[Canniseur: When I used to teach about wine and fermentation, I would say that grape juice is converted to wine by yeast. The yeast eats the sugar and belches carbon dioxide and poops alcohol. It’s an apt and accurate description, even if a little silly. If there’s a yeast variety (even if engineered) that can poop psilocybin instead of alcohol, that’s a boon for all mankind!!! I don’t think those mushrooms in the picture are psilocybin!!!!]
Genetically engineered yeast that can produce psilocybin, one of the primary psychedelic compounds found in “magic mushrooms,” are here. And these high-tech microorganisms could revolutionize future research into the drug’s medical uses.
In the latest edition of the scientific journal Metabolic Engineering, Danish researchers announced that they created a strain of yeast capable of cranking out “high-levels” of psilocybin. Yeast do not naturally produce psilocybin; the compound is commonly found in mushrooms belonging to the Psilocybe genus.
And in case you’re wondering: Yes, these psychedelic yeast could be used to make trippy beer or bread, but those products will likely have short shelf lives. At least, for now.
Last year, American researchers created E. coli bacteria that could also churn out psilocybin. But there’s one major downside to having bacteria make this mind-blowing compound instead of yeast. For microorganisms to produce psilocybin, they’re fed sugar. The bacteria or yeast process the sugar through a series of biochemical steps, eventually turning the sweet stuff into the really, really sweet stuff — psilocybin.
The above steps require a special enzyme to convert sugar into psilocybin. Bacterial cells can’t produce the enzyme, even with genetic modification. So, technicians have to add the enzyme to the bacterial vat as an additional — and expensive — ingredient to get the job done. However, yeast can produce the same enzyme within their own cells, which means lower costs overall, as well as quicker, more efficient production.
But why rely on microscopic organisms to make psilocybin in the first place? After all, didn’t Mother Nature already provide us with natural psilocybin factories, e.g. shrooms?
“It’s infeasible and way too expensive to extract psilocybin from magic mushrooms, and the best chemical synthesis methods require expensive and difficult to source starting substrates,” said Nick Milne, one of the authors of the Danish study, in a university press release. “Thus, there is a need to bring down the cost of production and to provide a more consistent supply chain.”
While most people’s experience with psilocybin comes from recreationally tripping balls on shrooms, researchers such as Milne aren’t interested in getting high AF. Clinical trials in both the US and other countries show that psilocybin holds a lot of potential to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, substance addictions, and post-traumatic stress — illnesses that typically don’t respond to conventional medications or treatments.
Further, the Danish group’s end-goal isn’t making tons of psilocybin in a lab, as fun AF as that sounds. They also want to create an entirely new generation of drugs derived from psilocybin, and starting with these yeast cells will serve as the first step.
“Our interest is not only to make kilogram-scale production of psilocybin but to use the biological machinery to make new derivatives that aren’t available today,” Milne said. “Thus, it is very useful that we could not only demonstrate the production of psilocybin but also find many derivatives that could turn out to have important therapeutic relevance.”
While the mainstream medical community catches up to psilocybin’s potential, cities and states across America are already beginning to reform their laws that ban psilocybin mushrooms. Shrooms are one of the safest drugs known, yet the US government classifies psilocybin as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin. Denver, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, California have already decriminalized the fungus for personal use. Nearly 100 other cities are also considering decriminalizing psilocybin, though many of these campaigns are on hold due to the coronavirus lockdowns.
[Canniseur: I love wine. I love beer (craft beer, that is). I love cannabis. Beer and cannabis have always had a unique affinity for me. Maybe humulene is the reason. I do know that when I smell a really great wine, a great beer, and great flower, they all have a common element. I can’t define that element. Perhaps it’s complexity. Or a juxtaposition of different aromas that translate into flavors. It doesn’t matter. For the beer and the cannabis, humulene is a big part.]
Hops and weed are so closely related to one another, they’re basically cousins. Both plants belong to the Cannabacae family, and both share some biochemistry in common. One of the compounds found in both weed and hops is humulene, a terpenoid molecule known for its earthy, spicy qualities.
What Can Humulene Do, Exactly?
Humulene is one part of cannabis that scientists have studied for quite some time (unlike, say, THC, which comes with a lot of restrictions for researchers). Humulene’s most notable property is its ability to fight cancer and kill tumor cells, though it also possesses anti-inflammatory effects and can act as a natural pesticide and antibiotic, too.
On top of all that medicinal bad-assery, humulene can work as a natural product to fight against bacterial infections. And it’s not just microscopic bugs that hate the terpene. Many insects also can’t stand it, meaning it can serve as a natural pesticide, as well. In fact, humulene’s antibacterial and anti-pest powers may explain why so many different kinds of plants evolved to produce it.
What Weed Strains Contain Humulene?
If you want to pump up your humulene intake, there are some weed strains known to produce more amounts of this terpene over others. Keep in mind that a plant’s genetics only partially contribute to any terpene’s content. The plant’s grow conditions, feed type, and feeding schedules also play a big role.
