Genetically Modified Marijuana
Posted by Glenn Beierle on 08/15/2013 in Growing
Updated on December 28, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
With the widespread recognition of medical marijuana, big time agribusinesses are gaining the opportunity to hone in on the major cash crop. With millions to be made in the cannabis industry, giant agricultural biotechnology company, Monsanto, has announced plans to introduce newly developed GMO technology to the patentable transgenic seeds for sole distribution.
The concept of genetically modifying marijuana strains is not entirely foreign. Nationally, labs experiment with strains from modified cannabis plants for research and testing regularly. So what is it about Monsanto’s plan that irks us? Having focused largely on monopolizing the food industry, Monsanto has been held responsible for playing a dominant role in the mass genocide of 50% of the nation’s bee population, and was recently named the world’s “Most Evil Corporation,” by the NaturalNews website, with BP slacking in second place. Monsanto has developed herbicide-resistant seeds which work to gain maximum yield in the same amount of farmland, essentially eradicating all other seeds. Having actively pursued litigation resulting in near-decade long prison sentences against small farmers for conspiracy to commit fraud against the company using seeds not purchased from the major corporation, Monsanto has been given anything if a good reputation.
Bear with me for a moment, but perhaps the greatest benefit of maintaining a federal prohibition on marijuana is the inability for big time chemical companies such as Monsanto to dominate the industry with their technologies. Because the patent remains up for grabs, the growing, distributing and breeding of cannabis has stayed relatively underground for the majority of its commercial history.
With bureaucratic regulation of medicinal marijuana being discussed within government, it is estimated that the plant is not far from nationwide legalization. Agro-companies are in turn, set to be the leading providers for cannabis by way of outsourcing. For this reason, GMO companies such as Monsanto have already begun researching cannabis modification to maintain its THC content.
Monsanto makes up 1/5 of the “Big Six,” a monopoly of agrichemical companies including Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, Bayer and Pioneer, which currently control over 70% of the global pesticide market. Monsanto and Syngenta are currently investing millions of dollars into a new technology they’ve dubbed “RNAi.” RNA interference is a biological process by which RNA molecules inhibit gene expression, by destructing specific mRNA molecules. The process works to systematically shut down genes within the cell, to identify individual components necessary for a certain cellular process. To break it down, the RNA is the code embedded within an animal or plant’s DNA that instructs its proteins how to organize to create, for example, the plant’s particular colorization. When interfered with, the double-stranded RNA obstructs the original code, making it so that the pigmentation directions never reach the proteins.
Initially, this process was introduced as an alternative to insecticides. If double-stranded RNA can be inserted into a plant’s seed designed to interfere with the offending insect’s RNA instructions, for example, digestive capabilities, then once ingesting the RNAi infused plant, the pest will not be able to eat. That, is wherein the danger of this process lies. The transgenic genes intended solely to interfere with the pest or plant will inevitably be ingested by its human consumers. Regardless of how minimal the amount of gene interference is intended to be, scientists have raised red flags because of the potential harm this process could have on our biological systems or cell and protein development.
The potential ramifications of genetically modified cannabis may directly combat the very nature of the current war on drugs. The possibilities of interfering with the cannabis plant are more or less endless with modified genetic instructions. And in an attempt to eradicate the world of psychoactive plants, these companies may offer a version of GM technology where the very genes determining their THC content are compromised. Remember, when it comes to big business agri-companies like those involved in the Big Six, quantity far surpasses quality.
Without the developed GM technology implemented into the cannabis industry, experienced growers have bred organic cannabis to have an estimated 10% or more THC content. By utilizing the natural cultivation process called human selection – a quicker version of natural selection – growers have learned to increase the THC content within the plant without the use of harmful products or additives.
And because it is still federally illegal, this has enabled the world of marijuana to remain independent from the ultimate control of giant seed and chemical companies.
Extensive farming practices, genuine care and knowledge of the plant are essential for truly understanding how to breed the plant organically, potently and naturally cultivated. British Columbia has been recognized as a highly concentrated location for international growers to come and take advantage of its ideal weather conditions, nutrient-rich soil and historically relaxed laws to learn how to grow marijuana strains with increased potency. Techniques are explored for product breeding with best results in high THC content.
It is this concentration of environmentally concerned activists and organic-friendly farmers that have been a major bonus to growers and cultivators utilizing permaculture-based methods, wielding successful and naturally healthy crops. Within any supply-and-demand industry, there will be those with purely profit-driven motives and those with genuine care for the product itself. For the inexperienced growers first hopping on the bandwagon, they will undoubtedly look to these chemical companies investing millions to guarantee maximum crop yields.
With studies linking genetically modified foods to major health problems like cancer, the medical concerns involved with these chemically enhanced products are first being explored now. In viewing marijuana as medicine, we are fundamentally tainting the very supply which works to heal us. Irreparable medical damage will be the prevailing side effect of nature’s greatest medicine. Advocacy groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund have stated that the risks of GM technologies have neither been adequately identified, nor properly solved. The level of consumer awareness that will be necessary for waves to be made within these multi-billion dollar agribusinesses won’t happen overnight. This isn’t a foreign fight, however. Organic growers have long since dealt with adversity since the invasion of overpowering agrichemical businesses. Like always, famers who truly value their growing practices will have to fight the good fight in hopes of driving these destructive cash-guzzling companies out.
Though Monsanto’s emergence within the marijuana industry may take time to fully develop, the production of our favorite plants may soon be in the hands of agrichemical profiteers. Let us all personally invest in the shift of the emergence from the well-known agricultural phrase, “Know Your Farmer,” to “Know Your Grower.”