The last decade has been a game-changer for the legal weed industry, with numerous states legalizing the consumption of marijuana for recreational and medicinal uses. Bringing these products to the mass market has involved numerous scientific breakthroughs.
Here are a few projects in development that could radically reshape the cannabis industry.
The Cannabis sativa plant is a wonder of nature, a factory for brain-altering chemicals unlike any the world has ever seen. But there is a tremendous amount of variance between strains of the plant, with each grow resulting in a different balance of THC, CBD, and other elements. That leads to a robust market of products, but a hard one to regulate. Modern genomics might be the key to unlocking the plant’s ultimate potential. Several leading cannabis growers are engaging in efforts to sequence the Cannabis sativa’s DNA, assembling a clear blueprint for how the plant generates the panoply of chemicals within.
One Colorado-based company claims to have developed a method to use CRISPR gene editing to grow plants with no THC or CBD at all. These customized breeds could also carry different flavors or be easier to grow. In addition, they are discovering enzymes within the plant that produce even rarer cannabinoids, including CBC, which is thought to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. One end goal is to extract the genes that produce these chemicals and implant them in yeast or bacteria, allowing for industrial production without growing a single plant.
Finding the right blend of THC and CBD can be a challenge, as people’s individual biochemistry causes them to process cannabinoids in different ways. While specific strains of weed have reputations for mellowness or intensity, there is still a lot of wiggle room present in choosing what to put in your vape.
Because this is a psychoactive substance, the consequences of choosing a strain that doesn’t vibe with your mind can be a real downer. That’s why the next step in cannabis consumption is tailored blends of essential cannabinoids balanced to your unique physiology.
Some companies are already making inroads into this new method of personalization. CannabisDNA administers a $129 saliva-based swab test that uses over 70 genetic markers to create a profile of your responses to notable cannabinoids, then produces a report that predicts your compatibility with different strains.
In the future, it’s possible that marijuana retailers will combine this testing methodology with bespoke product creation, combining isolates into individualized formulas that deliver a targeted experience for the user.
One of the primary issues with growing marijuana is that the plants have a voracious appetite for wide-spectrum light. In tropical climates, the sun provides everything that Cannabis sativa needs, but large-scale indoor grow operations rely on high-intensity discharge bulbs, which are expensive and consume a ton of electricity.
LED technology, which has revolutionized the home lighting market in the last decade, is poised to do the same for cannabis growers. NASA has experimented with using LED lights for plant growth in space, and many marijuana growers have already transitioned.
Newer bulbs are able to emit a wideband light spectrum, as opposed to earlier models that only covered the red or blue frequencies. Manufacturers have also introduced directional lamps that more efficiently point light rays at the growing plants.
LEDs also produce much less heat than other bulbs, which allows growers to save on temperature control and ducting. We can expect the cost of LED grow light setups to drop dramatically over the next few years, mirroring what has happened with consumer bulbs.
One of the largest current obstacles to CBD distribution is the chemical nature of the product. Because it is an oil, it’s not water-soluble, which means that when added to most liquid products it will separate over time. That limits its use for oils, capsules, and other applications.
The holy grail here is to be able to add it to water-based products like beverages, and that’s where nanoencapsulation comes in.
CBD is known for its low bioavailability, which means that when you consume it orally only around 20 percent of it ends up in your bloodstream. That’s a pretty significant amount of waste for this expensive molecule.
Some scientists believe that encapsulating the cannabinoids in a smaller emulsion can dramatically increase that bioavailability. Smaller emulsion can also allow the product to blend more smoothly with water, making it easier to consume.
Manufacturers have already developed nano-CBD products, but the technology is still in its infancy. If a reliable technique for nano-encapsulation hits the market, expect major beverage makers to start rolling out products with cannabinoids included.
App Based Retail
The way people buy marijuana has also changed dramatically with legalization. Gone are the days of meeting a guy behind a convenience store and buying an ounce of whatever he had. Modern dispensaries are well-lit, professional establishments that resemble Apple Stores, with products displayed and labeled clearly and staff ready to explain their offerings.
Technology is going to smooth and streamline that process even further. Several startups have already launched apps, like Budly and Eaze, that allow you to order recreational or medicinal marijuana from a variety of suppliers to be delivered to your door.
Another holy grail for the industry is the concept of a vertically integrated point of sale platform that will accommodate all of the links in the cannabis supply chain, from the initial seed to the final consumer sale. That will greatly improve the data available to growers and manufacturers, leading to more efficient development of new products.
App Based Testing
The way people test cannabis for potency is changing. While certain regulations will still require that growers send samples to state certified labs, it is extremely helpful to know the potency and moisture content of your crops at any moment.
Purpl Scientific has developed a product called Purpl PRO, which provides unlimited lab accurate test results in a few seconds.
Using technology borrowed from the pharmaceutical industry, the engineers at Purpl Scientific have created a unique hand-held device that measures cannabis and hemp samples with uncanny accuracy.
One hemp farmer says that the device saved his farm, as he was able to identify exactly which plants were "hot" - meaning their THC level were above the legal limit - and remove just those, instead of plowing under rows and rows, or even his entire field.
And any day that technology can save a farm and a family's livelihood, that's a good day.