FARMINGTON, Maine — A pair of University of Maine at Farmington professors plan to study marijuana to find strains that will help patients suffering from various ailments, but have little use for those just looking to get high.
Jean Doty, a biology professor, said that she and her colleague, Terry Morocco, an associate professor of chemistry, took interest in BDN stories last year about laid off millworkers in East Millinocket and Lincoln exploring the option of starting a new livelihood as medical marijuana caregivers.
“It got us thinking about the potential economic benefits that larger-scale grow operations could offer Maine, but also the very real security concerns this poses for citizens,” Doty said in a recent email.
Doty and Morocco believe that identifying marijuana strains with high medical effectiveness but low recreational value could be key in the expansion of that caregiver industry.
“From this research, we hope to develop a genetic test that can identify chemical profiles at an early growth stage, allowing caregivers to focus on strains that meet the needs of their patients,” Doty said.
The first phase of the project will analyze the chemical profiles and genetics of small plant samples provided by caregivers from across the state. Then the researchers hope to develop a model for studying how cannabinoid compounds are produced and why medical marijuana works for particular treatments.
Morocco said the benefits of medicinal use of marijuana have been outlined extensively in scientific literature, but there’s still much to learn about the “unique suite of chemicals present in each strain” that help patients suffering from health issues ranging from seizures to chronic pain.
The grant funding comes from the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, a collaborative led by the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, which footed $66,000. The Maine Economic Improvement Fund’s Small Campus Initiative contributed an additional $40,000, according to the university.
The professors say more than half the grant funds for the four-year project will cover the salaries of the four biomedical sciences students who will assist in the research each year.
“What makes this exciting for us is that this is basic research that has a very real application,” Doty said. “This project will not only benefit caregivers in the state, a cottage industry that has generated over $5 million in tax revenues, but it also will benefit their patients.”
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