New regulations, new research: UBC Okanagan and TRU explore cannabis bioproducts

New regulations, new research: UBC Okanagan and TRU explore cannabis bioproducts

New research is underway in British Columbia to discover, through chemical analysis, the different and potentially useful products that can be made from cannabis plants.

Thompson Rivers University and the UBC's Okanagan campus have teamed up with several industrial partners, licensed to grow the plants for research purposes to create the Cannabis Bio-Products Toolbox. 

Bruno Cinel, an associate professor of chemistry at TRU involved in the project, said the changing regulations around cannabis are provding room for new research opportunities.

"There hasn't been much research done on the identities of these compounds and their levels and their activities because of the prohibitions around cannabis products," Cinel said.

"But now, with the new regulations that are coming in, the population is probably going to want access to some of these and it would be nice to know what is in there and what effects they have."

The information is used to better understand the range of bioproducts that can be made from the plant, including pharmaceuticals, nutritional products and industrial fibre.

Key piece of equipment

Cinel gave CBC's Jennifer Chrumka a tour around the lab and showed her a key piece of equipment in the research project: a nuclear magnetic resonance instrument.

it uses a strong magnetic field to give an extremely detailed understanding of the chemicals present in a particular extract, Cinel explained.

The sophisticated analysis tool was purchased several years ago for three-quarters of a million dollars, Cinel said, and it is one of his areas of specialized research.

"Basically, this instrument allows you to get a chemical fingerprint of an extract — kind of like a tea extract if you were to put some tea leaves in hot water, you'd get the compounds that are present in the tea coming out into the water," Cinel explained.

When it comes to cannabis plant analysis, this means looking at the varieties of plants, their different chemical components and the levels of these chemicals.

"Knowing what is there and their levels is the first step of then saying, OK, if they do have interesting and beneficial health activities, can we have varieties that produce those in greater quantities?"  Cinel said.

With files from Jennifer Chrumka