Canadian scientists hope research alleviates stigma surrounding cannabis

Two Canadian researchers – Jon Page and Tim Hughes – a plant biochemist and molecular biologist respectively, are hoping their work mapping the cannabis sativa genome will help remove the stigma surrounding the growth of hemp and marijuana in Canada. They are the first researchers to map the cannabis genome, making it the 22nd plant and the first medicinal plant to be mapped in this way.

Page noted its many uses – food, fibre and medicine to name a few – are going to waste because its reputation as an illicit drug makes it hard to obtain funding. Research into best practices for farming the plant has been slow because of tired laws and its unfair reputation.

In their research using genome sequencing technology they found that through years of growing cannabis, farmers have changed the molecular structure of the plant itself.

Marijuana and hemp both come from the plant cannabis sativa, but marijuana contains a much higher level of the medicinal ingredient THC than hemp does – which is why you can not get high from hemp. The THCA synthase gene is turned on in marijuana, but turned off in hemp.

Their findings, published Thursday in the open access journal Genome Biology, can be used by hemp enthusiasts to push for fewer restrictions.

In 1998 Health Canada lifted a 60-year ban on growing the crop, allowing licensed farmers to grow the plant for use in making products such as rope, bricks, fiberglass and plastic like material. Health Canada also allows access to marijuana for those suffering from debilitating illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, HIV/AIDS, spinal cord injury, epilepsy and cancer. Government grown marijuana contains as much as 13 per cent THC while hemp plants contain less than 0.3 per cent, meaning it can not be used to get high.

For more information on the medicinal use of cannabis go here.

Page and Hughes hope that in the future, scientists will use their research to develop marijuana as a legitimate medical ingredient, and hemp as a high quality and fast growing crop.

Source: Vancouver Sun


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