Over the last decade or two, innovative cross-breeding and lighting and water setups have produced bigger and more potent buds than ever before. But they may have hit a wall. THC content, the metric many stoners look to for cannabis quality, has never gotten above 30% of total plant weight. But there is one way it could get a lot higher.
Cellular agriculture, as it applies to cannabis, is still in the research stage. It’s a technique that involves making crops from cell cultures. Scientists can inject yeast cultures with DNA that would then grow into plants with special properties, for instance a tendency to produce high quantities of certain cannabinoids.
An emerging technology, cellular agriculture has only been put into practice in recent years. So far, it’s most common use is in certain labs where they make “cultured meat.” That means that they can grow a certain meat product from yeast. That means that they can grow a burger without there ever even being a cow to slaughter for it. This technology has also been used to create animal byproducts such as milk and gelatin.
So, how did cellular agriculture cross over from meat to weed? Right now the market force driving the research is not THC or CBD, but the cannabinoid cannabidivarin (CBDV). This particular compound has been shown to be particularly effective in treating severe epilepsy. So effective that pharmaceutical companies want to start producing it to make big money.
The only problem is that cannabis plants currently produce very little CBDV. According to New Scientist, treating 10 percent of people with epilepsy would require 1,500 tons of the cannabinoid. “There’s so little of this chemical in plants it would actually be impossible to harvest it by traditional means,” Kevin Chen, who runs the Montreal based start-up Hyasynth Bio, told New Scientist.
Of course, creating CBDV might not be the only goal of cultured cannabis. According to Tom Williams, a professor at Macquarie University in Australia who specializes in molecular engineering, the traditional grow-and-extract method isn’t the most efficient way to get at your favorite cannabinoid, whatever it might be. “It can be very inefficient to extract these compounds from plants,” he said, “and that can consume a lot of valuable resources like land and fertiliser.”
While this technology is something to watch over, a recent Leafly article says it’s likely still three to four years away from the marketplace.
Photo via Flickr user Umberto Salvagnin