and knowledge transfer with industrial partners. You will be strongly supported by an expert supervisory team who have been awarded for excellence in doctoral supervision. Please contact Dr Tom Freeman for any enquiries: .


Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an area appropriate to the skills requirements of the project.

IMPORTANT: In order to apply for this project, you should apply using the DTP’s online application form:

You do NOT need to apply to the University of Bath at this stage – only those applicants who are successful in obtaining an offer of funding form the DTP will be required to submit an application to study at Bath.

More information on the application process may be found here:


Funding Notes

A full studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a Research and Training Support Grant of £2-5k per annum and a stipend (£15,009 per annum for 2019/20, updated each year) for 3.5 years.

UK and EU applicants who have been residing in the UK since September 2017 will be eligible for a full award; a limited number of studentships may be available to EU applicants not meeting the residency requirement. Applicants who are classed as Overseas for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

More information on eligibility may be found here: View Website

How good is research at University of Bath in Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 54.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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