Although the use of GMOs in cannabis cultivation is currently just a discussion, it still sparks debate on the potential positive and negative effects GMOs could have and questions the overall direction the industry is heading.
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In the decades since the first patent for a genetically modified organism, or GMO, the use of GMOs has grown exponentially in the world of science, health, and agriculture. A GMO is an organism whose genome has been unnaturally modified to produce specific desired effects. The widespread use of GMOs has not meant overall support; the use of GMOs was met with constant resistance on the basis of science, ethics, law, and economics.
Genetic engineering has allowed for great achievements in such fields as medicine and agriculture, but not without the adverse residual effects, some of which are still not known. As the cannabis industry continues to grow, so do the possibilities within the industry, including the use of GMOs. Currently, there is no genetically modified cannabis on the market, but there is still an industry-wide conversation debating the topic.
GMOs in Cannabis Cultivation: Why?
Although still just an idea, the conversation around GMOs and cannabis continues to grow. In a recently published article, agricultural expert, Dr. Reggie Gaudino, of the Berkley-based Steep Hill cannabis laboratory, stated his belief that the use of GMOs in the industry is only a matter of time. As the industry grows, Gaudino commented, so does the opportunity for a big ag play. Introducing big ag companies, like Monsanto, as players in the cannabis industry, could positively and negatively effect the landscape of the current industry.
The cannabis industry has taken great pride in the fact that it remains an environmentally conscious industry and even organic in many practices. The use of GMOs has, in some opinions, created an uncontrolled environmental experiment; whose immediate effects have been seen, such as the growth of “super weeds”, and whose long-term effects are still unknown. In addition to compromising industry practices, is the question as to what it would mean for current cultivators in the industry.
There is no denying the power of big ag companies, and the impossibility of competing with them when it comes to monetary advantage. Big ag companies, it is feared, would wipe out the cultivators and cultivation practices we know today, thus taking with them the opportunity for any smaller entrepreneurial ventures.
The actual need to use GMOs in the cannabis industry is also a topic of discussion. Many share the viewpoint that there is no need for GMOs and that current plant breeding techniques, such as cross-breeding and hybridization, remain relevant, efficient and effective. One study, published in 2012, collected and analyzed the THC in cannabis from 1970-2009.
Over this period, the study showed a worldwide increase in the mean THC of cannabis, with the most rapid rise being in the past decade. The increase in the potency of cannabis has caused an increase in the standard as well, with a standard potency for medicinal cannabis somewhere between 18 to 20%. These achievements, as it has been argued, have been made without the use of GMOs.
GMOs in Cannabis Cultivation: Why Not?
The use of GMOs and the introduction of big players, such as Monsanto, could also have a positive effect on the industry. By allowing for big ag to enter the industry, the industry might gain a more tolerated, or even accepted, view. A lack of support of the cannabis industry can be attributed to the lack of research and evidence in support of the use of cannabis to treat certain maladies.
Large companies entering the industry could put an end to the lack of research. Not only do these companies have the funds and resources to conduct the research, but they also have the experience of navigating governmental guidelines and gaining government favor.
Using GMOs could also increase the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Genetic modification of cannabis could be used to obtain different levels of cannabinoids or terpenes to produce a desired medicinal effect. It could also allow for the exploration of compounds, in addition to THC and CBD, which could have medicinal benefits, all while not modifying any other attributes of the plant, such as drought-resistance.
Nathaniel Johnson of Grist may have summarized it best when he stated that GMOs cannot and should not be judged as a single entity. Their risks and benefits should, however, be judged as individual crops. The same could be said for cannabis and GMOs; just as different as each strain and malady, are the positive and negative effects of introducing GMOs into the industry.