Is Genetically Modified (GMO) Cannabis a Real Thing?

The cannabis industry is moving at lightning speed and has no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Unfortunately, it’s also attracting GMO producers, Monsanto and Bayer who are setting their sights on a genetically engineered cannabis industry.

In recent years, there have been repeated rumours that new types of weed are genetically modified. This naturally arouses scepticism, particularly among traditional critics of genetic modification, many of whom are cannabis users. Politicians and prosecutors have deliberately spread this rumour to project existing fears about genetically modified food directly onto cannabis. Rumours do not generally start without some foundation…

But just what could be achieved if cannabis could be genetically modified? Who would have the cash to do such a thing…and why?

Several long term research projects have tracked data about the potency of cannabis for almost 40 years. The increase in THC potency since then is certainly impressive; most domestic cannabis in the 60’s had around 5 % THC by mass, while foreign cannabis could have as much as 15 %. In the 60’s and 70’s, cheap weed went for around $20 an ounce and had a very mild high, but if you got your hands on some Acapulco Gold or maybe even Thai Stick, a hit or two of that would knock you out for the whole day. Nowadays, 15 percent THC is considered almost low, with 18 -20 percent being standard for medical grade, high-potency cannabis. Has the cannabis genome suffered genetic modification or is it just selective breeding that has lead to an increase in potency?

By manipulating individual genes and specific parts of the plant DNA, cannabis could be genetically modified in a way which would selectively favour production of certain cannabinoid compounds. Natural marijuana produces over 85 different cannabinoid compounds of which THC is the most abundant. Cannabinoids are the only compounds that work in conjunction with the human cannabinoid receptors. Sooner or later people will understand the precise role of each of the cannabinoid family and that will allow a second generation of cannabis medicines to be created. These they will use selective groups of cannabinoids or even individual ones, for highly specific medical purposes. Certain medicines may be more effective with plenty of cannabinoid CBN and CBD enrichment, who knows. Perhaps they will remove the THC so you can’t get a pleasant buzz from it.

The first people to create GM cannabis are the pharmaceutical companies, they have the cash to make it happen. They are on the crest of a wave as medical marijuana begins to enter mainstream medicine. At the moment this market has an annual value worth just tens of €millions but this market will grow exponentially, in a few years I expect the pharmaceutical market for cannabis medicines will be worth literally €billions as cannabis starts finding its way into mainstream treatment for pain relief, MS, epilepsy, sleep problems, depression, cancer treatment etc etc. GM cannabis could be created to grow into large ‘tree’ style plants that may be able to yield insane harvest quantities perhaps over several years.

Genetic manipulation is defined as artificially modifying the genetic make-up. This comprises four acids – the building blocks of DNA. During genetic manipulation these acids are – put simply – ‘exchanged’ with each other to create a being with new characteristics. Tito Schiva and Saverio Alberti have been unique to-date in conducting such experiments, with a surprising result: cannabis is actually resistant to genetic manipulation according to the journal ‘Sonntagszeit’ issue no. 7, 17 February 2002 in an article entitled “Fluorescent Flowers”: The aim of the studies was originally to create standard cannabis which could reliably be differentiated from prohibited drug types. However cannabis, of all plants, proved to be resistant to genetic manipulation.

The simple truth of the matter is, selective breeding has already made cannabis pretty much as good as it can get. Anyone looking for more potency doesn’t have to mess with GMO weed, they can simply pick up a cannabis extract and dab to their heart’s content.

As it stands now, marijuana’s federally illegal status may be the only thing that stands between Monsanto, Bayer and the billion-dollar, U.S. cannabis industry. Their pursuits remain limited to the 29 states that have either legalized or decriminalized marijuana. So perhaps we will see genetically modified cannabis in the not-too-distant future. But if companies like Monsanto and Bayer monopolize the market, we might end up with less effective and potentially harmful genetically modified bud in the future.

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