Why CSU Grad Donated $1.5 Million For Cannabinoid Lab

Panacea Life Sciences founder Leslie Buttorff.
Panacea Life Sciences founder Leslie Buttorff. Courtesy of Colorado State University
Although most universities remain tepid about marijuana because it's still prohibited federally, they're more than happy to dive into hemp right now. The plant produces the same cannabinoids as marijuana — just at levels deemed acceptable by the federal government — and scientists are excited to learn more about CBD. But their research doesn't end there, with interest in CBN, CBG and CBC also gaining steam.

Colorado CBD company Panacea Life Sciences recently donated $1.5 million to Colorado State University to create a laboratory that will study hemp and medical applications of cannabinoids, the unique molecules produced in the cannabis plant. To learn more about the program and why Panacea donated the money, we caught up with founder Leslie Buttorff.

Westword: How far back does your relationship with CSU go?

Leslie Buttorff: I graduated from there and have had a long history with them, supporting scholarship efforts. My bachelor's degree is in statistics with the CSU College of Natural Sciences. I'd been talking with professors and deans of the school for some time about what’s been happening in Colorado with cannabis. At the same time, I was sponsoring a statistics scholarship for Wheat Ridge and Cherry Creek students. When I got in the CBD arena, I thought CSU was a perfect school for this, given that it’s an ag school, and all the departments it has could research CBD from seed to sale, whether it's the veterinarian, psychology or other medical department. We met about it a year ago; a lot of different professors had an interest in it. They were excited for their students to look at it, because it’s such a new industry.

Are these long-term studies about CBD and humans, or more short-term research about CBD’s effects on us?

One problem we want to address is the unreliability in CBD testing, because you can get different results from different labs. So we’ll be studying different testing techniques as part of an ongoing process improvement. We’ll also be looking at separation techniques for different cannabinoids, and we’ll be looking at all different types of strains of the hemp plant to see how to separate out the THC, and new methods for CBG, CBN and so on. As we separate those out, we want to create new products at Panacea, and we’ll be doing some short-term clinical trials.

Does isolating cannabinoids or increasing their presence in hemp help you learn more about the ever-elusive entourage effect?

Yes, we hope to do some studies along those lines, exactly. It’s sort of confidential right now, but we have health providers lined up to do tests with different patients and some of these cannabinoids. We’re excited to start that.

How important is it to have a university’s blessing and resources put into hemp, CBD and cannabis research?

It gives a lot of credibility, but I think one big thing is getting a lot of smart graduate students around it. You have people getting their master's degrees and Ph.D.s,  and it’s always good to get all those different perspectives involved in how we do things. There are so many possibilities in how to study this right now.

Will there be classes, or eventually a major, around cannabinoid research?

Initially, it’s going to be the laboratory and sessions for graduates and undergraduate training. They hope to develop curriculum that aligns with it, and that is ongoing. I would like to see CSU be at the forefront of this whole industry, sort of like Colorado is on the marijuana side. CSU could really be renewed for research in this area. There are different definitions of cannabis. There’s nothing done on the THC side right now, but there are still so many unknowns with CBD and all the other cannabinoids in the plant. It’s sort of endless. And when you look at all the ailments, it's even more unknown.

With the federal and FDA uncertainty, what does having a relationship with a university lab do for a CBD company like Panacea moving forward?

It’s twofold. We want to bring credibility to testing, because a lot of products on the market aren’t what they say they are. So the procedures and credibility there will help. The second thing is that it puts us at the forefront of being more than just a CBD company, so we can focus on more cannabinoids. We also want to be in a better position to help people’s health. A lot of customers ask us about dosing, and we still can’t really give them an answer. We also get questions about which products to take, and why a certain product isn’t working for a person. Those might be more high-level, but we want to work more into that, too.

What do you think of all these forms of CBD treats hitting the market, like CBD ice cream or soda?

We’re not very high on water solubility or putting it into food, truly. That’s another study we’ll be looking at in absorption rates. Initial research, which we want to push further along, is showing CBD in sublingual is absorbed at 60 to 70 percent, versus a tincture, which may be closer to 5 percent after traveling to your stomach with food. They may cost the same, but we want to learn how much is being absorbed.

Panacea Life Sciences just signed on to present High Style,
Westword's fusion of cannabis-inspired fashion, education and wellness at the McNichols Building on Thursday, March 5.

Tickets are now on sale; find out more at westwordhighstyle.com.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell