Mapping the genetics of various plants can have immense benefits for growers who want to produce the highest possible quality plants and yield the biggest rewards. Understanding the way that a plant functions can help farmers avoid nasty pesticides and over fertilization while increasing how abundant that plant is able to grow. In the case of examining marijuana genetics, understanding the plant could help to treat millions of people with debilitating conditions. Marijuana genetics are very complex but understanding them could help in a multitude of ways. This is why scientists at University of California, Davis have joined with the biotech company Front Range Biosciences (FRB) to look at the marijuana plant and understand how it works.
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Most specifically, researchers will be looking at hemp. Marijuana plants come in a male and female variety. The female plant is the one that contains more THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces the high. Hemp is the male counterpart and it contains very little THC but rather contains more CBD, the compound often used as an anti-inflammatory and relaxant among other things. The female variety of marijuana has been looked at a lot by farmers and other marijuana enthusiasts. Many have done this in order to grow the strongest and best crops. On the other hand, hemp has not received the same level of evaluation. Hemp has been used for centuries to make clothes, paper and oils among many other things. It can also be used to harvest CBD so that it can be used in oils and in other medicinal formats.
The Hemp Genome
“People have gotten really good at breeding high-THC for the recreational side,” explained Jon Vaught, CEO and co-founder of FRB, while talking with Vice. “There’s really not a lot of work to do there. We’re not really focused on that.” Now, instead of doing more research on the female marijuana genetics, the scientists at UC Davis, who in the past have mapped the genetics of the cabernet sauvignon grape and the arabica coffee bean, have turned their attention towards hemp.
“We have successfully applied cutting-edge DNA sequencing technologies and computational approaches to study challenging genomes of diverse crops and associated microorganisms,” said Dario Cantu, an assistant professor in the department of viticulture and enology at UC Davis. “We are now excited to have the opportunity to study the genome of hemp. Decoding the genome will allow us to gain new insight into the genetic bases of complex pathways of secondary metabolism in plants.”
Vaught also told Newsweek “UC Davis is renowned as the leading agriculture university in the world and we are excited to work with Dr. Cantu’s team to improve this crop to reduce pesticide residues and excessive application of fertilizers, in preparation for production targeting medically beneficial compounds.”
“Unofficial” Cannabis Research
Marijuana has been a plant that has been surrounded in controversy for decades. Its medicinal benefits however have not been able to be denied. It has been found to be effective at treating countless conditions including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, cancer, AIDS, chronic pain, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, PTSD, glaucoma, insomnia, depression and many more. Nonetheless, despite heavy anecdotal evidence, there has been no government funded research done to understand how the plant could be treating so many conditions. There has however, been unofficial research done at prestigious universities and medical facilities across the country and around the world. Unfortunately, without an official government stamp of approval, the research is ignored by the FDA and the DEA who still regard marijuana as a Schedule I drug.
Challenges of a Schedule I Drug
Schedule I drugs are considered to be the highest risk drugs. Heroin and LSD also hold this classification. Schedule I drugs are considered to have no medicinal benefits, be unsafe for testing on humans and are considered to be highly addictive. Marijuana is legal for medical use in 29 states plus Washington D.C. The latest polls reveal that 83 percent of Americans believe the plant should be legal for medicinal use. At this stage, 64 percent of the country also believe it should be legalized for recreational use. Despite a number of Senators and Congress people requesting that the plant be rescheduled or descheduled altogether like alcohol and cigarettes, the DEA says there is not enough evidence to prove its medicinal value. Of course, initially all medical marijuana testing was considered illegal, making it impossible to prove its medicinal uses.
Last August, the DEA agreed to allow researchers to apply to conduct medical studies on marijuana. However, all applications have been ignored by the Department of Justice. This has essentially put another block on truly researching the plant and understanding how it may be used medicinally. The DOJ is run by Attorney General Jeff Sessions who is a long time prohibitionist and, in his new role as Attorney General, he has been fighting to crack down on marijuana.
Various Studies into Marijuana Genetics
All marijuana research is contributing to making the plant available for medical and practical purposes. Marijuana genetics can point to the many ways it may be useful. This is not the first time marijuana genetics have been explored. Scientists at Hyacinth Bio in Montreal, Canada have found a cannabinoid in the plant called cannabidivarin that may be used to treat epilepsy. This is just one example of how the study of marijuana genetics may be helpful in multiple ways. Another team at Oregon Health and Science University aims to map the genetics of every single marijuana strain on record. This particular project focuses on the female plant which is the type most often used for medical and recreational purposes.
As the plant continues to be legalized throughout the country and more and more medicinal benefits of marijuana continue to be discovered, the genetic map of the plant helps us to get a clear understanding of how the plant works and, more importantly, how it can be used for its unique compounds and gifts. Understanding hemp, a plant that has been used for so many centuries to make essential daily items, will no doubt be a breakthrough for scientists looking to crack open the secrets of the marijuana plant.