Hemp, marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, was relaunched into the cosmos this March. Front Range Biosciences, an agricultural biotech company, sent hemp cell cultures to the International Space Station.

That’s right. 

Among the stars and planets, hemp has become no stranger to zero gravity cannabis cultivation aboard the International Space Station. The goal is to determine how the hemp plant holds up in space.

Developed in conjunction with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies, a research institute at the University of Colorado, the teams want to determine how to engineer plants that grow in regions that have been affected by climate change. As hemp has over 50,000 uses ranging from rope and textile to serving as a major source of cannabidiol, or CBD, this became a good starting point.

The many uses of Hemp

According to NASA’s findings on growing plants in microgravity “The ability to grow plants (marijuana) in space will have an enormous impact on the success of future interplanetary space exploration […] Any long-term human presence on the Moon or Mars will require sustainable plant growth, which can provide a renewable food supply for explorers and assist with the maintenance of breathable air.”

Marijuana in Space

Kentucky-based Start-up Space Tango is already well into a mission they launched last year test if zero gravity will mutate or genetically alter the plants.

Space Tango partnered with two Kentucky hemp companies to perform plant biology experiments on hemp in space. They have become leaders in the research of hemp in space on the International Space Station over the past few years with the mission to perform plant biology experiments.

Despite all of this sounding very much like it’s been taken straight out of a sci-fi movie, it is currently being carried out in labs no larger than a microwave that, housed together in a larger microgravity environment within the space station.

Space Tango’s founder a former NASA engineer Kris Kimel, wanted to determine whether growing plants (mainly for food) might be more effective in space. As an engineer, Kimel supposed that Zero gravity may present a less stressful environment for the plants and hemp.

Dr. Joe Chappell, a member of the Space Tango Science Advisory Team says that “understanding how plants react in an environment where the traditional stress of gravity is removed can provide new insights into how adaptations come about and how researchers might take advantage of such changes for the discovery of new characteristics, traits, biomedical applications, and efficacy.”

Space Tango’s research may provide yet another positive step in the evolution of cannabis as a medicine. So far, its most impressive characteristic and driver in the development of cannabis as medicine is the use of CBD to minimize severe seizures in epilepsy patients.

This investigation by Space Tango of growing marijuana in space has more to it than it sounds. They also want to learn more about the relationship between inflammation and brain function.

Their investigation is designed to furthering the understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. One aspect of inflammation in the brain is related to the blood-brain barrier functionality. This blood-brain barrier protects the brain by preventing particular substances from entering the brain during inflammation. Their studies use a ‘Brain-Chip’ to evaluate if their anti-inflammatory therapy has had any effects on the blood-brain barrier in space.

Plant Experiments in Space

NASA is no stranger to cultivating plants in space. In 2014 NASA launched the Vegetable Production System aka the “Veggie”. NASA says that they cultivate eatable greens “to provide the crew with a palatable, nutritious, and safe source of fresh food and a tool to support relaxation and recreation […] Veggie is also used for fundamental space biology experiments such as the series Advanced Plant Experiments and educational space biology activities.”

Marijuana in space

According to NASA, their Plant Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus is “designed to control light, moisture, temperature, and gases in a closed container to maximize plant growth”. It is interesting to note that their findings will be interesting for hemp farmers as it could assist medical cannabis companies in their efforts to more tightly control the THC content, cannabinoid ratio, and growth parameters of the bud they’re growing.

Take-Away’s

While it won’t be the first time plants have been grown in space as lettuce, onions, peas, cucumbers, and more have all been grown in space for a number of years now, it is, however, the first time we find Cannabis sativa – hemp cultivated in space for ecological and medicinal purposes

(Marijuana made it out amongst the stars for the first time in 2017. Herban Planet launched a publicity stunt to bring more attention to online cannabis) 

Perhaps microgravity will introduce a future of breakthroughs in healthcare, plant biology and technology. While, for now, the prospect of CBD adventures in microgravity remain, speculative it has an elevating effect on the imagination.

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