As legal marijuana profits continue to reach stratospheric heights, it appears so too may the cannabis plant itself expand into space — soaring 250 miles above Earth within NASA’s International Space Station (ISS).
With plans to test how hemp plants react in the low-gravity setting of space orbit, scientists at bioengineering company Space Tango — specializing in research and manufacturing of microgravity environments — are eager to test the cannabis plant’s response to novel environs like spaceflight. Orbiting Earth in the stress-free atmosphere of space might just provide the pharmacological outcomes scientists are looking for.
“When we send plants to the International Space Station, we eliminate one core, constant force, to which plants are well-adapted — gravity,” explained Dr. Joe Chappell, a member of the Space Tango Science Advisory Team, who is a specialist in drug development and design and has assisted with previous ISS experiments. “When plants are ‘stressed,’ they pull from a genetic reservoir to produce compounds that allow them to adapt and survive.”
Cannabidiol is a primary component that Chappell is likely referring to — and just one of the over 100 known cannabinoids present in cannabis. A current star therapeutic compound of the plant (referred to as CBD and non-psychoactive, so it does not produce the high of marijuana), it has gained widespread popularity over the past few years and proven to be a curative agent for a host of physical maladies. Its most impressive characteristic is its ability to minimize severe seizures in epilepsy patients. A significant driver in the development of cannabis as medicine, the recently elevated status of CBD was further cemented this year with the approval of the CBD-based medication Epidiolex by both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration. An unprecedented move by the two august bodies, as cannabis in general remains a Schedule 1 drug (alongside heroin and LSD) and therefore illegal at the federal level in the U.S.