Washington State University has long been known for its agricultural research. Now it’s expanding its emphasis on a crop that was once considered fringe, but is now becoming more mainstream. It has created a center that focuses on marijuana-related issues.
WSU first began researching cannabis in 2011, even before the state of Washington legalized marijuana use.
About 100 scientists and staff members are joining what the university is officially calling the Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach. It is led by College of Medicine Professor Michael McDonell, who says some of the work done by the center will focus on medical uses.
“Research that looks at the impact of use of cannabis by pregnant women, and work to determine whether in a medical setting, people who use cannabis have better pain outcomes," he said.
McDonell says the center will also continue work done by other WSU researchers who were exploring public policy and safety angles.
“That team focuses on both roadside detection, and helping law enforcement detect potentially intoxicated drivers who are using cannabis," he said.
Other fields of investigation look at the economics of cannabis, like industry taxation and workplace issues.
From WSU’s traditional ag research angle, faculty members are looking at industrial hemp and how it can be used for textiles, food and fiber, as well as CBD extract for medical use.
McDonell says cannabis research is still in a tricky place. Marijuana possession and use is still illegal, according to federal law. So while there are many types of cannabis products sold legally in Washington, federal law requires that researchers get their cannabis samples from just a few authorized producers.
"We’re not able to study the cannabis that is available in the marketplace in Washington state. We have to study a different cannabis that is produced by these manufacturers," McDonell said.
The WSU Center is collaborating with ag researchers at other schools, including Oregon State and the University of California at Davis in efforts to improve hemp germplasm. It has also developed a partnership with the Puyallup Tribe on the use of medicinal marijuana for pain management.