The Case for the Entourage Effect and Conventional Breeding of Clinical Cannabis: No “Strain,” No Gain

For years, cannabis has been a controversial plant, fueling debates in many sectors, from botanical taxonomy to applied therapeutics to politics.

In the sphere of taxonomy, debates regarding the speciation of Cannabis, or a lack thereof, have swirled for more than 250 years. Several decades ago, different types of cannabis were predominantly grouped into two groups, Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica based on leaflet size and origin. However, modern plant science has proved that phenotypes such as plant height and leaflet width do not distinguish one cannabis plant from another. Furthermore, crossbreeding between different types is a very common practice, and virtually all cannabis types are amenable to producing fertile progeny through cross-breeding. For these reasons, currently, many plant scientists believe that the most accurate way to classify cannabis types is based on their biochemical and pharmacological characteristics.

Increasing evidence of the benefits of cannabinoids, cannabis’ main biologically active components, has facilitated policy changes regarding cannabis use. As more and more countries begin legalizing cannabis for medical use, and some places even for recreational use, research on alternative sources of cannabinoids has also been ramped up in both the academic and industrial spaces. Complex systems for laboratory production have emerged; for instance, yeast has been successfully engineered to produce many cannabis-derived compounds, from THC, CBD to other minor cannabinoids at high efficiency. The production of these single compounds promises many pharmaceutical applications. However, most scientists believe they will not replace the plant cannabis for many reasons. For one, as a phytochemical factory, cannabis possesses an astoundingly plastic genome capable of rapid evolution. For another, thanks to the synergistic biological effects of all components, cannabis has a therapeutic potential unmatched by each separate component.


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