How Science is Enhancing Cannabis

by | Nov 9, 2020

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

Cannabis has entered into a brand new era of technological progress, led by a better scientific understanding of its many compounds. Through this enhanced sense of how cannabinoids develop, the sector is creating more consistent medicine with significant advances in bioavailability. From the use of drones and multispectral imagery in cultivation to enhancing bioavailability through nanotechnology, science and technology are rapidly changing how we work with this plant.

In some ways, it is hard to keep up with each of these advances spinning out across the sector. But if we examine a few recent developments, taken together, a powerful picture starts to form.

Drones and Imaging: Better Cultivation

A better consumer cannabis product ultimately starts with better cultivation. Cannabis is a notoriously variable plant, especially in outdoor settings. Environmental stressors have a significant impact on cannabinoid and terpene content, which can be challenging to monitor in real-time.

The introduction of drone technology and multispectral imagery into outdoor cannabis cultivation has dramatically increased the amount of information available to the grower. Information is king within a precision grow.

This technology, used by companies like MicaSense and Arbor Drone across the agricultural sector, is now concentrating on cannabis.

Through specialized cameras and on-board sensors, these agricultural drones capture plant reflectance. This imagery can help with harvest predictions, male/female identification, timing, and trouble areas. Now there is even drone technology that can identify water stress, whether it’s field-wide or a microclimate issue.

Through better real-time mapping of the crop, growers produce a healthier final product. In cannabis, that means richer cannabinoid and terpene content and better consistency. Drones blend science and technology with human interpretation of that data to reduce manual labor and crop failure.

Nanotechnology and Edibles: Better Bioavailability

But what about advances in post-harvest technology? Processing has come a long way from the traditional hand-rolled hash and basic tinctures of only fifty years ago. Nanotechnology is the current buzzword in the edible and beverage side of the industry because it’s solving many of the longstanding issues consumers have had with cannabis in an edible format.

In essence, nanotechnology shrinks cannabinoids down into microscopic particles capable of sliding through cell walls to avoid the delays (and dilutions) of the digestive tract.

Sunderstorm is one such company taking advantage of nanotechnology to improve the bioavailability, consistency, and onset times of conventional edibles. They are one of the first companies in the US to bring nanotechnology into cannabis consumables; they have helped create a brand new era of effective edibles. As Cameron Clarke, CEO of Sunderstorm, explained to Cannabis Tech in a recent conversation, “We are driven by nanotechnology not just because it is an interesting name. What it comes down to is enhancing the bioavailability, the consistency, and the onset times of these various products.”

According to Clarke, Sunderstorm has “done a lot of work to compress the time from when the consumer takes the product to when they feel the beneficial effects.” The onset comes within ten minutes in his experience, which is substantially quicker than the 60 to 90 minutes expected with most edibles.

By testing the cannabinoid blood-plasma levels in consumers’ post-ingestion, Sunderstom has an excellent understanding of how their products work within the human body. As Clarke described, this is a far more critical indicator of medicinal value than just potency: “If it doesn’t get into your bloodstream, it doesn’t do you any good.”

Nanotechnology, through the likes of companies like Sunderstorm, is radically changing the push for ever more potent options. This could shake up the ‘cult of potency’ currently possessing the industry.

Enhancing Cannabis Starts with Cultivation, But Ends with the Consumer

Whether it’s for a recreational or a medicinal purpose, ultimately, cannabis is a consumer good. Enhancing cannabis is about improving the consumer experience and therapeutic benefit through better cannabinoid development, consistency, and predictability.

A better understanding of what is happening in the field creates a more robust final harvest. But that’s just the start. Scientific exploration has led to improvements to the route of administration. Edibles and tinctures with a nanotechnology component have transformed an unpredictable and outdated delivery mechanism into something much more suited to the pharmaceutical sector. An edible with nanotechnology is a consistent product from one dose to the next.

Together, these two advances lay the foundation for a different kind of cannabis. They elevate and enhance the experience beyond where cannabis has ever been before.