There’s a popular notion among drug users that if it comes from the earth, it’s fine. This was a whimsy kind of logic that propagated in the 1970s, when quaaludes and other pharmaceutical grade drugs were becoming popular in new age circles. On the surface, it’s a line of logic that has positive implications- don’t get high off things with uncertain contents. However, in the year 2015, marijuana is anything but an organic plant.
In the 1970s, marijuana commonly had a low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of about 3 or 4%. Tetrahydrocannabinol, besides being one hell of a scary CHEMIKILL name, is the principal psychoactive found in cannabis.
But in 2015, cultivating marijuana is a highly technical process to have the highest THC percentages possible. Just how does marijuana with a 30% THC content get produced? By the selective breeding of heirloom marijuana plants, which began in the 70s. The heirloom strains of marijuana are Hindu Kush, Pure Afghan, Lambs bread, Durban Poison, Malawi, and Panama Red. From these, cross breeding has created an unlimited number of strains, all with different strengths and grow cycles. This process of simple genetic modification of marijuana has cultivated the best smoke to ever exist on earth.
“During the 1970s and 80s, growers worldwide began collecting landrace strains to breed in their own local gardens. These strains, called heirlooms, were then propagated in other environments like Hawaii and California.” -Leafly
For simplicities sake, here’s a photo comparison.
It’s the difference between the corn of our ancestors and the corn of today- one is nearly inedible and small . The other is big, juicy and delicious.
The process of growing high potency marijuana is anything but natural. It requires extensive lighting and aeration systems, staging areas with different temperatures, specific nutrient feed systems, a keen eye for infestations, and specialized harvesting techniques. It also takes a whole hell of a lot of time to do it right, which is why, its best to leave it up to the professionals instead of assuming you can easily begin growing marijuana (or food, for that matter) yourself. Different varieties, created through cross breeding, require different nutrients, lighting, and have varying grow cycles. Cross breeding has created thousands of strains, with no end of combinations in sight. But, a sort of cap has been hit on THC, with high potency strains hovering around 30%.
Think of the things that could be improved for marijuana cultivation- As it is, marijuana dries out rapidly, and requires special storage. Mold, mites, and a number of other hazards (the mold is toxic, by the way) affect both the user and the producer of marijuana. This is why marijuana cultivation, just like food, would benefit from genetic engineering in a laboratory. It is only because of genetic engineering certain traits into fruits and vegetables that one can even consider growing big, fat tomatoes and corn in their backyard. The same is true for marijuana. Right now the sky is the limit- and I think we can get a little higher. Wink.
The nearly infinite number of plant varieties have been based on chance mutations from cross breeding, an unruly way of forcing genetic mutations. So what are the risks involved with this cross breeding? You may have heard there was a highly poisonous potato at one time- that’s because farmers cross breeding potatoes accidentally concentrated the toxin solanine (naturally occurring in potatoes in low amounts, typically in the stems and leaves) into the core of the potato. Cross breeding is extremely hit or miss- and it’s how Marijuana strains are created to this day.
Unlike Bt Corn, these marijuana plants have never been regulated or safety tested to the extent of biotech crops. And since they qualify under organic labeling, medical marijuana crops never have to receive the same scrutiny. Despite this, marijuana is generally seen as safe. All that may change soon, as marijuana is becoming more available and legal in the United States. The days of marijuana being seen as an organic plant are numbered, bound entirely to how soon antis realize that weed is genetically modified. And when that happens, overnight, paranoia about GMO weed will begin, despite it being the case for years.
“But wait,” I hear some of you saying. “Just because marijuana is cross bred, doesn’t mean it’s GMO.” The thing is, GMO is not a uniform collection of things- GMO is an inneficient label for varying processes and techniques that’s been adopted as a buzzword in scare campaigns. The US Patent Office is already receiving patent inquiries. Keep in mind, developers of genetically modified organisms do not patent the seeds themselves, they patent the method for producing the seeds, just as traditional plant breeders patent their hybridization techniques. For example, the University of Central Florida patented, in 2012, a process of “BGL overexpression” on trichomes-the little hairs that you’ll find on a marijuana plant.
The processes to grow weed are already becoming property. With the ever growing acceptance of marijuana, more patents will emerge to claim specific processes by which to grow strains. In the future, I imagine we will see new ways of extracting the (at least) 84 other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol and cannabinol. Both of these have shown the capacity to stimulate the proliferation of new nerve cells. Genetic engineering of marijuana holds a whole host of exciting discoveries in the coming decades. Yay, science!
But some will not find this exciting. We can already imagine how it would play out: “No GMO weed!” “Organic weed only!” Medical marijuana advocates would be wise to be wary of anti protests, as anti GMO initiatives have already been used as a back door way of re-prohibiting medical marijuana under the guise of banning GM plants.
Anti GMO activists have unwittingly given drug enforcement agents another reason to raid legal marijuana grows- bans on genetically modified plants would make these grows illegal, and that’s already been happening in Hawaii, with law enforcement raiding medical marijuana grows. Growers violating a laundry list of what constitutes a GMO (rules put forth by the anti GMO community) face fines of 10,000 dollars a day until the GMO marijuana is removed. Good job, guys.
“Anti-GMO potheads imposed these laws on themselves. They deserve to suffer until the ordinances are repealed. This is justice.”-Hawaii free press
I would hope this would resonate with some anti GMO’rs, because if you laid a map of GMO initiatives over a map of medical marijuana states, they cross over repeatedly. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.