As cannabis becomes more and more acceptable around the world, it appears it is going where no cannabis has gone before: into space. Bioengineering company Space Tango plans to test how the hemp plant reacts to the low-gravity setting of space orbit, at the 250-mile height of the International Space Station (ISS) to be exact.
Space Tango specializes in research and manufacturing in microgravity environments, for a wide range of industries. Space Tango has studied organisms as diverse as mealworms and alfalfa leafcutting bees, to barley seeds and even antibiotic resistant E. coli. bacteria in space. In 2017, they tested barley seeds in conjunction with beer giant Anheuser-Busch. The research resulted in key findings regarding seed performance in space. Their next test subject: cannabis or, more specifically, hemp.
“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, told Forbes. “When plants are ‘stressed,’ they pull from a genetic reservoir to produce compounds that allow them to adapt and survive.” Chappell specializes in drug development and design and has assisted with previous ISS experiments.
Cannabis in space
For the time being, Space Tango is conducting experiments with hemp plants with negligible levels of THC, focusing on how CBD responds in space, to circumvent issues of the illegality of THC on the Federal level. To perform their biological experiments on the ISS, Space Tango has developed modules called CubeLabs, which are automated lab systems allowing multiple experiments to run independently while orbiting earth. They hope to develop certain hemp strains which will perform well in the stress-free environment of space.
“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,” said Chappell.
The testing is slated to begin in February 2019.