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CBD and other Cannabinoids from Yeast

I've known about biosynthetic cannabinoids for a while, but I never really dove into the research.  Thankfully, Matt over at www.cannainsider.com recently had a podcast that explained it all.  

Kevin Chen, CEO of Hyasynth Bio, makes cannabinoids out of yeast.  Instead of having a garden with soil, plants, sunshine, water, and months of time, Kevin grows cannabis with a big steel tank, water, yeast, air, and sugar, all in about a week.  The genes of the yeast are modified to produce cannabinoids, which are extracted from the yeast culture once it's done fermenting.  Common names for this process include genetic modification, synthetic biology, biosynthesized, cellular agriculture, and others.

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Check out the Hyasynth Bio website for a simple explanation on how their entire process works.

 

I realize a lot of people cringe when they read or hear things that include "genetically modified" or "synthetic", especially when it comes to cannabis, but interestingly enough this process is the same as how penicillin is made, which saves countless lives every day.  Although I'm an advocate of natural medicine and organic farming practices, I'm equally fascinated by how Kevin breaks down the many benefits of synthetically created drugs.  Maybe your opinions on synthetic cannabis products will change a bit like mine have after you read this blog and listen to the podcast?

Key Takeaways:

  • Time
    • On average it takes about 12-16 weeks to grow and harvest cannabis, and then another 1-2 weeks to dry and cure.  If plants are being grown for live resin extraction, this process can be shortened a week or two, but regardless of what the final product will be, the plant still requires months of growing time. 
    • Yeast cultured cannabinoids only take 1 week to ferment and extract.
  •  Consistency
    • There are many variables that affect the final chemical profile (like cannabinoids and terpenes) of cannabis.  Even if a grower uses clones from tissue cultures and perfectly controls every aspect of cultivation, there will still be inconsistencies in the cannabinoid profile from harvest to harvest, and even from plant to plant within the same harvest.  There are also major issues cannabis cultivators are up against, like pests and fungi, that can alter a plant's chemical profile or totally destroy an entire grow room, significantly affecting consistency and even supply.
    • Yeast cultured cannabinoids are incredibly consistent due to the fact that the environment can be optimally controlled.  Yeast created cannabinoids are also processed to be about 99.99+% pure, leaving hardly any room for inconsistencies or impurities.  The isolation of the cannabinoids may not provide an "Entourage Effect", but they do provide measurable and reliable effects, which is crucial from a pharmaceutical perspective.  Yes, smoking cannabis flower or eating full spectrum edibles has helped countless people, but so have isolated cannabinoid pharmaceuticals.  Here is an against the grain, but interesting approach to the Entourage Effect.
  • Scale
    • From a chef's perspective, I can easily create a recipe in my kitchen, time after time, and it will be incredibly consistent.  However, if I were to make that same recipe for 1,000 people in a food production facility, I couldn't just multiple the recipe by 1,000 and expect it to work.  Scaling recipes requires a lot of time, effort, and energy.  The recipe Snickers used to make their first couple batches is very different from what they use now, making millions of bars every day around the world.  The same thing applies to a cultivator that's expanding their facility.  A 2,500 square foot room is going to be very different compared to a 25,000 square foot room.  Not only is controlling the environment going to be different, but regulating mothers, increasing clone production, distributing nutrients, and many other factors are going to be a totally different animal.
    • If a company that's growing yeast cultured cannabinoids wants to expand their production, they simply make bigger batches or duplicate their lab equipment.  It's that simple.
  • Sustainability
    • Unfortunately, there is a lot of waste with cannabis cultivation, especially with indoor grows.  Water, fertilizer, pesticides, massive amounts of electricity, grow mediums, piping, packaging, transportation, and many other greenhouse gas producing resources are needed for you to get your hands on a gram of weed.
    • The majority of large corporations are adopting countless sustainable processes, focusing on going green, reducing their carbon footprint, hitting net zero, and some of these companies are also interested in cannabis.  Considering all the waste that goes into cannabis cultivation, many of them are going to be looking for sustainable and consistent options for their cannabinoid supply.  Yeast cultured cannabis requires a fraction of the energy and waste compared to indoor (and some outdoor) cultivation.  This is a major point that Kevin revisits throughout the podcast.
  • Rare Cannabinoids
    • The three primary cannabinoids that are plentiful in cannabis, depending on whether the plant is hemp or marijuana and when it is harvested, are THC, CBD, and CBG.  However, there are over 150 other cannabinoids that the plant can produce, but generally in very small amounts.  In order for a grower to increase their supply of rarer cannabinoids, they have to grow a lot more plants, use plant growth hormones, or find really rare genetics.
    • Aside from CBDA and CBD, CBDV and THCV are two rare cannabinoids that are also created by biosynthesizing yeast, and this technology is just getting started.  As scientists further dive into yeast cultured cannabinoids, they may be able to mass produce some of the rarest and medically beneficial cannabinoids that wouldn't normally be found in significant levels in a cannabis plant.

Something that I always try to keep in mind since I started working in the cannabis industry, is to take everything with a grain of salt.  There have been so many things I've been told to be true about cannabis, that ended up being totally false.  Now I approach everything I research with a touch of skepticism, until the "truth" can actually be verified.  That said, as much as I'm an advocate for natural and organic cannabis from the Earth, I'm no longer against yeast cultured cannabinoids, especially because of the sustainability benefits that are clearly black and white.

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At the end of the day, cannabinoids help people and save lives - so why would it matter where they came from?  If someone is able to feel less stressed or anxious, reduce pain, or minimize the amount of seizures they have, I don't think most people are going to be picky about what's allowing them to have a better quality of life.  I don't want big Pharma to own the cannabinoid space, but even the "Godfather of Cannabis" himself sold a lot of his research and patents to GW Pharmaceuticals...wtf?  

I think everyone should have the freedom to grow their own cannabis, but even if it were legal, a fraction of cannabis users wouldn't be able to, or just wouldn't care to.  There is also going to be a plethora of people that won't use cannabis, yet if a doctor gives me a prescription for something that comes from a pharmacy, they will confidently take it, even if it's a cannabinoid.  Those people deserve to benefit from cannabinoids too!

So where can we find the balance between home growing, the cannabis industry, and Big Pharma?  I have no idea.  Federal legalization is going to be the first big step in figuring this all out.  As law and technology come together and expand the potential for cannabis, really exciting things are going to happen.

Thanks for reading!

Brandon @ Trichome

Please check out the podcast and comment with your thoughts!