CultureWritten By Chris Bovey

April 14, 2018

There is no such thing as Genetically Modified Cannabis

By Chris Bovey

Dating back as far as the year 2000 there have been hoax stories on the internet claiming technology exists to produce genetically modified cannabis that is somehow stronger.

Cannabis Culture reported in February 2000 that agricultural biotechnology giant, Monsanto, was producing genetically modified cannabis seeds, although the article has since been removed, you can read it here on the internet archive.

In April 2015, the website World News Daily Report published an article reporting that Monsanto had created the world’s first genetically-modified strain of marijuana, a move indicative of expectations that the substance’s use would soon be legalised throughout America.

Fake news from World Daily News Report
Genetically modified marijuana hoax that went viral on the Internet.

Previous fabricated articles from the same site include fictional stories about loggers cutting down the world’s oldest tree and 200 million-year-old dinosaur eggs hatching.

It’s been shared over 125,000 times on Facebook and who knows how many times it’s been read on Google or Twitter. Millions I should imagine.

Even Monsanto took to their website to debunk the claims.

“Monsanto has not and is not working on GMO marijuana. This allegation is an Internet rumor,” it said on Monsanto’s website and on April 20, 2017 again tweeted “Happy 4-20. Time for our yearly reminder: Monsanto has not and is not working on GMO marijuana.

This kind of story is often lapped up by the cannabis community, who are often new age types that have a distrust of genetically modified technologies and big giant corporations like Monsanto, so they will happily share stuff without fact-checking.

Regularly in the media, we’ll hear of genetically modified strains of skunk that are much stronger today. Jeremy Kyle, who is notoriously anti-cannabis, recently surprised us by saying on The Kyle Files that he wouldn’t hesitate to break the law to give his children life-saving cannabis oil if they needed it, in an investigation into the law surrounding cannabis asking if it’s time to think about changing the laws about the drug.

Yet, he still spoke of genetically modified cannabis bred to be super strong, saying he didn’t want that. Well, Mr Kyle and those calling for genetically modified cannabis to remain illegal can all sleep tight at night, as there’s no such thing as GMO cannabis.

Glow in the dark marijuana leaf.
You can genetically modify weed to glow in the dark, but not to increase cannabinoid content.

Well, actually, there is one kind of genetically modified cannabis. That is fluorescent, glow in the dark cannabis. Scientists now have the opportunity to grow cannabis plants in vitro (in a test tube or Petri dish), thereby being able to genetically modify these plants to make them glow in the dark. Fluorescent marijuana.

As readers are probably aware, the gene for GFP is a small fragment and thus is able to fit easily inside a plasmid. Unfortunately, most genes of interest are considerably larger than this and further require specific insertion into the host genome. Fluorescent cannabis is essentially a parlour trick these days in terms of plant genetics, makes a good photo, but glow in the dark cannabis is just a lab trick that can be done to any plant.

Growing a plant in Vitro, whilst very useful, does not mean that you are automatically able to manipulate it in the fine detail required to implant specific gene sequences. This non-specific recombination is one of the two reasons why gene therapy remains so challenging, the other being the delivery vector. Whilst none of the modifications are theoretically “impossible” most of them are still demanding projects. If you could do this in your basement then I think you would be a good mate for Doc Brown.

If you’re talking about GMO cannabis, in terms of cannabis that has been genetically modified to produce a plant with higher amounts of THC, then I can tell you this does not exist. I suppose it might be theoretically possible but the costs involved to produce such a plant would be astronomical and what would be the point when the same thing can and has been easily achieved by cross-breeding?

The media like to refer to genetically modified skunk, as it sounds likes scary and it fits with the myth that cannabis is somehow ten times stronger than the stuff David Cameron and his mates were smoking while at Eton back in the 1980s.

Skunk is merely a strain developed in the early 70s by David Watson aka Sam Skunk Man. It’s a cross between Mexican, Thai and Afghani, and named so because it is indeed very smelly.

UKCSC recently published an excellent article dispelling the myth that cannabis is much stronger these days. The article stated:

Now, there is an age-old argument (that age being the age of prohibition but particularly the last 20 years of it) where proponents of the war on drugs have postured that cannabis is 10, 30 and even 100 times stronger than “what your grandparents smoked in the 60’s”. Mathematically, it’s almost impossible. If the weed was 2% THC and it was 10 times stronger that would make it 20% THC, 60% if it’s times 30 and 200% THC if it is times 100!”

Howard Marks by Michael Shurman
Howard Marks certainly wasn’t smuggling low-potency pot back in the day.

The average strength of cannabis in the UK is about 14% THC, so if it were 10 times stronger then this would mean cannabis would used to have been around 1.4% THC – not enough to get you stoned. Do you honestly believe the late great Howard Marks was smuggling in tonnes of cannabis into Europe and the USA just so people could get a slight tickle? No they were getting stoned!

The Dutch have been selling cross-bred strains since the 70s in the nation’s famous coffeeshops for over 45 years and of course, you can still buy landrace seeds that produce high THC cannabis.

I can remember smoking imported Dutch White Widow in the early 90s that the local fishermen used to smuggle in Brixham, near where I grew up; if anything this was stronger than much of the poorly grown rubbish sold today on the streets of Britain. The first time I went to Amsterdam, nearly twenty years ago, I smoked a pure readymade spliff I bought in the Hill Street Blues coffeeshop, the bar lady noticed I was having a bit of a whitey and poured me a free pint of Coca-Cola and told me to drink it.

Selective breeding is a good thing, it can produce strains with higher CBD content, which can act as a balancer to the THC, as it is a proven anti-psychotic. Other cannabinoids such as CBN are also of interest.

So there you have it, folks, there is no such thing as genetically modified cannabis that has been produced to have a higher THC content and cannabis is no stronger now than it was twenty or thirty years ago.


Chris Bovey, writer and musician.
Chris Bovey is a businessman, writer, musician and practical joker. He lives in Devon with his partner, two children and cat.