CSU aims to lead cannabinoid research with cutting-edge new center

Colorado State University opened a new research center this week. The Panacea Life Sciences Cannabinoid Research Center will study the health benefits of cannabinoids in humans and animals.

CSU and College of Natural Sciences alumnus Leslie Buttorff offered the university $ 1.5 million to create the center. In 2017, she founded Panacea Life Sciences which sells CBD products from people and pets. Buttorff partners with the university to advance cannabinoid research.

“Everyone knows about THC and maybe CBD,” she said. “But there are other minor cannabinoids that we want to research. And it contributes to a natural healthy way of helping people and pets. “

Cannabinoids are a broad class of chemicals found in the Cannabis sativa plant, also known as cannabis or hemp. Both contain the two main cannabinoids: THC and CBD. The difference is that marijuana contains higher levels of THC which produces the “high” associated with the use of the drug, while hemp contains 0.3% or less of THC. CBD has been touted for its health benefits for things like anxiety and pain relief and the United States Food and Drug Administration has approved a medicine containing CBD to treat seizures. There are more 100 cannabinoid chemicals.

The center is managed by the College of Natural Sciences and housed in the chemistry building. Research will be done on CBD and some of the other cannabinoids, but not on THC.

“CSU is a great university. It is a land grant university, ”she said. “If you think of all the departments that CSU has to contribute to cannabinoid research, we have chemistry, biology, agriculture, veterinary (veterinary) medicine, human medicine. So it just has all the different departments to put it all together. “

The laboratory has state-of-the-art chemical separation and analysis instruments. These instruments allow researchers to extract the specific cannabinoid they wish to study. Liquid mixtures, which include raw hemp, are passed through the instruments that separate and extract the chemicals. This process helps researchers discover the unique properties of a certain cannabinoid and how best to use them, center director Melissa Reynolds said.

“(Like) we put it in the formulation that is used for whatever application, we know it’s pure and we can identify how beneficial that therapeutic effect is,” she said.

The hemp and CBD industries are booming and the global CBD market is expected to reach $ 13.4 billion by 2028. With this new center, CSU is positioning itself as a leader in cannabinoid research by studying the medicinal properties of other lesser-known cannabinoids.

In a recent item published by CSU, Reynolds said they were trying to develop a variety of studies to answer “key questions about key cannabinoids, to really examine their potency and effectiveness for various applications.”

The center has been delayed for more than a year due to COVID-19. But research has already started and there are currently 15 projects underway. Several departments will use the instruments, including psychology which is conducting a study on cannabinoids, alcohol addiction and treatment.

The $ 1.5 million donation has enabled the center to purchase the necessary equipment to conduct its research now and in the future. That includes the ability to grow, which is a big plus, Reynolds said.

“We can go from research bench, small scale to medium industrial scale,” she said.

Stephanie Daniel

Colorado State University graduate student Jamie Cuchiaro uses instruments like this to separate and extract cannabinoids from the liquid at the Panacea Life Sciences Cannabinoid Research Center.

Researchers will be able to transfer the work of small instruments that only operate 100 microliters to larger ones that can operate up to 55 gallons of liquid per hour. Scaling up the process will help translate the experiences of academics to the private sector, Reynolds said.

“We are now very equipped, thanks to the gift that Leslie (Buttorff) provided, to be able to scale up,” she said. “This then makes the technology more available to industry in Colorado.”

The lab is open to undergraduate and graduate students who wish to study the effects of cannabinoids. Reynolds plans to help students tailor projects to their interests, including one interested in how CBD can affect anxiety.

“Many undergraduates in our sciences want to have experiences. It creates more competition for them when they enter the workforce to kind of have that competitive edge, ”she said. “I am a huge fan of helping students have real experiences. “

Fourth-year graduate student Jamie Cuchiaro is a separation chemist and works on different separations involving low abundance or minor cannabinoids. She was already working on her doctoral research before the center opened and also did an internship at Panacea Life Sciences two years ago. Cuchiaro, who plans to work in research after graduation, believes the new lab is “extraordinary.”

“We are able to analyze cannabinoids at lower concentrations and with higher precision than what would currently be the industry standard,” she said. “It’s a very exciting time to get into this field.

Cuchiaro works in close collaboration with other researchers. For example, there is a collaboration on the absorption of CBD into blood plasma in humans and horses. Researchers on the animal side will conduct their clinical study, take blood samples, and then spin the blood. What remains are the different molecules.

“They would bring it to me then, and I would be able to tell them exactly how much CBD is in the plasma, how many of these metabolites are present,” she said. “Then we can collaborate from there to create meaning and move forward. “

CSU is working on different opportunities for students to receive minors or certificates in hemp or cannabinoid studies. The center also collaborates with CSU Pueblo which offers a Bachelor of Science degree in cannabis biology and chemistry.

“I think there is going to be a lot more dialogue between the two universities to provide students with the opportunity to earn certificates or minors in the different fields that are suited to their interests,” Reynolds said. “Whether it’s more on the synthetic side, the analytical side, the agricultural side, the commercial side, the manufacturing side. I think all of these will eventually become possibilities as we are all working towards that goal right now. ”

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