Until recently, American researchers hoping to study marijuana could only get the plant from one place: the University of Mississippi. But thanks to a 2014 relaxation of federal law, institutions of higher learning can now grow their own hemp, a variety of cannabis with a very low level of THC—i.e., it doesn’t get you high—for research purposes. And, of course, Colorado schools are at the forefront of this movement. In fact, Colorado State University-Pueblo’s 10-month-old Institute of Cannabis Research (ICR) is the only university program to focus on cannabis research that goes beyond medicinal purposes. The institute will host the country’s first academic conference covering cannabis from April 28 to 30, but here’s a look at what they’ve already been working on.
Green Manufacturing The plastic-wood composite used in 3-D printing isn’t sustainable. So engineer Neb Jaksic is testing whether hemp could be used in place of wood. His colleague, biologist Brian Vanden Heuvel, is breeding hemp plants on-site at ICR that might someday provide the raw material for the experiment. But an off-site vendor has already started making a plastic-hemp composite, so Jaksic is using that instead.
Compound Interest Chemist Chad Kinney will take the hemp grown by Vanden Heuvel and extract cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive element that can be used medicinally. He has an idea for a novel method to remove the CBD not just from the flowers, as is typically done, but also the leaves, which would produce far more CBD per plant if successful.
Rodent Recall The CBD Kinney extracts will be put to use in a study looking at the impact of cannabis on learning and memory. Neuroscientist Jeff Smith will examine whether mice can better remember a stimulus after nibbling on some CBD or whether eating a small amount of the compound makes it easier to forget the whole experience.