Is THC producing yeast the future of medicinal cannabis? Brand New Breakthrough in Science Rocks the Cannabis World, Holds Promise to Spur Legalization

Yeast is a pretty amazing organism. It gave the world bread, something we can all agree is pretty great. It gave the world beer, also unanimously agreed on to be pretty much the best. Of course all of that pales in comparison to what is quickly becoming a remarkable breakthrough where the worlds of cannabis and chemistry combine.

Back in August of 2015, researchers announced that they had genetically engineered yeast to produce a powerful painkilling compound. The ramifications of such a breakthrough are tremendous. Now, barely a month later, it has been announced that a similar process can be used to engineer THC producing yeast. Even though it may sound like this spells doom for cannabis growers around the world, it is actually the best news to date in the path to full legalization. Let’s look at why.

Synthetic THC and Medicinal Research

Source: news.sciencemag.org
Source: news.sciencemag.org

While THC producing yeast are a brand new concept, synthetic THC is not. Available in the form of pills, synthetic THC options are prescribed to treat many of the symptoms familiar to medical marijuana users: insomnia, chronic pain, nausea, seizures, etc. While it may seem as though science is working to make the cannabis plant obsolete, the inverse is actually true. Proponents of legalization are watching the field of THC research very closely. As we uncover more uses, more benefits, and a greater understanding of how THC affects the body then the case for legalization is only made stronger.

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If there is a scientific impetus to research the effects of THC, research that goes so far as to find alternative methods of producing THC, then lawmakers will be forced to not only respond to growing popular sentiment in favor of legalization, but a growing burden of scientific proof that backs up the claims that members of the cannabis community have been making for decades. In short, the more we know, the more ammunition we have to push legalization through legislative bodies.

The Details

The fermentation process (cheese, beer, wine) is a product of the natural life processes of yeast. It relies on simple sugars that are taken in by the yeast and converted into a compound with a functional hydroxyl group bound to a saturated carbon atom—alcohol. The THC production process instead uses what are known as ‘precursor molecules’ instead of simple sugars as fuel. This is less effective; right now the THC production process is inefficient and can only produce small amounts at a time. Perhaps this is a good thing in the long run—if we could make THC out of table sugar the every Tom, Dick, and Jane would have a THC fermenting bin and a hell of a lot of stuff wouldn’t get done.

Of course the biotechnology behind the process is still in its infantile stages, but researchers are hopeful that they can scale the process to produce THC on an industrial level. This would mean feeding a raw material—like sugar—into the process and harvesting the finished product on the other side. As of right now the synthesis process is still quite complicated and this creates a significant roadblock to the industrial scaling of the process.

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The concept is not as new as the breakthrough. For nearly eight years now researchers around the globe have been attempting to reliably scale the synthesis of THC to the industrial level without much success. No matter the complexity of the science or the outcome of the program however, the most important thing is the amount of press this kind of research generates. As we reach a greater understanding of THC and its effect the tide of public support will crest in such a powerful wave that legislators won’t be able to ignore the will of the people.

Until next time friends, may your fields always be green.