JAN 21, 2019 9:59 AM PST

Effects of Low-Orbit Space on Growing Cannabis

WRITTEN BY: Amy Loriaux

According to Forbes.com, a company called Space Tango, co-founded by Kris Kimel, is interested in how hemp grows in low-space orbit. So yes, there soon will be “weed”, at least in seed form, sent into space (and only hemp seeds at that). Space Tango, a spin-off from the University of Kentucky, has dedicated lab space on the International Space Station (ISS) (called TangoLab). They use TangoLab to research various subjects in low-orbit space, such as life and physical sciences, flow chemistry, biomedical, and materials manufacturing. They have sent plants to the International Space Station to test how agricultural crops fair in a “stress-free” environment.

Source: UnSplash.com

On Earth, various stressors can have impacts on what proteins are expressed in plants. These are similar to defense mechanisms. For example, in cannabis, according to Dr. Joe Chapelle, a member of Space Tango's Science Advisory Team, the biggest stress that they want to eliminate on the ISS is gravity. Dr. Chapelle explains, “When plants are ‘stressed,’ they pull from a genetic reservoir to produce compounds that allow them to adapt and survive.” One of those compounds just happens to be one of the more popular compounds found in dispensaries and vape stores around the country: cannabidiol (CBD).

CBD is known, down here on Earth, to be a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis that can be used to relieve a number of ailments, from anxiety, inflammation, chronic pain, to many other physiological disorders. The purpose of taking plants into space is, as Dr. Chapelle explains, to form an “[u]nderstanding [of] how plants react in an environment where the traditional stress of gravity is removed [which could] provide new insights...[on] how researchers might take advantage of...[the] discovery of new characteristics, traits, biomedical applications, and efficacy,”.

Source: UnSplash.com

Space Tango is playing it safe though, and it is only sending up hemp seeds. Hemp, which has very little THC (<0.03%), is a very useful crop for textiles and other materials, as this newsletter has described before. It has also recently been made legal on the federal level due to the passage of the latest Farm Bill. In considering future trips to Mars and beyond, it is essential to find crops that could be cultivated in new environments. Hemp is a tough little plant, which could be used over cotton for textiles and even over metal in some cases (hemp-based cars anyone?).

The ISS is no stranger to testing crops in low orbit. It has its own laboratory for doing just this, called the Vegetable Production System ("Veggie" for short). However, Space Tango has its own module, the TangoLab-1, which was installed on the ISS in 2016 (there is now a TangoLab-2). Space Tango has teamed up with Atalo Holdings, who will provide certified hemp seed and expertise, and Anavii Market, a source for hemp-derived CBD therapeutics. The mission is slated for February 2019. 

Here is a video describing how the University of Kentucky (UK) has worked with Space Tango and the ISS to conduct their research. 

Video Source: YouTube.com

SourcesForbes.com, SpaceTango.com, Neurotherapeutics, Future Medicinal Chemistry, Pain Physician, LabRoots.com, CNBC News - YouTube Channel, techport.nasa.gov, AtaloHoldings.com, AnaviiMarket.com

About the Author
  • I currently work at a small CRO involved in clinical trial management.
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