According to the lab data at Leafly, these weed strains consistently feature humulene as their third most prominent terpene: Death Star, Headband, Thin Mint GSC (aka Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies), Original Glue (aka Gorilla Glue or GG4), and Candyland. Royal Queen Seeds lists the classic strains White Widow, Sour Diesel, and OG Kush as additional flower varieties that pack ample amounts of humulene.
Since new hybrid strains hit the legal weed markets every few months, check the labels on your bud containers. Many labels feature the lab test data for that batch, and may list the terpenoid contents, as well. Just look for “humulene” and see if it’s listed at greater than 0.0 percent.
If your pot shop doesn’t include terpene contents on the labels, you can also train your nose to sniff out humulene. The terpene usually presents as an earthy, woody, slightly spicy aroma with subtle hints of citrus for especially sensitive schnozzes. Basically, humulene smells a bit like many well-crafted, microbrewed beers.
What Other Plants Produce Humulene?
As mentioned earlier, weed and hops aren’t the only two plants that produce humulene. The terpene can also be found in more common plants, herbs, and spices such as ginseng, cardamom, basil, cinnamon, juniper, echinacea, tea leaves, oranges, mandarins, tangerines, coriander, black pepper, sage, currants, saffron, and sunflower, to name a few.
Basically, you can get your daily dose of humulene from good weed. But you can also get humulene from simply maintaining a balanced diet with a variety of herbs, fruits, vegetables, and natural spices, too.
[Canniseur: Blue Dream is one of the best cultivars out there. I’ve had it from four states and depending on the grower, it can vary wildly. But the effect is always a blend of body and mind. Very few cultivars are as constant as Blue Dream although the worst (while still really good) was in Washington and the best from Colorado, although Michigan wasn’t far behind.]
If you smoke weed, then you’ve probably puffed Blue Dream at least once. If you haven’t, trust me: At some point in your cannabis consuming career, you probably will.
Blue Dream, unlike other legendary cannabis strains such as Chem Dog, has no documented history, and, as far as we know, no verifiable oral history, either. There’s no cool story detailing how Blue Dream evolved from seed to icon. According to most sources, Blue Dream likely originated somewhere in Northern California as a cross between a Blueberry plant (a legendary strain in its own right) and a Haze plant (another legend, but not one you see so much these days).
Of course, no one knows for sure if Blue Dream actually came from Blueberry and Haze parents, but it makes for one really catchy — and fitting — strain name.
How to Identify Blue Dream
Genuine Blue Dream buds should be relatively dense and bell-shaped, though smaller ones may come in the popcorn variety. One whiff of it should immediately remind someone of sweet berry or floral notes. Its scent should also carry a little spice, and some cannabis lovers swear they can detect a hint of gas or rubber when they smell its flowers, too.
But where Blue Dream really shines is in its purported heady effects.
Above, the iconic Juicy J mixtape cover for “Blue Dream & Lean”
Blue Dream Is Famous for How It Feels
Now, before we jump into this next part, understand that everyone reacts to cannabis differently. What one strain may do for you may not ring true for someone else. Furthermore, the same strain from the same batch of buds can produce varying effects within the same individual, as well.
However, Blue Dream became a staple of the dispensary menu because, to borrow some outdated marketing terms, it blends some of the best aspects of “sativas” and “indicas” into one powerhouse of a plant. Essentially, Blue Dream usually gets people decently lit without knocking them out or turning them into couch-locked zombies.
For instance, Blue Dream reportedly works well at controlling pain and managing anxiety levels, but it provides enough energy to keep most tokers functional throughout the day. And while it can stimulate the munchies, it does so moderately. So, most of its consumers won’t feel the need to gorge on junk food ‘round-the-clock just to feel baseline. (Again, marijuana’s effects are always dose-dependent, so keep that in mind, too.)
Combine Blue Dream’s conservative but highly-beneficial effects with its candied aroma and rich flavors, and you’ve got an MVP strain on your hands.
At one point, Blue Dream boasted the title of Colorado’s most popular strain. From 2015 to sometime around the turn of 2017 to 2018, Blue Dream dominated dispensary and retail weed sales in the Centennial State. (It later lost its most-popular title to Gorilla Glue #4, now known as GG#4.) In fact, Blue Dream was so popular in Colorado that some unscrupulous dispensaries began crossing their Blue Dream plants with other strains to keep up with demand, but they still sold the hybrid as Blue Dream so they could piggyback off its notoriety.
Basically, if you want that chill, half-lidded stoney feeling, but you don’t want to sleep through most of it, seek out some Blue Dream. If you’re unsure if your local pot shop is carrying genuine Blue Dream, bring along an herb-hardened friend who can determine if your batch passes the smell (and smoke) test.
[Canniseur: OMG! This is too funny. And too scary. And just crazy. There have been too many claims of testing devices that will tell if you’re stoned. None of them have worked. Not. One. I’m just amazed that all this snake-oil (even if it’s electro-mechanical, it’s snake-oil) gets any traction in the marketplace. It more than cracks me up. Next, law enforcement will be arresting us because we were thinking of smoking a joint! Kudos to Minority Report. Even though this is in our Science & Medicine category, it’s really Pseudoscience.]
