$1.5 million donation goes to new cannabinoid research center

Marshall Dunham

While the cannabis business may be booming across Colorado, research on cannabis is about to start booming at Colorado State University.

Later this spring, the University will be opening a cannabinoid research center with its College of Natural Sciences, researching a variety of cannabinoids.

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While cannabinoids, the compounds found in the thin-leafed, mint-green plant, are often associated with Willie Nelson and late-night munchies, at the research center they’ll be the focus of new scientific studies. 

The center, funded by a $1.5 million gift from an alumna, is scheduled to open this spring, said Jan Nerger, dean of CNS. Although the center hasn’t been given a name yet, Nerger said it would be located in the chemistry building.

The center was made possible with a donation from CSU alumna Leslie Buttorff, a former student in the statistics department who now owns Panacea Life Sciences, a CBD company based out of Golden.

“It’s really going to be something that’s not happening certainly anywhere in Colorado,” Nerger said. “We think it’s going to be the finest analytical research facility in the region.”

There’s probably 100 different cannabinoids. We don’t know what they are or what they do, but we’re going to research that. It’s going to provide unprecedented research opportunities for our faculty and students because it’s such a burgeoning area.” -Jan Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences

Melissa Reynolds, associate dean for research for CNS, will be the center’s director.

“Cannabinoids are compounds found in the hemp plant,” Reynolds said. “The most common one that people have heard about is THC and CBD. Those are only two of 113 that have been discovered so far.”

The center will be used to discover and research various cannabinoids, as well as how they affect humans and animals.

“We’ve already started renovations for the space,” Nerger said. “So far, we’ve ordered half a million dollars in instrumentation that should arrive in three weeks. We hope to be up and running by the end of the semester.”

Nerger added that CSU would be purchasing over $1 million worth of instrumentation and equipment that will be utilized in cannabis research.

The center will research a variety of cannabinoids, and Nerger said that research will likely start with cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD.

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“There’s probably 100 different cannabinoids,” Nerger said. “We don’t know what they are or what they do, but we’re going to research that. It’s going to provide unprecedented research opportunities for our faculty and students because it’s such a burgeoning area.”

Reynolds echoed how groundbreaking the center is.

We’re doing more than scratching the surface, but this is our initial investment into this area. I think we’re going to develop undergraduate majors, some certificate programs (and) we’ll get graduate students involved. This is going to be big for CSU.” -Jan Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences

“What’s so exciting for this field is that there are so many questions we don’t know the answers to, and those lead us to additional questions,” Reynolds said. “The field is pretty wide open right now, and the possibilities for pretty impactful discovery are exciting right now.”

The center, which will not perform any research on tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana otherwise known as THC, will be able to research any cannabinoids found in hemp under the 2018 farm bill.

“Until the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (farm bill), high THC cannabis and low THC cannabis, aka hemp, were both classified as a Schedule 1 drug ‘marijuana,’” according to the University’s cannabis and hemp research webpage. “While the farm bill did remove hemp, which is cannabis having a THC level no higher than 0.3%, from Schedule 1, hemp continues to be subject to signification controls and restrictions.”

Nerger added that hemp itself would not be brought onto campus.

Reynolds pointed out that the center would also conduct research on terpenes.

“Terpenes are a different kind of large class of compounds,” Reynolds said. “Similar to cannabinoids, they’re typically more of the organic variety. They’re also found in a variety of plants.”

She went on to explain that terpenes are responsible for giving many plants their smell.

“They also, like cannabinoids, bond to different receptors in the brain to create different kinds of effects,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds and Nerger both talked of what they called the “hemp value chain.”

I appreciate the excitement and buzz not only from the faculty and the donors and the administration, but the excitement in the students and them recognizing that this is going to provide a lot of opportunities for them as well.” -Melissa Reynolds, associate dean for research for the College of Natural Sciences

“One of the initiatives Dean Nerger really wanted to focus on is this idea of cannabinoids and a field of research we’re calling the hemp value chain, which is everything from seed to eventual applications,” Reynolds said.

Nerger said CSU was in a great position to open up the cannabinoid center, as CSU has various colleges and departments that can explore and research every aspect of the hemp value chain. For instance, the College of Agricultural Sciences may research subjects related to the growing of hemp, while the department of psychology may research how these cannabinoids affect the human brain.

“We’re doing more than scratching the surface, but this is our initial investment into this area,” Nerger said. “I think we’re going to develop undergraduate majors, some certificate programs (and) we’ll get graduate students involved. This is going to be big for CSU.”

Reynolds added that, following a CSU SOURCE press release regarding the research center, undergraduate students reached out and asked how they could get involved with the center.

“I appreciate the excitement and buzz not only from the faculty and the donors and the administration, but the excitement in the students and them recognizing that this is going to provide a lot of opportunities for them as well,” Reynolds said.

Marshall Dunham can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @gnarshallfunham.