CU-Boulder Finds Innovative Way to Study Cannabis

The Future of Marijuana Research

Leading the way in Cannabis Research

CU-Boulder CannaVan with prfessors Kent Hutchison and Angela Bryan
Photo Credit: Matt Nager

Kent Hutchison and Angela Bryan, professors with the University of Colorado, Boulder, stand at a “CannaVan” at the Center for Innovation and Creativity in Boulder, Colorado.

Scientists and researchers are finding ingenious ways to study medical cannabis. Over the next five years, scores of studies should begin to turn out serious and conclusive data to help guide its use and prescription.

The University of Colorado, Boulder has introduced the “CannaVan” — a mobile lab in a white cargo van. “It’s illegal for us to bring products from a dispensary into our lab. And the marijuana sanctioned for legal research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse doesn’t come in forms people actually use, like vape oils and edibles and concentrates,” explains Kent Hutchison, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the university. “So we’re bringing the lab to the people.”

Canna Lab To-Go

Cannabis Testing “Participants sign up for research studies and agree to use a cannabis product of the type we’re studying,” explains Angela Bryan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience. “We do not buy or see or touch the cannabis used by study subjects.”

The CU-Boulder’s CannaVan is driven to their home and participants are tested for baselines; then from the comfort of their homes the study begins with subjects using their own cannabis products. After using the products they are tested again.  Each testing sessions takes about 5 hours, plus travel time.  Testing effects for various marijuana products on pain, anxiety, sleep, health and mood.  Numerous products and intake methods are being studied.

Previous studies have found interesting results in patients, including people over the age of 60.  Some of the earlier findings include more enjoyable exercise sessions. Study participants have included pain patients, cancer patients, veterans, older adults and opiate users hoping to cut back.

“The sterotype of the stoner snacking on the sofa may not be reality.” she says.  “There’s also some evidence cannabis users weigh less than nonusers.  We want to learn more about that.”  Angela Bryan, CU-Boulder

In the past nine months since I started using cannabis more regularly, for pain, I’ve lost 40lbs.  I hadn’t realized the correlation until proofreading this article for publication. I wasn’t even trying to diet or loose weight! #thecannadiet 🙂


From start to finish, a study may take five years. “That’s how long good research takes,” Bryan says. “But as the cannabis boom grows, I feel like we’re the cart chasing the horse — and the horse is going faster and faster.”

Related Studies

Harvard University directs a program called MIND (Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery). Researchers, at Harvard are usin brain imaging and other memoery and thinking test to measure medical marijuana’s effects on brain function and structure.

One surprise in older adults shows somewhat sharpened mental focus after, as little as, three moths of medical marijuana use.  There was also more activation in their cingulate cortex, a brain area involved with paying attention, avoiding distractions and problem-solving.

“Science helps set government policy. In the case of cannabis, [state] policy has outpaced science. Now we’re trying to understand the good, the bad and the truth.” Staci Gruber, Harvard University

Despite legal restrictions on cannabis research at both the state and federal level, scientists are finding new innovative ways to test the effects of cannabis on metabolic and brain health.

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