It's hard to fund space exploration research — the commercial applications are speculative and far-off — but there's never been a better time to study super-efficient, closed-loop botany of the sort that will someday accompany human interplanetary missions, thanks to the need to develop better grow-ops for the burgeoning legal weed market in Canada.
Though recreational weed has yet to be legalised in Canada, it formed a plank of the ruling Liberal party's election platform. Meanwhile, medical marijuana is permitted under national law, some provinces had decriminalised personal possession, and others have ruled that the federal prohibition on marijuana has no force.
The result is a booming market for better weed and better cultivation techniques. Decades of prohibition have stunted the kinds of advanced research that other cash-crops have undergone, leaving lots of easy wins for botanists, and lots of chances to make a name.
Mike Dixon, director of the University of Guelph's Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility is one of the beneficiaries of this boom. His facility is collaborating with medical marijuana growers ABcann, and holds high hopes for a future leadership role for Canadian botanists thanks to the marijuana market.
The biggest issue for the medicinal marijuana industry is getting its plants to consistently produce the right amounts of medically active chemicals. Dixon said that the technology exists now, just down the hall from his office. In a variety of sealed chambers, ranging from a trashcan-sized stainless steel cylinder to a white box the size of a restaurant's walk-in freezer, Dixon can manipulate the six major environmental factors that influence plant growth—light, water, carbon dioxide, temperature, humidity and nutrients—to control a plant's growth and chemical make-up, creating what he calls "environmentally modified organisms."
By adopting Dixon's space tech, medical cannabis companies would be able to ensure their plants always produce whatever exact amounts of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids they want, in the same way that astronauts will dial up the precise environmental parameters to reliably produce delicious and nutritious tomatoes.
"Standardizing the product will help it achieve the status of a conventional pharmaceutical commodity that a doctor can rely on and prescribe," said Dixon.
How Space Technology Will Produce the Best Weed Ever
(Image: University of Guelph, CESRF)