CHANGE Lab puts cannabis under the microscope

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In recent years, Colorado and many other states across the country have legalized marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational use. However, more research is still needed on the health effects of cannabis in its various forms.

Now, two ongoing research studies conducted by CU Boulder’s CHANGE Labare looking into how cannabis and its active ingredients, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), impact a person’s mental and physical state as well as the health impacts of high potency cannabis concentrates like oils and resins. The lab was created as a collaborative interdisciplinary way to research the drug using biological, clinical and neuroscientific methodologies.

Cannabis products remain illegal at a federal level, so studying it brings limitations. CU Boulder is a federally funded institution and adheres to all U.S. government regulations regarding the drug’s handling and use. Accordingly, the university’s researchers do not handle, store, consume or provide cannabis in the course of any research experiments.

The CHANGE Lab, which is administered by Assistant Professor Cinnamon Bidwell from CU Boulder’s Institute of Cognitive Science and professors Angela Bryan and Kent Hutchison from CU Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, is particularly interested in the health effects of edibles and high-potency product strains or oils, which are available commercially in Colorado but have not, to date, been provided to researchers for study in a federally sanctioned manner.

“We’re studying the products that are legally available here in Colorado that may be different from the products that you can typically access for research,” said Cinnamon Bidwell. “So, we have studies looking at high potency marijuana in terms of risk for abuse and potential for harm related to these higher potency products.”

Bidwell will present her research and discuss the current state of human cannabis studies in a free public lecture at Nov. 29 at the CU Museum of Natural History. The lecture is presented in conjunction with the exhibit Cannabis: A Visual Perspective, on display now in the museum’s BioLounge Gallery.

If you go

Who: Open to the public
What: “Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Health After Legalization” lecture by Cinnamon Bidwell
When: Wednesday, Nov. 29, 7 p.m.
Where: CU Museum of Natural History, Paleontology Hall

Event is free; seating is limited.

Since the researchers cannot study the drug directly, they use indirect means instead. The CHANGE Lab may not provide the drug to volunteer subjects or be present when it is consumed, so the researchers pre-arrange a time when they will meet the subject outside of the subject’s home to collect data in a mobile lab immediately after the subject self-administers cannabis they bought themselves.

“We have a phlebotomist and a full-time research assistant that travel around in the van to collect blood data after people use, as well as cognitive data and public safety data related to driving ability after use of high potency products or edibles,” said Bidwell.

The research has already garnered media attention from across Colorado and could provide useful information that can inform future state and national health policies on the subject.

“That’s something that actually makes me super excited about this kind of research. In the next year or two, we will have data to inform policy,” said Bidwell. “I think individuals are savvy and they want to base their personal decisions or personal medical decisions on empirical data and right now they don’t really have that and so they’re grasping for straws.”

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