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Washington State University Establishes New Cannabis Research Center

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jun 11, 2021   
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Having spearheaded cannabis research in the state since 2011, a cannabis research collaborative at Washington State University has now been formally recognized as a research center by WSU officials.

The establishment of the Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach (CCPRO) was officially approved by the WSU Faculty Senate and Board of Regents last month. The new, multidisciplinary research center will cover the work of around 100 scientists working on a diverse range of cannabis-related research projects.

The formal designation of research center status recognizes the importance of these researchers’ efforts, CCPRO leadership says, and also demonstrates WSU’s commitment as a public land-grant research university to fostering a wider scientific understanding of the cannabis industry.

Inside the Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach

Over the past six years, researchers at WSU have engaged with 50 cannabis-related projects and attracted nearly $10 million in funding.

Notable recent work from WSU researchers includes the finding that cannabis can blunt the psychological response to stress, reduce symptoms of OCD by up to 50 percent, and relieve headache and migraine pain. Outside of health-related research, scientists at WSU have also played a key role in evaluating the effects of cannabis policy on teenage drug use and on crime clearance rates.

“We have four primary research foci. The first is health and wellbeing, and that spans from basic science and animal models of cannabis use all the way up to public health research focused on the community impacts of cannabis,” Dr Michael McDonall, CCPRO director and professor at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, told Analytical Cannabis.

“We also have a couple of different lines of research in our criminal justice department, and that’s focused on two different areas. One is roadside detection – giving law enforcement the tools they need to know whether or not a person is impaired because of their cannabis use. And then also looking at public policy-related issues, such as the impact of decriminalization in the United States on cannabis-related arrests.”

Several researchers within the newly formed CCPRO are also experts on issues relating to cannabis banking and taxation. This is a particularly important field of study in today’s regulatory climate, where state and federal attitudes towards cannabis can be vastly different depending on where you are in the United States. Agricultural research is the final main focus of the center and encapsulates work being done with industrial hemp and CBD derived from hemp.

“[Establishing] a center, I think it recognizes the quality of the work and the diversity of the work that we’re doing,” McDonell commented.

“It also provides a more structured organization to [make it] easier for us to partner with a number of different stakeholder groups. It provides a nice way for us to collaborate with other universities and colleges, to be able to say that we are a center and here is the central organization. It’s going to help us push forward with this work.”

The future for the CCPRO

Conducting research into cannabis is still a very tricky endeavor. The announcement that the DEA is on the brink of expanding the sources of cannabis for research projects is one of the first major cannabis-related actions to come out of the Biden administration. But it is impossible to know what the future holds in terms of progressive cannabis regulation and improving the barriers that remain to wider institutional cannabis research.

“We are trying to be creative [within the bounds of] what’s compliant with federal law, but that still allows us to do the work to give citizens of our state, and the country, some answers about the benefits and risks of cannabis use in terms of health,” McDonell explained.

“We have a project working with an American Indian tribe, and they have a different relationship with the federal government than states do. We’re doing some work there to study the impact of cannabis on pain in a clinic that they have where they recommend cannabis, and primarily CBD, to patients.”

WSU’s CCPRO also recently joined a collaboration with Oregon State University and the University of California Davis aimed at improving hemp germplasm on the west coast. This involves the study of seeds and genetic material needed to grow better hemp crops for industrial purposes and as a source of CBD.

“A colleague of ours, Ryan McLaughlin, is also doing a lot of really interesting work with trying to figure out methods to have animals vaporize [cannabis],” McDonell added.

“What they do now in rat models of cannabis or THC, just because of technical reasons, is having to inject the THC into the rodent. And that doesn’t make any sense for an analog of what human use looks like — people don’t inject THC. What Ryan has done is figure out a way to create a vapor chamber so that rats can actually voluntarily inhale cannabis. That gives a much better analog model to sort of what humans do, and so we’re excited about that work.”

With the establishment of the CCPRO, researchers at WSU are confident that the institution’s cutting-edge research will continue to be able to adapt to future opportunities and changes in key policy areas as the cannabis industry develops.


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