While the whole world and many industries have taken massive blows due to the on-going Coronavirus epidemic, the Cannabis industry as a whole is still growing, with some sectors even seeing boosts in sales as a result of the lockdown. This level of growth has never been seen before and is enabled through the use of technology to create easy methods of seed-to-sale.
Advancements in technological machinery have also revolutionised the industry. There only used to be one way of consuming cannabis, however, due to modern improvement, there are now hundreds of different products available on the market such as edibles, pills, lotions, dabs, bongs, tinctures and many, many more. Nowadays, such a variety of products, potential positive effects, and methods of intake are attracting more people to give CBD products a try.
In this article, we will look through some of the ways on how companies have made use of modern technology to change the cannabis production process for good. Similarly, we’ll look at how changes in the industry will affect consumers in terms of quality, quantity and ease of access.
Let’s Get Scientific: What Is Cannabis?
To understand how the entire cannabis industry is changing in modern times, we must understand the plant’s history and scientific properties. Cannabis is a genus of plants which has been around for millennia dating back to at least 440BC. It has been used as food/drink, materials for clothing and to alleviate ailments of the body and mind. The plant produces over 100 chemicals (more specifically cannabinoids) when grown, but the most well known are CBD and THC. The herb itself is generally divided into three species called Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis, and each tends to produce different concentrations of cannabinoids.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the most prominent non-psychoactive chemical deriving from the cannabis plant. CBD oil has been shown to reduce anxiety, pain and help in the medical field with neurological disorders. Another infamous cannabinoid called Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is a psychoactive chemical derived from the cannabis plant and is responsible for the feeling of ‘being high’ but may also relieve mild pain.
Currently, only CBD is considered legal in many countries worldwide for non-medicinal purposes and producers have made good use of the compound by combining it with products throughout the market. Sweets, cosmetics, clothes, and even infused alcohol have benefitted from the CBD craze. As the CBD industry booms, suppliers have looked to more innovative ways to produce cannabis whilst attempting to create the next game-changing product.
The first way in which technology is driving change in the industry is through gradually changing the population’s initial perceptions for the better. The stigma around the organic plant needs to be broken, and the barriers to access need to be redesigned in order for those who can benefit from CBD’s healing properties to be able to obtain their medicine. Information Technology also has allowed suppliers to advertise their products online for the entire world to see. This has rocketed sales and job creation across the globe and is undoubtedly one of the main factors affecting the industry’s insane growth level.
Access to Medical Cannabis has been growing and spreading to many countries around the globe. This means that citizens with valid prescriptions from their doctors are able to buy cannabis from special vendors. However, supplier’s sales are being hindered by the lack of information around the subject. One of Australia’s top vendors Althea identified this issue and decided to create a technological solution via an app. The app – Concierge – enabled the general public to ask any questions they had regarding anything around the subject. These questions are then answered by pharmacists and healthcare professionals around the country. The app was so simple and clear that now over 40% of Australia’s GP’s prescribe Althea’s products.
DNA Sequencing is the process of recording acid sequences of DNA. All life forms require DNA to operate as it acts as instructions for how part of an organism should do its job. The DNA of cannabis will differ across strains, which will lead to different concentrations of cannabinoids across plants. Researchers have made use of Google’s data holding platform ‘BigQuery’ to store and share the genetic make-up of over 850 strains of the cannabis plant.
CRISPR is a gene-editing tool which scientists use to cut a DNA strand so that they can add new DNA or take some of the existing DNA out. In layman’s terms, a gene-editing tool is a way for scientists to take desirable traits from one plant and put them into others.
It has been used in the agricultural industry to add genes which help plants cope with adverse environmental changes and disease, which leads to greater crop yields. For the cannabis industry, this only encourages prosperity! The ability to modify DNA allows producers to develop plants which produce a particular set of traits. By using the knowledge of how different strains express the DNA they have, producers can create a more optimal plant for each desired outcome. Want a plant which is particularly more efficient at producing CBD? Modify the DNA to alter the abundance of each chemical the plants provide.
Some cannabis strains have drawbacks such as spoiling quickly or growing at random rates. These undesirable traits may be fixed with genetic modification so that more, better quality yields can be produced. Are aphids or infections causing crop failure? Add resistance genes to the strain’s DNA to prevent such negative biotic factors!
While the possibilities seem endless for the cannabis industry, and proof of concept is demonstrated throughout the agricultural sector, it may take a while before genetic modification is used on a large scale in cannabis production. The stigma surrounding both GM and cannabis certainly doesn’t help the cause, but education and awareness can help the public understand the benefits of both in our everyday lives.
As the demand for cannabinoids increases, the competition to produce the plant cheaper and more efficiently increases as well. Biomanufacturing is one such example of how innovators are changing the future of CBD production.
By using yeast, bacteria and algae for manufacturing pure CBD oil (or other cannabinoids), firms anticipate costs could be cut, and results may become more consistent. The process has already been proven to work in a lab setting. The same study provides a platform for future research and application into synthetic cannabinoids suggesting future larger-scale projects may be in order.
Given the consistency of results, research has suggested that less obtainable cannabinoids may be produced more easily through bioengineering. California scientist Jay Keasling found that through the use of bioengineering with yeast, it would be possible to create entirely new cannabinoids which are not even found in nature. These new compounds could even act more therapeutically than the natural varieties we currently use.
Despite strides taken by pharmaceutical giants to develop CBD via alternative means, it’s merely a glimpse into the future of how technology will change the cannabis industry.
As the manufacturing process grows in size, so too does the task to maintain cannabis plants on a large scale. Top manufacturers in the industry are looking into using AI to monitor the growing environment so that pH levels, temperature and humidity are controlled for optimal cannabis production.
Given the relative youth of the cannabis industry, AI-controlled cannabis farms are currently a speculative proposition, but perhaps we can look at other industries to see how robots can change the future. The agricultural sector makes use of machine learning in plenty of ways, from soil monitoring to optimal harvesting. Combining AI technology with robotics, farming has never been easier, and this can certainly be brought to harvesting our favourite multi-purpose herb. EU and Israeli researchers have even created a robot which picks ripe peppers with 61% accuracy, which can work 20 hours a day!
While looking at the producer side of the market is all well and good, what could AI do for consumers? For this, we can look over to a land across the seas. In America, AI-powered apps focusing on the usage and effects of cannabis have grown in popularity. Given the lack of conclusive research for many strains, these apps collect user data on the impact and desires of their users. This allows more personalised recommendations as well as letting science learn more about how cannabis affects the body.
Naturally, advancements in AI will take time, but as progress continues and the cannabis industry grows, we can be sure to see computer technology making a massive difference in how the entire cannabis market operates.
Advancements in all fields of science create opportunities for the cannabis industry to become more efficient and serve customer needs better. From more spread about cannabis use and its benefits for better production in regards to quality and quantity to customising the user’s cannabis experience, companies are making use of innovation. In this article, we have briefly discussed how technology is driving change in this ever-growing industry, but this doesn’t even scrape the surface of opportunity. There is no doubt that technologies will continue to be used as the growth and development of the cannabis sector does not seem to stop soon, but will only increase.
Hina Irfan is a professional blogger, outreach expert, and writer. She is an active content creator who aims to inspire. She writes for several online magazines and on diverse topics with the focus on offering useful and actionable information to the readers. You can contact her for outreach opportunities at [email protected]