Inside Colorado State University’s Plans for a Cannabinoid Research Center

Researchers will identify and study various types of cannabinoids in order to determine what they could be used for, as well as the best way to formulate them into products.

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Colorado State University (CSU) has received a sizeable donation from an alumna to create a research center dedicated to studying the chemical compounds in hemp.

The research center, located in the College of Natural Sciences on CSU’s Fort Collins campus, is focused on developing an analytical research lab that will allow researchers to identify and study various types of cannabinoids in order to determine what they could be used for, as well as the best way to formulate them into products, says Dr. Melissa Reynolds, the lab’s research director.

“The college is always interested in looking for additional areas of strength that we can add to our research programs, or identifying ongoing research that’s currently happening within CSU and figuring out a way that we can continue to support and grow those areas,” Reynolds tells Cannabis Business Times. “Additionally, we have a lot of alumni that are very supportive, even after graduating, [and are] wanting to see CSU grow and flourish in different areas. One of those particular alumni was Leslie Buttorff. … She was interested in establishing a research center related to cannabinoid research that would give opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, faculty and others to really explore a fairly unexplored space right now in cannabinoid research.”

The CBD market has been experiencing explosive growth since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, but what Buttorff and others found is that the industry is still full of unknowns, Reynolds says.

“There’s a missing piece of research or data supporting whether various cannabinoids have certain indications for use, whether that be in the medical arena or in broader formulations [and] product development—lotions and so forth,” she says.

CSU’s new research center strives to conduct that missing research and provide that missing data.

“That’s where we’re sitting right now, is this idea of being able to develop and identify methodologies that will lead us to safer usages [and] dosages,” Reynolds says. “We’re looking at a range of applications that are relevant to the field, as well as to the researchers here at the Colorado State campus.”

Now that the center has received a generous $1.5 million donation from Buttorff, Reynolds plans to launch the first studies this spring, before the end of the current semester.

“This gift will establish CSU as the leader in cannabinoid research, and it will provide a unique industry partnership,” Reynolds says. “It will also give faculty and students research opportunities.”

The funding will help build out the instrumentation in the lab, she says, as well as cover additional facility development and operating costs.

“There will be research funded there, but the initial donation is also really focused on establishing the center with state-of-the-art, high-tech equipment that can be used to get answers to some of the questions that researchers are interested in asking,” Reynolds adds.

CSU is already engaging in studies on hemp seed and genetics, and the new research center will bring the university’s researchers together and become a focal point for continuing studies.

“I am also incredibly excited about the opportunity for students to engage in the discovery and research process,” Reynolds says. “I think this really speaks to Leslie’s intent when she donated the money, and that is the idea that we’re going to be supporting undergraduate and graduate student development at the same time that we’re actually making discoveries that are going to have a pretty big impact on the world. It’s sort of full circle. She was a student here. Now she’s giving back. That’s going to give students opportunities that will push research forward in this field and that’s a really special thing.”

The center’s first studies will look at indications of use for various cannabinoids, Reynolds says, as well as their separation efficiencies.

Reynolds plans to follow the normal protocols that CSU has in place for establishing research and partnership agreements that align with the university’s federal and private funding, but she says her team will take a holistic approach in sourcing hemp from potential partners.

The center is not working with THC, Reynolds adds, and must source plant material that contains less than 0.3% THC.

The new research center also plans to work in collaboration with the Institute of Cannabis Research at CSU Pueblo.

“We’re two separate entities, but we are working together,” Reynolds says. “Having centers on two different campuses but under the CSU umbrella system really allows us to take that holistic approach to cannabis, as well as cannabinoid education and research. I would say the cannabis side has really been down to CSU Pueblo. We’re right now focused on the cannabinoid side. Our research center will be synergistic with what’s been done at the Institute for Cannabis Research, and we’re using that to leverage our unique strengths to work toward the common goal, which is all things hemp and thinking about how we can use these in different types of research fields.”

Reynolds’ research has historically focused on medical devices and products, and she would ultimately like to see this new research lead to new medical-based products that can be used in the healthcare industry.

“What I’m looking forward to is having a place where everyone can come together, work on some of the grand challenges in a space that gives us the instrumentation and facilities to allow us to go after those types of questions,” she says. “The thought of having individual people doing individual components, having everyone working together, sharing knowledge, progressing science, is what I see as really, really exciting.”

“What’s [also] exciting about this is we, at this point, don’t even know all of the things that we don’t know, but with each discovery, we will continue to open up more questions, which will lead to more discoveries, which will lead to more advances,” Reynolds adds. “It’s that cycle that makes me very excited about what can occur at this center."

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