Detecting if people are stoned is now starting to look a lot less like 1984 and a lot more like Minority Report.
Zentrela, an Ontario-based company, announced that its “The Cognalyzer” device can tell if someone is high on marijuana with a quick EEG scan. The portable device sits on a person’s head like a crown of circuits, then runs the individual’s brain waves through a computer for analysis.
“Within five minutes employers and law enforcement will have a result of the mental state of their subjects,” the company’s founder and CEO, Israel Gasperin, told CBC News.
And, since The Cognalyzer isn’t looking for THC, the company claims it won’t produce false positives for intoxication like saliva, urine, blood, and sweat tests can.
“Employers are having the same issue [as police] in administering random drug tests,” Gasperin told CBC News. “It’s limited evidence, and their employees know it’s limited evidence, and they are legally challenging any decision taken, and it’s costing thousands of dollars to employers.”
“Now they will have that confirmatory evidence to eliminate false accusations and strengthen their safety practices to mitigate the risk of impairment,” he continued.
THC, the intoxicating compound in marijuana, is fat-soluble, meaning it doesn’t dissolve in water, but it does dissolve in fats and oils. When someone consumes cannabis, THC and its metabolites get stuck in the person’s fat cells for days, weeks, or months at a time. That means when someone is tested for weed impairment through chemical tests, they can test positive for THC long after they were actually stoned. In other words, chemical tests can’t tell if someone’s currently high; they can only tell if someone got high sometime in the past few days, weeks, or months.
Right now, The Cognalyzer is being tested in the UK as British police and employers also wrestle with legal complications caused by pot prohibition’s conflicts with the nation’s new medical marijuana program. Additionally, Ontario’s government gave Zentrela a $1 million grant to further develop the technology.
Lately, scientists are busy with finding new, non-invasive ways to determine drug impairment since some people can easily beat roadside sobriety tests. You know, the tests where the cops have you look up, touch your nose, recite the alphabet backwards, then perform a handstand — on one hand.
In February, AI specialists at IBM announced they could detect if someone was rolling on MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy or molly, by analyzing speech patterns alone. Other scientists are trying to find ways to apply this same speech analyzing technology to detecting weed intoxication, as well, so The Cognalyzer may have some competition soon.
[Canniseur: Holy Smoke! This is wonderfully surprising. I was always told that cannabis was hurting my brain. Obviously didn’t listen, so here I am; An addled editor who consumes cannabis thinking my brain cells were all dead or dying. I’m not going to complain. The old dogma of “cannabis is bad” is slowly dying and here’s more proof of that. Cannabis helps the brain!]
For decades, governments and academics told us that smoking weed would lower our IQs, slow our reflexes, and even destroy our brain cells. These Reefer Madness-like claims were based on faulty studies, and they ignore new research that not only suggests cannabis doesn’t harm the brain, but that the plant could potentially regenerate brain cells, too.
The process where cannabis could repair our brains is called neurogenesis. That means cannabis may regrow brain and nerve cells contained in the spinal cord and found throughout the rest of the body. The science remains contentious, but practically every month a new study comes out supporting the weed-enhances-neurogenesis side of the debate.
Clearing the Air: Debunking the Myths Surrounding Weed and Brain Damage
First off, let’s get rid of any misconceptions you may hold regarding marijuana and brain damage.
Science has long debunked the myth that cannabis causes us to lose brain cells. This myth started in Egypt when the North African nation was under British imperial rule. Back then, a single British doctor concluded that hash smoking made Cairo’s residents go crazy. The myth later spread through the United Nations and ended up catching Harry Anslinger’s ear in the US, the architect of Reefer Madness in the 1930s, as well as the catalyst for cannabis prohibition. Anslinger used the Egyptian marijuana madness claims to spread lies that weed made black and brown men turn into axe-wielding rapists — supposedly due to brain damage caused by blazing joints.
In the late ‘60s, shortly after Anslinger’s Marihuana Tax Act was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, President Nixon rigged a scientific study using rhesus monkeys to falsely show that pot killed brain cells. Years later, neuroscientists commissioned by Playboy magazine found that the experiment suffocated the monkeys with ungodly amounts of smoke, which likely caused their brain damage. Regardless, the US government continued funding research that linked lower IQs to pot smoking, which have never, ever demonstrated causation, only correlation.
Recently, twins studies — a gold standard for scientific research in humans — have found that cannabis does not lower IQ nor does it harm the brain. Furthermore, brain scans of cannabis users also fail to show any significant differences between tokers’ brains and those of non-tokers.
The evidence remains inconclusive for marijuana’s neurogenerative properties, but keep in mind this field is still new. Prohibition stifled opportunities for research into cannabis’s positive health effects, though that’s rapidly changing as legalization sweeps the planet.