Under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), Health Canada has issued licenses to 115 operations for producing medical cannabis. With the legalization of cannabis for recreational use in Canada on Oct 17, there will be a significant increase in the number of cannabis producers and production acreage. With this increase in demand for both medicinal and recreational cannabis products and its corollary impacts on the economy and our society, dedicated research capacity and education programs are needed to support this new and growing industry.
The University of Guelph has a highly regarded horticulture program and is situated in the most concentrated greenhouse area in North America. Within driving distance from the university, you can reach the majority of the licensed cannabis producers in Canada, as well. A few research labs on campus have been conducting cannabis-related research in recent years. For example, our group has just published four peer-reviewed scientific journal articles on various aspects of cannabis production in a controlled environment. Our studies were conducted in collaboration with licensed producers at their commercial sites. Over the past few years, we have been training graduate students, at both M.S and Ph.D. levels, for this industry. Two of our Ph.D. students will be the first Ph.D. graduates in North America who have studied indoor cannabis production.
Access to Reliable Research is Crucial
Scientific research is urgently needed in a range of areas associated with cannabis production and application, including genetics and breeding, propagation, production, harvesting, compositional analysis, postharvest storage, processing, dealing with waste, and using cannabis for human and animal health (both mental and physical). To produce cannabis for medical and recreational purposes and to supply a large-scale market, quality control and standardization are keys.
Large-scale indoor/controlled environment production of cannabis is new; there are many technical and scientific gaps that need to be addressed by scientific research. For example, many of the licensed operations are growing plants using artificial lighting as the sole lighting source. Currently, there is no scientific data on what light intensities should be used, and there is growing evidence that even the spectral quality of this lighting may be a critical environment variable. Canada is one of a handful of countries globally to have legalized cannabis production, and with the right approach, including catered research support, there is an opportunity for Canada to be a leader in this industry.
Research, Education, Training
To meet the cannabis industry’s need, we are currently doing the following:
1) Establish the Guelph Centre for Cannabis Research (GCCR).
We will build a three-story building with a lower level for growth chambers and heavy instruments, a second floor for analytical spaces, storage and postharvest research facilities and processing labs. The third level will include some research greenhouses. The GCCR will provide opportunities for interested government and academic researchers (on and off campus) in partnerships with industry and associations to perform high-value collaborative and multidisciplinary research at a centralized facility. This center will engage in a full spectrum of projects including (but not limited to):
• Breeders developing cultivars specifically targeting certain animal or human disorders
• Development of environmental control recipes, including light quality, quantity, CO2, and nutrition, for various cultivars
• Horticultural management strategies to optimize production, yield, and quality
• Postharvest processing and storage of products
• Development of waste management protocols compliant with Health Canada requirements
• Processing and extraction of essential oils to maintain medicinal properties
• Carrying out efficacy studies to research the treatment of human and animal health issues with cannabis and cannabis products
• Interactions with international groups (especially Israel) to confirm efficacy through clinical trials.
2) Offer university-level courses for cannabis production and related controlled environment technologies.
Dr. Zheng is developing a senior level undergraduate course on Cannabis Production. Drs. Dixon and Graham have collaborated to deliver a third-year undergraduate course in Controlled Environment Systems, with the fourth-year Advanced Controlled Environment Systems course in preparation.
3) Continue cannabis research and graduate students training.
We are open and actively engaging cannabis producers and suppliers, conducting all kinds of cannabis-related research activities to support our industry.
Both our undergraduate and graduate students training have and will involve our industry partners’ participation, and the students also have opportunities to be involved in commercial production operations. Students who graduate from our programs will address the bottleneck in the highly qualified personnel so desperately needed by this new horticulture industry. Their skills and knowledge, along with the network of communications established within the industry and research communities, will greatly benefit the commercial production operations. We also believe the green gold rush fostered by the cannabis industry will enhance the knowledge and technologies in all controlled environment (e.g., greenhouse) plant production industry sectors.