UConn to hold ‘unique’ cannabis research symposium

Gerald Berkowitz is organizing the state’s first-ever academic symposium on cannabis, scheduled for March 16 and 17 at UConn.  

Berkowitz is a professor of plant science and landscape architecture, but the event will draw researchers from a variety of fields, from botany to law and everything in between. UConn, he said, has become something of an epicenter for cannabis research. 

“It just so happens that we have scientists who are studying cannabinoid receptors in the brain and the central nervous system at UConn Health, and we have scientists in our chemistry department studying the bioavailability of cannabinoids and how you can change their structure to increase uptake,” he said. “We have faculty in pharmacy nursing who are studying THC and pain, as a replacement for opioids.”

The various researchers knew that their colleagues were doing related research, but the relationships were “informal.”

“Just informally, we all got to know each other and started an ad hoc cannabis forum,” Berkowitz said. “So we would give seminars and so on and so forth, and it was clear to me that there was a strong program in cannabis stretching from plants to the brain.”

The upcoming event is possible, he said, because legitimate cannabis research is possible for the first time in decades.  

“Marijuana is a schedule one, right there with heroin,” he said. That made rigorous academic research into cannabis, how it grows and how it affects the human body, nearly impossible. “It’s remarkable that we don’t even know what compounds in cannabis might be useful pharmaceuticals.” 

Being a so-called “schedule one” drug, Berkowitz explained, means “the federal government says there’s no medical use for it and it’s highly addictive.”

But that, he said, is a hypocrisy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved use of Epidiolex, a drug derived from CBD, to combat seizures.  

The acknowledgement by one branch of the federal government that the marijuana plant has benefit for patients with epilepsy, while another branch of the federal government insists the plant has no medical benefits is “absurd,” Berkowitz said.

“It’s kind of absurd for the federal government to say that there’s nothing in marijuana that is pharmaceutically useful when the FDA has approved a compound from marijuana that is used to control seizures,” he said.

But with Connecticut and other states legalizing cannabis and large companies funding research, Berkowitz agreed we’re in the midst of a golden age of cannabis research, which should rectify the surprising ignorance about a plant used by millions.  

“There’s so much that’s not understood about the biochemistry of the plant,” he said. “Up until just even three or four years ago, for federal funding agencies like the USDA, even the word ‘hemp’ was no-go. There was no federal support for understanding cannabis, understanding any potential beneficial effects on humans, understanding the plant, and the only people that were doing any research at least on the plant were companies, and they don’t publish their research.” 

Berkowitz’s own research involves stimulating the little hairs on the buds, where the chemicals that produce a smell and those that create an effect on the brain are stored. His research has been funded in part by large cannabis companies, but when he visited a facility with a group of students he was told their employees were largely self-taught. 

“I took the first UConn class to a medical marijuana growth facility and the owners said to me, ‘We hire people that grow pot in their basements, and those are the experts. There’s no scholarship, there’s no people with horticulture degrees that are able to be hired,’” he said. “So I started having undergraduate students do research projects and they would just get jobs right off the bat.”

Berkowitz said cannabis conferences are nothing new. “I get probably 10 emails a day about cannabis conferences, set up for companies and businesses,” he said, though “none of those is really about research.” 

“That’s why the symposium that we’re putting together is absolutely unique,” Berkowitz said. “Because every subject,except the session on policy and law, every speaker is going to be talking about refereed research.”

Read more here: Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *