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Dr. John Kopchick, left and Dr. Shiyong Wu stand for a portrait with a plant in a lab of the Konneker Research Center on April 4.

Researchers to study potential medicinal properties of natural products, which could include cannabis

Clarification appended.

Researchers at Ohio University will be conducting studies with the hopes of developing compounds from natural products, including cannabis, that could be used for human medical conditions.

John Kopchick, a principal investigator at the Edison Biotechnology Institute who is leading the research team in the five-year study, said several groups are currently doing research on natural products for medicinal use, and his team wants to be one of them. 

A license from the state and federal governments must be obtained in order to study cannabis for therapeutic uses, Shiyong Wu, the director of the Edison Biotechnology Institute and a co-investigator, said. 

“We cannot just work on it,"  Wu said. "We have to have a license to work on it.”

Wu is also a professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Dhiraj Vattem, the director of the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness and professor of nutrition, is also a co-investigator.

Kopchick said they plan to include cannabis in their study once the proper documentation is in place. Their applications are currently pending.

Black Elk Biotech, a subsidiary of the Westerville-based company Black Elk, awarded the university a $1.85 million contract for the research, according to a news release from the Office of Research Communications.

“The group over there at Edison Biotech is one of the best in the country at researching natural compounds and how they affect and cure different ailments in the human body, so that’s why we decided to go with them,” Chris Vince, a co-founder of Black Elk, said.

Kopchick said the researchers will use cells to test the activity of various plant extracts. After verifying the results of that first stage, the next step would be to move to living organisms such as mice, a type of worm or a type of fly. Moving to humans after that requires meeting "explicit criteria" outlined by the Food and Drug Administration, Kopchick added.

“The whole market right now is not totally regulated for the nature products,” Wu said. “That’s another thing — we want to try to help to have these evidence-based nature product supplements for people.”

Wu pointed to supplements containing green tea extract, which studies have suggested could lead to liver damage in too high of doses. Green tea extract is commonly found in herbal supplements for weight loss.

In many cases, those supplements contain highly concentrated forms of the extract.

“I drink a lot of green tea, I have no problem,” Wu said. “In the capsule, it will cause problems.”

The American College of Gastroenterology issued new guidelines in 2014 regarding herbal supplements that warned of possible liver damage.

“A good thing is not necessarily good for you if you don’t take it right,” Wu said.

Vince said that both natural products and medical marijuana are under-researched. Although some states have legalized medical marijuana, its status at the federal level hasn’t changed. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, and it defines drugs under that classification as those that have no accepted medical use and have a “high potential” for abuse.

Vince said that makes it hard to research, and a lot of research on the topic occurs with the help of private funding.

“There’s not a whole lot of groups or individuals out there willing to privately fund research into marijuana because of its current federal legal status,” Vince said.

Black Elk plans to apply for licenses to cultivate and sell medical marijuana, according to the news release from the Office of Research Communications. Vince said the company was “fairly far along” in the planning process.

“We feel that we are ready, we have a group together, we have everything in place to make the applications, and our goal would be to use the proceeds from our facilities to continue to fund the research, because right now, we’re funding it out of pocket,” Vince said.


Clarification: This article has been updated to include context about supplements in high doses.

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