Unraveling cannabinoids, together

CSU’s new Panacea Life Sciences Research Center works on the edge of cannabinoid science, drawing students from all disciplines

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Cannabis has over 120 known cannabinoids—but the only ones we know much of anything about are the two most abundant: THC and CBD (and even concerning those, our knowledge is limited). The other 118-plus molecules are less abundant and far more mysterious, and some hypothesize that each one might hold its own specific medicinal uses and benefits. But until science catches up to determine what those might be, any medicinal claims about these cannabinoids are purely anecdotal.

That’s a wide open space for researchers to start exploring. And Colorado State University’s new Panacea Life Sciences Research Center was built, designed, equipped, and officially opened on October 14 to do exactly that.

“This idea of being able to use cannabinoids to treat a range of different diseases, both in animals and humans is outstanding, impressive, and really cutting-edge,” says Melissa Reynolds, the Panacea Life Sciences Cannabinoid Research Center lab director. “When you get an area that’s new and you have the vision to really progress it in a fast way like Leslie [Buttorff] does, it brings more and more people in.”

Buttorff is the CEO of the Golden-based hemp cannabinoid company Panacea Life Sciences. She founded the company after her mother broke her hip and Buttorff wanted to find a natural non-addictive medicine for her to use to manage her pain. She turned to hemp and CBD. And she was so impressed by the plant product’s potential to treat patients like her mother, she started her own company, and named it after the Greek goddess of healing and remedies: Panacea.  

The reason CSU’s new research center is named after Buttorff’s company is because it wouldn’t exist without her. In 2019 she donated $1.5 million to CSU to build and equip the center specifically to study the different cannabinoids, to unlock an understanding of their different medical uses in human medicine as well as in veterinary medicine.

“Hemp and marijuana plants were used for a lot of different ailments and cures back in the early 1900s,” Buttorff says. But unfortunately, the government made the substance illegal and launched a propaganda campaign against it (with help from William Randolph Hearst, DuPont and others). 

“You think of that suppression that happened back then and I always wonder what could have happened,” she continues. “There was a lot of hemp being used for cures back then and it was just squashed.”

Now, Buttorff hopes that the new Panacea Life Sciences Research Center at CSU will help make up for some of that lost time. 

Reynolds explains that the research center already has some 15 different active projects underway. From streamlining cannabinoid separation processes to studying different delivery methods and uses for humans and animals, they’re researching how to create toxin- and pesticide-free cannabinoid solutions, and testing lower-abundance cannabinoids like CBN, CBG, THC-A, and THVC and their effects in different biological areas. 

“Then we have another joint study, with several different groups really looking at bowel syndromes and how we can decrease inflammation and stomach ailment problems,” Reynolds says. “This is one that we just started a couple of months ago, and we’re moving very quickly into trials with humans.”

On the animal side of the science, they’re partnering with the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine to test how different cannabinoids might affect Alzheimer’s and anxiety in canines. This, Reynolds says, should be directly applicable to humans. “Those translational aspects are very, very exciting,” she says. 

Buttorf also believes that the new research center will contribute to cross-collaboration between different branches of the university and students from different fields of study.  

“I really like it because it gets a lot of different types of students involved,” Buttorrff says. They’ve got students from the agricultural department, the veterinary department, the medical department, the psychology department and the business department all participating in different aspects of different projects. “Almost every single department at CSU could be involved,” Buttorf says. 

That is inspiring to Reynolds, as well. This research center is expected to be a powerhouse for scientific study, working on the edge of a new frontier of science: unraveling the many mysteries of the cannabis plant’s numerous cannabinoids, a unique opportunity for any college student. 

“It’s really a connection across all disciplines,” Reynolds says of the research center’s work. “That’s one of the reasons why I got involved was this notion of being able to impact students and let them be a part of these new discoveries.”

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