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Canadian Cannabis Lab Gets Approval to Study Psilocybin

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Feb 01, 2021   
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A Canadian cannabis research lab has been permitted to expand into psilocybin research.

Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures (CBDV), a licensed cannabis lab based in Vancouver, has been granted a Section 56 exemption from Health Canada to carry out research in developing new analytical methods for studying psilocybin mushrooms, and to investigate the fungus’ many metabolites.

The team at the licensed cannabis and psilocybin lab hopes this new research into metabolomics identification and analytical method developments will help lay the foundations for new medical advancements in the field of psychedelics.

Getting approval to study restricted compounds in Canada

Under Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), all activities related to controlled substances and their precursor compounds are prohibited. But under subsection 56(1), there is a clause that allows for exemptions in the event of sufficient public interest or if the exemption would serve a necessary medical or scientific purpose.

Researchers looking to study psilocybin, cannabis, or any other controlled substance can use this clause to request exemptions from Health Canada. Any exemption awarded is given specifically to the research project presented to the agency and is valid for one year.

In December, Havn Life Sciences announced that the biotechnology firm had signed a contract with CBDV to study the extraction of psilocybin under Havn’s Section 56 exemption.

“We built CBDV as a contract research organization, effectively, in the cannabis space and now in the psilocybin space,” Dr Markus Roggen, CEO of CBDV, tells Analytical Cannabis. “We offer research services to clients, and Havn was planning to collaborate with us on the chemical aspect of their research and therefore integrated us in their exemption.”

A focus on methodology and metabolomics

Now CBDV has been granted its own unique Section 56 exemption from Health Canada, Roggen says the lab can search for and identify metabolites present in psilocybin mushrooms, as well as develop analytical tools that can complement this research.

“Our own [Section] 56 exemption is written into more of a discovery aspect and metabolomics,” Roggen explains. “We want to develop complementary analytical tools and start looking at mushrooms [to see] what else is there except psilocybin? We know the story from cannabis. They had THC, then they came across CBD, then they came across CBG. And going down the list [there are] 140 plus cannabinoids now discovered.”

“In psilocybin, the list so far is quite short, and one reasonably can expect there’s more to go. So we want to hunt for those. Our two projects and the two exemptions we participate in are complementary.”

From cannabis research to psilocybin study

CBDV began as a cannabis research laboratory specializing in extraction, chemical analytics, and process optimization for cannabis analysis. But CBDV considers this expansion into psilocybin research a natural stage of growth for its research operations.

“You might think we are a cannabis research company,” Roggen says. “What we actually are is a chemical research company [with a focus on] medically active compounds that are under-researched and restricted in their work.”

“So, it’s not so much that we are the cannabis people; we are the people that have figured out how to how to do fundamental research on under-researched compounds that are difficult to get hold of legally. And if you describe it that way, psilocybin fits into this quite nicely.”

While there are some very important chemical differences between cannabis and psilocybin – the latter is water-soluble whereas cannabis is fat-soluble, so a different sample preparation procedure is required – the overall skill sets needed to research both compounds are broadly similar. Past experience in managing restricted substances, for example, and a familiarity with analytical chemistry techniques can still provide a good basis of transferable skills for the study of psilocybin mushrooms and their chemical constituents.

Interestingly, as with cannabis where THCA is the compound measured in the raw material, but THC is the actual active intoxicant, a similar relationship exists for psilocybin mushrooms. Psilocybin is found in several genera of psychedelic mushrooms, but in the body, it is dephosphorylated to form the active compound psilocin.

In another notable parallel, much of the current body of research that exists for psilocybin and psilocin has been done using psilocybin isolates. In cannabis research, this is also fairly common as the single federal supply of cannabis for research has been criticized for its poor quality and dissimilarity to commercial cannabis being sold in the past.

With CBDV’s new Section 56 exemption, the laboratory intends to expand the current knowledge base for the psilocybin mushrooms and create a compound library describing the major and minor chemical constituents that make up these mushrooms.

“A lot of psilocybin research is actually done on pure psilocybin and not on the mushrooms. That gap has to be closed,” says Roggen. “So, we now have to get a hold of real mushrooms. We have already started doing [experiments] on psilocybin to build analytical methods. But the metabolomics can only start when I finally get real mushrooms in through the door.”


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