Anyone who’s been lobbying to legalize marijuana might be excited to know that scientists at a startup biotech company, Medicinal Genomics, have completed the DNA sequence for marijuana (or Cannabis sativa, as it’s called in the labs). But there’s a catch: Their goal isn’t to produce the next best Purple Haze, it’s to eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) its mind-altering elements and produce a strain that’s better-suited to treating pain and aiding treatment of diseases like cancer.
Kevin McKernan, the founder of the company, says that Cannabis has 84 other compounds (besides THC) that address pain and may even shrink tumors. “We know which genes govern CBD [another compound that keeps mind-altering effects of THC in check] and THC, but not the other 83 compounds,” McKernan told NPR. “Now that we’ve sequenced this genome, we can sequence other strains, and then we can tie the differences in DNA to different traits.”
But if you’re worried that your tax dollars are going to be spent on getting lab techs high, don’t: Most countries still don’t allow scientists to breed and study plants. Medical Genome has offices in Massachusetts and labs in the Netherlands to skirt restrictions, but they decided to publish the data free on Amazon’s EC2 public data cloud to encourage other scientists to push the research further.
So far, a British company, GW Pharmaceuticals, has created a new drug to treat the muscle stiffness and pain associated with Multiple Sclerosis, called Sativex. And McKernan hopes that there will be more: “A lot of people who want to contribute to this field can’t, but now that this information is available, a lot of research can get done without growing any plants.”
What do you think: Is McKernan a humanitarian, or mad scientist?