Scientists to Study How Hemp Reacts in Space

Hold on to your CBD-infused lattes, because cannabis is going to space.

Front Range Biosciences, an agricultural technology company, has partnered with the University of Colorado, Boulder to send 480 hemp and coffee plant cultures to the International Space Station (ISS).

“This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures,” said Dr. Jonathan Vaught, Co-Founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences in a press release. “There is science to support the theory that plants in space experience mutations. This is an opportunity to see whether those mutations hold up once brought back to earth and if there are new commercial applications.”

The goal of the experiments is to see if zero gravity and radiation will mutate or genetically alter the coffee and hemp plants. Scientists will be able to see how the plants react to the stress of space travel. The research could help scientists develop plants that can endure drought and cold. On Earth, that could mean developing more resilient crops that can be grown in environments that don’t normally support hemp growth.

“We envision this to be the first of many experiments together,” said Louis Stodieck, Chief Scientist of BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “In the future, we plan for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their grow-cycle so we can analyze which metabolic pathways are turned on and turned off. This is a fascinating area of study that has considerable potential.”

The hemp and coffee cultures will travel to the ISS aboard SpaceX CRS-20 in March 2020. The incubated cells will spend a month is space before returning to Earth to be analyzed by Front Range Biosciences.

In the future, we plan for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their grow-cycle, so we can analyze which metabolic pathways are turned on and turned off,” Louis Stodieck, director of BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in a statement. “This is a fascinating area of study that has considerable potential.”

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp as a Schedule I substance, legalized the production of hemp, and removed barriers to federal research. Hemp is a type of cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3 percent THC and has a variety of uses, including in textiles, bioplastics and biofuel, food, and insulation.

Hemp also contains high concentrations of CBD and other non-intoxicating cannabinoids.

While scientific research on hemp in space is in its early stages, it’s not the first time cannabis has left Earth. Earlier this year, Space Tango sent hemp seeds to the ISS for a series of experiments. The hemp seeds were sent back to Earth and planted for another series of experiments. The results have not yet been published.

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