The 2020 ElSohly Award Winners: Dr. Sang-Hyuck Park

April 28, 2020

Dr. Sang-Hyuck Park completed his PhD in plant, soil, and microbial sciences at Michigan State University. As a postdoctoral fellow, he joined the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona. Before joining the cannabis research team, he worked for two years at the Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Unit, for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agriculture Research Service (ARS) as a molecular biologist. Since April 2018, Dr. Park has served as a senior scientist/research liaison in the Institute of Cannabis Research (ICR). Dr. Park has been leading a multi-tiered research project with the assistance of multiple student researchers, seeking insights into fundamental cannabis biology and cannabinoid chemistry to address the intrinsic questions of why cannabis plants produce secondary metabolites such as cannabinoids and terpenoids. To address these research questions, he has been collaborating with numerous academic institutes to better understand cannabis plants through investigating the genetic regulations underlying cannabinoid biosynthesis. The research uses a wide range of molecular-level approaches from next generation sequencing technology to proteomics. Additionally, he conducts a variety of research projects to explore new therapeutic uses of cannabidiol (CBD). Here he discusses some of his research and what we can expect from his presentation on May 6.

What will your talk at the CANN symposium focus on?
Dr. Sang-Hyuck Park:
Cannabidiol (CBD) has recently been garnering a great deal of global attention in part because of its potential therapeutic uses in human disorders. Despite the increased interests in CBD, little has been known about the evolutionary role that this might have conferred to cannabis plants. For my talk at the CANN symposium, I will primarily focus on the defensive role of CBD against the pest insect, tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta, and how CBD deters the insect feeding behavior as well as inhibiting their growth and development.

What do you hope attendees at the symposium will take away from your talk?
I hope attendees have different perspectives about CBD other than its therapeutic uses. CBD is actually used to protect cannabis plants from pest insects by acting as a repellent. Once it is consumed, CBD becomes fatal to the organism. Our findings suggest that cannabis might have evolved to produce the secondary metabolites as part of a defensive mechanism, and clearly demonstrates the toxicity effect of CBD in the insect model, limiting their growth and development.

How will winning the ElSohly Award impact your research efforts or future projects?
The award enables me to present my recent cannabis study at CANN virtual symposium. This opportunity will allow me to gain insights from peer scientists for future research directions, and to meet other scientists to discuss collaborative opportunities, as well as with business representatives for agricultural applications.

How did you get started with cannabis research?
Before joining the Institute of Cannabis Research (ICR) as a senior scientist, I worked for USDA for two years. My family moved to Colorado in 2016 where the new cannabis research institute (ICR) was established. My educational and research background were well aligned with the institutional mission and scope, which was to support cannabis research and education. Since I joined the institute in 2017, I have been leading multitiered research projects to seek insights into fundamental cannabis biology and cannabinoid chemistry to address the intrinsic questions of why cannabis plants produce secondary metabolites such as cannabinoids and terpenoids, how they exploit the chemicals for their survival, and what evolutionary benefits they may have. Additionally, I conduct a variety of research projects to explore new therapeutic uses of CBD.

How do cannabis plants utilize cannabinoids and terpenoids for their survival?
Cannabis plants utilized the naturally occurring CBD as a feeding deterrent against pest insects. Our study demonstrated that high doses of CBD (>1 mM) effectively inhibits the larval growth and development, resulting in high mortality. Recently, you discovered that CBD can be used as an ethanol detoxifying agent.

Can you provide further detail on this research and what impact it will have on future?
High dose CBD (>1 mM) has clearly shown toxic effects on the pest insect survival. However, the lethal amounts of CBD function differently in the presence of ethanol (EtOH) stress, becoming protective. When the EtOH-stressed tobacco hornworm M. sexta larvae were treated with CBD, their survival rates significantly increased by 40%. The CBD study revealed the potential use of CBD or CBD enriched hemp extract as an insecticide and also potential therapeutic treatment for alcohol poisoning or addiction treatment. The results were published in the peer-reviewed journal, Scientific Reports in 2019 and can be found at

Dr. Park will be presenting his talk “Inhibitory Effects of Cannabidiol (CBD) on the Growth and Development of Tobacco Hornworm Manduca sexta” during the Spring 2020 CANN Virtual Symposium in The Second Annual ElSohly Award session on Wednesday, May 6.

Register for free here: