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Can Yeast Produce THC? Scientists Have Found a Way

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Cannabis may not be recognized by the FDA as an approved medicine, but more people are choosing to use the drug to treat many ailments with amazing success. The key ingredient in cannabis that makes it so useful to the medical community is the cannabidiol or CBD, which many patients use to treat pain and other symptoms of their illnesses. The content of CBD and THC in each cannabis plant is inconsistent and usually depends on the strain, but the compounds can be produced in high quantities by cannabis growers using selective breeding techniques.

The complicated issue with CBD is its association with the cannabis plant, which is still classified as a schedule one narcotic. But what if these compounds could be removed from the plant and synthesized with another compound? Recently, scientists have found new ways to use yeast, including in the production of THC compounds and cannabinols. Creating THC and CBD from a source other than the marijuana plant could be huge for the medical cannabis market. However, before the cannabis world unites in celebration over a new way to produce our favourite chemicals, there’s still work to be done.

Medical Effects of THC and CBD

Marijuana use has been contentious in the medical field due to its spot on the controlled substance list in the U.S., but the chemicals within the plant are less controversial in nature. The two main ingredients in the cannabis plant are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol. These have shown to produce a healing and psychoactive effect on the human brain due to the link between these chemicals and our bodies’ natural cannabinoid system. Once cannabinoids reach our natural receptors, they can reduce pain in ways similar to morphine, but without the haziness that can come from using such a powerful prescription substance. Other studies show that cannabinoids could also help in the reduction of cancerous brain cells when used in conjunction with radiation. These results are part of the reason why companies are looking for new and innovative ways to cultivate the useful chemicals found naturally in marijuana.

Yeast: From Bread to Beer to Bud

The European market is starting to see a rise in legal marijuana alternatives, such as brands like Marinol and Cesamet. These alternatives act as THC and CBD substitutes that have the potential to combat specific diseases and symptoms like those caused by H.I.V. and chemotherapy.

Advances in science have similarly allowed for laboratories to begin a synthesizing process of THC, CBD and yeast. Genetically modified yeast could make THC and CDB cheaper than marijuana alternatives and the cannabis plant itself. However, this doesn’t come without its challenges; scientists state that the process is extremely complex and very few laboratories have been able to insert the more than 12 genes into the yeast to produce THC and CBD.

Bye-Bye Cannabis Flower?

As the synthesis process becomes easier and as technology advances, the science around producing THC and CBD becomes about scale and tailoring the product. Right now, there’s no better organic producer of THC and CBD than the cannabis plant, but scientists say this could all change with yeast and sugars. If optimized for production, these natural compounds will allow users to ingest a pill rather than smoke or vaporize marijuana. For medical marijuana patients who may want to avoid ingesting combusted material, this is ideal—it also may carry less of a stigma and will never risk patients experiencing side effects they don’t desire.

Right now the possibility of synthesizing THC and CBD with yeast is exciting for medical marijuana patients because advances in this technology will lead to a safer experience for patients. These yeast products could even begin tailoring their THC and CBD content to suit the needs of specific conditions. For now, however, there continues to be no better way of consuming THC and CBD than with your favourite strain of medical cannabis.

Photos: cannabispictures, Wikimedia Commons, Martijn

Feature Image: U.S. Army RDECOM, Wikipedia Commons