Into the Budding Field of Cannabis Research

Faculty of Science
Students by the Rideau canal with STEM complex in the background
Plants have always played an essential role in human health and survival. Their versatility makes them a prominent source of food, clothing and medicine. With over 390,000 species of plants on Earth, it should come as no surprise that some are studied more rigorously than others.

Since its legalization in Canada, cannabis has quickly become a popular plant in the research world. Latifa Coulibaly and Allaa Halabi – both undergraduate students – made cannabis research the primary focus of their honour’s thesis, under the supervision of Professor Cory Harris. Their enthusiasm for learning about the safety and therapeutic benefits of cannabis led them to win Quality Assurance and Quality Control for Cannabis (QAQCC) Undergraduate training awards. QAQCC is a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program that aims to advance cannabis-related research at Canadian universities and to train the next generation of cannabis researchers and scientists for the private and public sector.

Latifa Coulibaly developed and characterized an in vitro model to test the anti-inflammatory potential of cannabinoids. She identified potential therapeutic targets for cannabinoids, without directly using cannabis constituents. Two methods were used: the Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) induced Inflammation Model and the Activity-Based Protein Profile (ABPP) technique (assisted by the Pezacki Lab). First, Latifa used a cellular model (THP-1 cells) containing enzymes that are known to be present in the human body. Next, she simulated inflammation in the cells using LPS to investigate changes in enzyme activity, measured using the ABPP technique. Latifa found that the induced inflammation significantly increased the activity of proteins associated with inflammation and immunity. She demonstrated that specific cellular proteins were targeted by cannabinoids, opening the door to further research on the anti-inflammatory potential of cannabinoids. During her spare time, Latifa volunteered to help Syrian refugees with their French homework, and with UNICEF uOttawa. She started an MBA in pharmaceutical management in Fall 2022.

Latifa Coulibaly
Latifa Coulibaly

Allaa Halabi investigated the quantity and fate of cannabinoids, particularly THC, during oral consumption using a model system that represents digestion in the mouth, stomach and intestines. To conduct his research without using human subjects, Allaa optimized a method to digest edible cannabis products in the lab. Using his method, he was able to detect and quantify the amount intact THC that was available after each step of digestion. According to his results, there is no significant loss of THC following the digestion of an edible. In other words, the amount eaten or drank should represent the THC available for absorption into the body. Aside from his thesis, Allaa got involved in the uOttawa community by volunteering with campus services, such as with Foot Patrol and the Students Offering Support (SOS) tutoring program. Allaa is hoping to pursue a career in medicine.

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