Madeline Roach is a third-year Ph.D. candidate.
She works in the newly opened Panacea Life Sciences Cannabinoid Research Center. It’s a state-of-the-art lab at Colorado State University that is expected to pave the way for cannabinoid science. The director of the lab is Melissa Reynolds.
“The center is really meant as a collaborative space to bring together researchers from across campus, from across disciplines to really look at how cannabinoids can be used to really better society,” Reynolds said.
Cannabinoids are found in the cannabis plant, and there are many different types like CBD, CBG, and THC. They interact with receptors in our body that regulate processes like appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory.
THC is the cannabinoid that makes a person high – that’s not being studied at this research center.
However, CBD has been known to help with seizures, anxiety, pain relief, and more. What’s lacking is scientific data and analysis to know the full extent of the potential medical benefits.
This lab will likely change that.
“We need to be able to identify the cannabinoids and be able to measure that how much do we have in a certain cannabinoid to have a certain effect on epilepsy or weight loss or anxiety," Reynolds said. "And so being able to make those measurements is really key to being able to understand what cannabinoids can be used for, what types of applications, which then wraps us all the way back around to be able to select for cannabinoids in various types of hemp strands.”
Reynolds says this reliable data could change the treatment landscape for certain conditions like alcohol addiction, irritable bowel syndrome, or insomnia.
Daniele Piomelli is the director of the Center for the study of Cannabis at the University of California, Irvine.
“In terms of whether these uses are backed by clinical evidence, there is some for some uses, and there is much less for others,” Piomelli said.
Piomelli says cannabis data has been limited so far due to legal hurdles.
“There has been, you know, a steady growth of research on cannabinoids over the last several decades, actually," Piomelli said. A lot of the research was thwarted by the fact that cannabinoids are a schedule one. So it's very hard to do research on cannabinoids.”
Schedule one substances - including heroin, MDMA, cannabis, and others - are recognized by the federal government as drugs with a high potential for abuse.
Piomelli says he’d like to see the legal regulations change so cannabinoids can be adequately studied and regulated.
“You need clinical trials that are randomized, placebo-controlled and also clinical trials that are sufficiently powered, so there are enough participants in the trial that one can draw statistically relevant conclusions," Piomelli said. "We don't have that. So we are stuck in a situation where we have this sort of tantalizing evidence, substantial even, evidence that cannabis may be useful to treat pain. But we don't have the type of evidence to be able to tell our physician to tell our patients ‘this is the doses that would work, and this is what you can expect, and this is how you need to prescribe.’”
The instrumentation in the lab permits researchers to measure at lower levels than other centers, which allows them to be more agile as regulations change.
Reynolds says it’s also a place where students like Madeline can see the impact of their research.
“The center has, and this is very unique for an academic institution, a mid-scale manufacturing separating instrumentation called NOVASEP that allows us to be able to do this at fairly large scale so we could actually use our methods," Reynolds said. "The students develop in the center and then scale that up to be good enough that we could use for various types of additional studies that we want to do.”
Not only could they have a significant impact in the medical field, but Reynolds says they are training the next generation of scientists that will impact the world.