The fledgling cannabis industry is encouraging new research into marijuana that could have long-lasting effects on an array of other sectors, including new medicines and farming techniques, as firms seek irrefutable scientific evidence on the plant and its inner workings before recreational sales start legally in July next year.
With recreational marijuana soon to be legal and the number of licensed medical cannabis producers expanding, scientists at the University of Guelph claim that more companies are approaching researchers for help improving their business operations for cultivating better plants. The university, based in Ontario, has a very long, reputable history of conducting in-depth horticultural research.
Both staff and students at the University of Guelph are already analyzing medical marijuana in detailed studies. On Friday last week, a graduate student and two professors of environmental science published a research paper, one they consider the first of its kind and a precursor for many more, on optimizing the cultivation of medical marijuana indoors.
The team analyzed the rate of organic fertilizer in soilless cannabis products before flowering, as well as maximizing tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound that makes users high, and cannabidiol, widely touted and splashed across the news as a potential therapeutic target for some types of epilepsy, as well as most symptoms of disease man suffers today.
Funded by both the federal government and a licensed cultivator of medical marijuana, the study’s lead author, Youbin Zheng, said, “There is hardly any scientific information on how to produce these plants, and now there is so much interest in this area.” Top scientific journals are starting to talk about it. You read about different strains, words like “Blue Dream” and “OG Kush” in HortScience and others, and there is much more still to come.
Along with fellow professor Mike Dixon, Zheng has several studies underway to establish the exact effects of soilless technology, fertilization, lighting, irrigation, and more on weed growth as they give credibility to research with rigorous science. Dixon pulls no punches when discussing the current political climate and its influence on the environment for marijuana research.
Dixon said frankly, “Much of the work now is largely based on anecdotal bullshit from people who think they have it all figured out and did all their research in their basements.” He notes that the idea now is to pull the world of medical marijuana from the backwoods and into full-scale pharmaceutical-grade production for commercial retail.
Dixon is pioneering research into how plants grow in space, and he is using the technology and knowledge he gained to improve growing methods for medical marijuana plants. For his work, he plans to leverage the money that cannabis companies are willing to pay for his knowledge. He said honestly, “I am shamelessly taking advantage of the cannabis industry sector’s investment.”
Dixon went on to explain, “The bottom line is we are developing technologies that will allow Canadians to exploit production systems in harsh environments.” Zheng noted that licensed cannabis production firms, of which Health Canada has now issued licenses to 60, require “a huge number of trained scientists.”
Also worth noting are the many potential therapeutic applications associated with medical cannabis. Dixon emphasizes the importance of exploring the more than 150 different compounds in marijuana plants. Vertical farming is another crucial aspect. Cultivators grow stacked crops in enormous warehouses these days, and they invest vast sums of money in equipment to do it properly.
Under artificial lighting, in soil, solution, or hydroponic systems, farmers in the coldest areas on earth can grow food all year round. Dixon says the technology is widely available and continually improving as research reveals more of marijuana’s secrets. He explained that marijuana research results, funded by an enthusiastic cannabis industry, could also have applications in other sectors.
According to Dixon, “The funding is not coming from food, which has the lowest possible margin as a commodity, but pharmaceuticals. We can use this research to develop life-support technology, as in food, which can become an economic engine for a country like Canada that will carry us for the next 300 years.”
Rene van Acker, dean of the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph, says that the marijuana industry is likely to be a key driver for new students enrolling into the school’s programs. “One of our greatest challenges is recruiting people into our programs, because people typically do not understand the fact that agriculture and food are high-tech, high-growth sectors and demand an awful lot of people for interesting careers.”
Van Acker explained, “The cannabis industry is doing us a favor by drawing a lot of attention to the sector and drawing attention to the fact it is a high-skill, high-tech area.”