The Role of Viruses in Inducing the Psychoactive Effects of Cannabis

The Role of Viruses in Inducing the Psychoactive Effects of Cannabis

A recent study published in the journal Genome Research has unveiled a new cannabis genome map that provides valuable insights into the plant’s genetic makeup and origin. The researchers behind this groundbreaking discovery, a collaboration between Canadian and USA universities and research facilities, aimed to shed light on the genes responsible for the production of cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as other compounds found in cannabis.

One significant finding from this study is that the CBD and THC genes in cannabis likely originated from viral DNA. Retroviruses, a type of virus that incorporates their genetic material into the host cell’s DNA, may have injected their genes into the ancestors of cannabis plants millions of years ago. These genes subsequently evolved to produce THCA and CBDA synthase genes, leading to the production of THC and CBD in cannabis plants.

Assistant Professor Harm van Bakel, one of the principal researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, explains that plant genomes can contain numerous retroelement copies. By sequencing cannabis plants and creating a new genome map, the researchers were able to identify these synthase genes on chromosome 6 within the cannabis genome. However, these genes are surrounded by large sections of “junk DNA” that likely originated from the invading viruses.

The researchers propose that retroviruses continued to mutate and infect ancient cannabis plants with different variations, causing the divergence of chemically distinct types of cannabis. Human intervention through selective breeding for high-THC and high-CBD varieties further contributed to this divergence.

In addition to THC and CBD, another compound called cannabichromene (CBC) may also play a role in the psychoactive effects of cannabis. The researchers claim to have identified the gene responsible for CBC production and speculate on its significance in different strains.

This new cannabis genome map serves as an essential resource for further research in an industry that has faced restrictive legislation. Tim Hughes, a co-lead on the study and professor at the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, emphasizes the importance of this map in advancing cannabis cultivation and understanding its genetic traits.

While this is not the first attempt to map the cannabis genome, it is one of the most comprehensive studies to date. Another group led by the Craig Venter Institute, Sunrise Genetics Inc., and researchers from Harvard and Minnesota universities has also been working on mapping the DNA of cannabis plants. However, the Canadian-USA collaboration seems to have won the race to publish the first peer-reviewed research on a genetic map of cannabis.

Both research groups envision their maps revolutionizing cannabis cultivation by allowing growers to selectively breed cultivars that express desired compounds. This could lead to genetically tailored cannabis products catered to consumers’ specific needs. However, further advancements are necessary, such as incorporating X/Y chromosomes into the map, in order to uncover even more valuable genetic discoveries.

In conclusion, this recent study provides unprecedented insights into the genetic origins and traits of cannabis. By identifying the viral influence on THC and CBD production, researchers have deepened our understanding of this remarkable plant. As more discoveries are made and technology improves, the future of cannabis cultivation holds vast potential for genetic customization and innovation.

Dr. Paul Miller, MD

Dr. Miller is committed to finding new and innovative ways to help his patients manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. He has a particular interest in the therapeutic potential of medical cannabis and is passionate about educating both his colleagues and patients on its safe and effective use. He is also committed to continuing his education and staying up-to-date on the latest advances in neurology and cannabis research.

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