Research collective based at U of Sask. aiming to answer cannabis q's

With legalization of cannabis just weeks away, there is a renewed emphasis on understanding the plant and the many compounds it contains, and at the centre of that work is a collective that calls themselves the Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan, or CRIS.

Much work to do ahead of legalization, say researchers with Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan

A collective of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan is working to better understand the impacts of cannabis — not only on the body, but also on society. (CBC)

With legalization of cannabis just weeks away, there is a renewed emphasis on understanding the plant and the many compounds it contains.

At the centre of that work is a collective that calls itself the Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan, or CRIS — an interdisciplinary team of researchers based at the University of Saskatchewan.

"There are at least 120 … biologically active compounds that make up the plant and we know almost nothing about how those work in the body and how they interact with different systems," said Robert Laprairie in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Some of the stigmatization about cannabis will begin to open up.- Robert Laprairie, Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan

Laprairie is a professor of pharmacology and neuroscience at the University of Saskatchewan and is just one member of the interdisciplinary team that makes up CRIS.

Richard Huntsman,  a pediatric neurologist at the U of S studying epilepsy who is also part of CRIS, agrees much is unknown from "a medicinal point of view."

"But also one of the things our group is looking at are public policy and the public health perspective of cannabis," he said.

Richard Hunstman, left, and Robert Laprairie, right, are members of an interdisciplinary team at the University of Saskatchewan working to better understand cannabis. (CBC)

"Cannabis products can be helpful for kids who have severe treatment-resistant epilepsy," Hunstman said.

He quickly added, though, that "there is no kind real guidance as to what kind of dosage we should use and how quickly we should get up to that dose.

"We just have to keep on working on it."

Rush is on for answers 

Laprairie's quest is to understand the biological compounds in cannabis, but he said the strength of CRIS is in bringing together a diverse collective of researchers who can begin to answer some of the outstanding questions about how cannabis will impact not just the body, but society as well.

The prospect of recreational marijuana sales in Canada, Laprairie said, has spurred interest in research from all levels of government. CRIS welcomes it, he said.

"What we will see is that certain restrictions will change, access to certain things will change.… Some of the stigmatization about cannabis will begin to open up and patients might be more willing to talk."

There are, however, some urgent questions that the researchers would like to answer as legal recreational use takes hold, including the impact of cannabis use by women who are pregnant.

Laprairie believes CRIS is in a good position to offer answers because they take no money from the cannabis industry, "allowing us to operate and ask really important questions without any perceived bias being there."

With files from Saskatoon Morning


Danny Kerslake is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio stations across Western Canada. In his career with CBC Saskatchewan, Danny has reported from every corner of the province and has lived and worked in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Danny is a newsreader and digital AP for CBC Saskatoon.


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