Legal THC?

Can a legal plant that produces THC be engineered? Surely there would be a market for a legal and common plant to produce THC.
Waverly Hall, Georgia

It might seem that the DNA responsible for THC production is easy enough to transfer from cannabis to other organisms. There are a lot of incentives to transfer the DNA to another organism. Perhaps one use would be to isolate the specific genes responsible for THC analogs used for treating disease. Then they could be “manufactured” in another organism. Another would be to create standardized brands of marijuana.

I think people are willing to accept transgenic drugs, but they will tend to shy away from herbs or recreational drugs if they realize that they are genetically modified. Without labeling, which is not now required by law, who’s to know?

One of the main candidates for a legal plant would be tobacco. Tobacco’s genetics is widely mapped and it is used as an experimental model all the time. Imagine a tobacco leaf without nicotine. The leaf looks like it is littered with crystal dust. It shines brilliant in the sun. It is peak summer and the glands will be ripe by mid-August. People don’t smoke the vegetative matter any more, but do vaporize glands from the different varieties. Each is designed for its mood altering characteristics. That would be a strange world. Back to reality.

It is more likely that the code would be transferred to yeast. Their DNA is well deciphered and they have been used and manipulated by humans for thousands of years. Yeast don’t need light, just water, sugar, nutrients and a suitable temperature and they’d be ready to produce THC shortly after they enter the wort (the sterilized brew). The crop would be ready in five days. Home brewers would use the THC they refine from the brew in cooking and vaporizers.

However, if the current crop of politicians or their ideological progeny are in power when this happens, they would surely outlaw the transgenic THC carrier, too. Let’s just focus on legalizing the real herb.

Readers with grow questions (or answers) should send them to Ed at: Ask Ed, PMB 147, 530 Divisadero St., San Francisco, California 94117, USA
You can also email Ed at [email protected], and send queries via his website at
All featured questions will be rewarded with a copy of Ed’s Marijuana Question? Ask Ed. from Quick Trading.
Sorry, Ed cannot send personal replies to your questions.



  1. Anonymous on

    here we go again, back to that same old pothead slogan from the 90 ” If everyone smoked then,,,,,(we;ve all said this before)

  2. Anonymous on

    Why people would want to transfer the whole THC biosynthetic pathway in tobacco plant is beyond my understanding.Those folks are certainly not “lovers”
    of the cannabis plant.And they probably dont know much about all the nice “smell molecules” that gives cannabis its fragrance and sweetness.Go to any botanical garden and see for yourself what a tobacco plant looks like and then compare it to the beauty of a cannabis plant picture posted on the web for exemple.Dr.Gene Engineers I suggest you try your talents somewhere else.

  3. Jon on

    not to mention political opposition to all of this…

  4. Jon on

    as nice as it would be to simply take a gene from C. sativa, plug that into tobacco, and express the hell out of THC, it is simply not that simple (otherwise it would have been done long ago). THC is not a protein, and thus not encoded by DNA. THC is formed from a series of enzymatic and non-enzymatic reactions in planta, so any genetic engineering project must be able to reconstruct the entire architecture of THC biosynthesis in the new system. First we must have an extremely thorough understanding of THC biosynthesis, and then take the genes for enzymes involved, and get them to express in the right tissue at the right time and in the right amount in tobacco or some other system. All of this can be VERY problematic. So don’t hold your breath! Check out [Monika Fellermeier and Meinhart H. Zenk, “Prenylation of olivetolate by a hemp transferase yields cannabigerolic acid, the precursor of tetrahydrocannabinol.” 1998] for some details.