HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Professor's Grant Goes To 'Pot'
Pubdate: Mon, 05 Nov 2007
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2007 Calgary Herald
Author: Sean Myers
Bookmark: (Poppy)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


A city poppy expert is teaming up with a medicinal marijuana producer 
in Saskatchewan to develop new health applications for the notorious plants.

University of Calgary biology professor Peter Facchini has received a 
three-year, $650,000 federal grant to work with plants best known for 
their illicit derivatives such as heroin.

"As plants, opium poppies and cannabis evoke a lot of emotions," said 
Facchini. "To me, they're basically lettuce.

"These plants in themselves aren't bad plants. It's a question of 
understanding the basics of how they produce medicinal products like 
morphine and codeine."

Facchini holds the Canada research chair in plant metabolic processes 

He has a licence to grow 100 opium poppy plants in his lab at the U 
of C, and he has been working with the plant for about 15 years.

Saskatoon-based biotech company Prairie Plant Systems has a contract 
with Health Canada to grow medicinal marijuana and is also growing a 
vaccine antibody against hepatitis C within plants for the Vaccine 
and Infectious Disease Organization.

The biotech company cultivates its marijuana supply at a high 
security underground growth chamber in a former copper and zinc mine 
in Flin Flon, Man.

The goal of the cannabis research is to find a way to block the 
production of psychoactive cannabinoids that produce the 
mind-altering effects in users so cannabis can become a useful crop 
for oil, fibre and even food, said Facchini.

The Calgary professor, however, is best known for his work with poppies.

In July, when city police raided a northeast home and discovered 
1,500 poppy plants capable of producing heroin, they called Facchini 
to advise them on what they'd found.

It was believed to be the city's first poppy bust, worth an estimated 
$45,000 -- far less valuable than the equivalent number of marijuana plants.

"The public is very poorly informed about poppies," said Facchini.

"A few thousand plants is not going to produce very much morphine. In 
Afghanistan, they cultivate hundreds of thousands of hectares of 
poppies. And it's a very labour-intensive activity to extract morphine."

Heroin is a derivative of morphine.

Facchini said he hopes to find medicinal properties in the opium 
poppy that don't require the extraction of morphine and won't be 
useful in heroin production.

"We've used this plant for 7,000 to 8,000 years, but it's only in the 
last 15 years that we've started to understand the nature of this 
plant at a very basic level," said Facchini.

"We've only identified maybe 14 or 15 genes in poppy plants so far," 
he said. "That's barely scratching the surface, there's many more 
that need to be identified. And then we can look at how these genes 
are controlled, how they are regulated.

"We don't know how the plant puts all these things together."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom