Canadian University Hires First Cannabis Health Research Chair

University of New Brunswick is getting ahead of the game with a new cannabis research chair.
Canadian University Hires First Cannabis Health Research Chair

The University of New Brunswick in Canada has announced the hiring of its first research chair to focus exclusively on the health benefits of cannabis. Yang Qu will serve as the cannabis health research chair and assistant professor at the university, according to media reports. The new position is being funded by pharmaceutical company Tetra Bio Pharma of Toronto and the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation.

Qu spent the last five years at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario researching the Madagascar periwinkle, developing synthesized versions of chemicals found in the plant for use in chemotherapy. He told the CBC that he will draw on the experience leading that research to study the potential health benefits of cannabis.

“We know something about the medicinal value of cannabinoids, about the major two cannabinoids, THC and CBD,” Qu said. “The information about other cannabinoids that also accumulate in the plant are very scarce, so this is an area that we need to study.”

Synthesizing Cannabinoids

Qu said that particular genes in cannabis are responsible for the production of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids.

“We could transfer these genes from the cannabis plant and into different kind of microorganisms. Potentially you could produce very pure compounds,” Qu said.

He said that continuing research into cannabis should lead to a lessening of the stigma still attached to the plant.

“In the past, even in Canada, cannabis is considered a taboo but we’re seeing the change of image of the plant with legalization,” he said. “Especially with the discovery of medicinal use of the planet we’re going to create a very positive image of the plant.”

Qu said that he plans to focus on the medicinal applications of the plant and improving cannabis agriculture. Especially in the beginning of his five-year assignment, he plans to meet with cannabis producers and government agencies to determine where more research is needed.

“This research would have direct implication with the industry,” he said. “I would like to talk with local industry and the private sector as well as government agencies of food and agriculture to set priorities for the research project.”

Qu was hired out of a pool of more than 40 candidates for the position. David MaGee, the UNB vice president of research, said that all departments at the university were consulted during the hiring process.

“You make a decision based on all of that feedback and who you feel will be the best fit for the university, the best fit in the position, and really the person who has I think a very novel and creative research program,” MaGee said.

Research Collaboration

St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick is also in the process of hiring a cannabis research chair for the criminology or sociology department. Michael Dawson, associate vice-president of research at the university, said that position will focus “on delivering useful policy analysis that can focus on the social impact of cannabis or the health impact of cannabis.”

Dawson said that ideally, the cannabis research chairs at the two universities will work in collaboration. He added that STU planned to hire the new cannabis research chair soon.

“We’re hoping to have a short list of candidates we can interview … Sometime in December or January.”

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