Cannabis on Campus: Redefining the phrase ‘Experimenting with pot’

(Courtesy/Rotational)

A field of cannabis at the University of Connecticut Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture Research Farm may hold a new treatment for neurological disorders like epilepsy, according to Dr. Gerald Berkowitz, a professor of plant science at UConn.

The plants are hemp, a low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) version of the cannabis plant that has no psychoactive effects, according to Berkowitz. The project comes in response to various greenlights by federal and state legislatures in recent years that relax the legal restrictions on cannabis research.

“There have been some interesting changes in the federal policy regarding cannabis,” Berkowitz said.

Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill states that “institutions of higher education or a State department of agriculture may grow or cultivate industrial hemp if the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research.”

“There has been a distinction made between hemp cannabis and cannabis that contains THC,” Berkowitz said.

This distinction is important for allowing researchers such as those at the university to study the cannabis samples.

The cannabis plant contains various diverse chemical compounds known as cannabinoids, Berkowitz said.  Berkowitz is studying a cannabinoid different from the one that produces THC, one that instead produces cannabidiol (CBD), which has effects that are still being investigated.

It is believed that CBD could be effective in controlling disorders that relate to the brain such as epilepsy, Berkowitz said.

“Cannabis has compounds in it that are very important pharmaceutically,” Berkowitz said.

Developments in genome sequencing have allowed researchers such as Berkowitz to manipulate the cannabis plant in different ways.

“The fact that cannabis genomes have been sequenced allows me to know the gene responsible for the cannabinoid pathway,” Berkowitz said.

Knowing this gene allows researchers to clone CBD into yeast so that it produces cannabidiol, Berkowitz said. In addition, the department is using plant hormones to try to increase the concentration of CBD within the plant.

“This is really the beginning,” Berkowitz said. “And this project is probably among the first in the country.”


Collin Sitz is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at collin.sitz@uconn.edu.