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Cannabis sativa L. - Botany and Biotechnology


Cannabis sativa L. - Botany and Biotechnology by Suman Chandra, Hemant Lata, and Mahmoud A. ElSohly, eds. New York, NY: Springer International Publishing; 2017. Hardcover, 479 pages. ISBN: 978-3-319-54563-9. $219.99.

What does it take to make a difference in the cannabis (Cannabis sativa, Cannabaceae) research field or industry? With research roadblocks that can take years to navigate, the industry’s only protection from the Drug Enforcement Administration is an annually reviewed Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) amendment, a lack of consistent regulations, and a ton of myth-information about products and their consistency, efficacy, legality, and safety. Given the state of things in the cannabis domain, the question can be too paralyzing to ask. The cloudiness of the lens and lack of resources to accelerate solutions are essential components of what the authors of this text explore.

Over the last 15 years, cannabis (hemp or marijuana) cultivation has become a major part of the agricultural industry in many countries. Unfortunately, detailed knowledge of cannabis botany and biotechnology seems to be beyond the field experience of many growers, and medical cannabis products continue to be sold without details regarding contents, or even different varieties, extracts, and mixtures sold under the same commercial name. As the famed, pioneering Israeli cannabis researcher Raphael Mechoulam, PhD, explains in the book: “It is unbelievable that neither government agencies nor private foundations have gone ahead or encouraged clinical trials — but this is a fact!”

The book includes quite the cast of characters, from well-established authors to innovative rising stars from academia and the industry. Few other cannabis science books boast such a broad range of disciplines in one binding. For example, the book is edited and co-authored by one of the most-published natural products researchers (Mahmoud ElSohly, PhD), and another author is the director of a lab that specializes in genetic testing for the cannabis industry (Kevin J. McKernan, PhD). Due to the widely dispersed nature of the literature on the topics presented, this blend of experts and perspectives is a potent tonic.

At the beginning, this text seems like any other academic book, but the innovative interests of the authors become clearer as the reader proceeds through the sections on ancient history to state-of-the-art research applications. I immediately began implementing it as a source in my own research proposals and business strategies. Biotechnology plays an important role in propagation, conservation of varieties, and improvement in medicinal plants. Chapters 13-21 focus on this role, and an entire chapter is devoted to comparing state-of-the-art methods for cannabis micropropagation.

The book covers a vast range of cannabis science topics. Authors explore the existing knowledge and identify numerous areas for further research, including botany and horticulture, pharmacology and methods of analysis, chemical and morphological phenotypes in breeding, morpho-anatomy of cannabis, biosynthesis and biotechnological applications, allergenicity to cannabis and methods to assess personal exposure, genomics and molecular markers, micropropagation, hairy root culture as a biotechnological tool, cannabis endophytes and their applications in breeding and reproductive fitness, and contaminants of concern in cannabis.

Aside from the botanical and biotechnological aspects of the plant, the book ends with a chapter on product safety and contaminants. While academia and industry seem to be hitting their stride with the plant, there have been serious issues due to sloppy, unethical, and dubious operators in the cannabis space. The book describes a number of surprising lessons the global cannabis industry hopefully has learned. While the plant is relatively innocuous and non-toxic, humans find an endless combination of ways to make it less safe, as with many mass-produced commodities. This includes spraying cannabis plants with fertilizer made from human feces (in Europe) or untreated manure (in North America), and a company that was caught repacking a product that was targeted at cannabis growers and contained an illegal pesticide. These behaviors can lead to costly fines and recalls and adversely influence policy and regulatory decisions.

The book also discusses aspects of cultivation that enhance or inhibit different characteristics and qualities of the plant, including its genetics, nutrients, and microbiome. A plant grown for cannabidiol (CBD) should not be grown for fiber for many reasons. Hemp, a name that refers to plants in 22 genera, is used to make textiles like rope, clothing, and industrial products; Cannabis produces a hemp variety. Hemp varieties may be more susceptible to heavy metal accumulation and contamination because of the increased fiber content and lower standards for the cultivation of products that are not grown for human consumption.

The compiled information on hemp is useful for those who work across disciplines, in research, regulations, and industry. This is important because hemp plants are grown differently from medicinal plants, mostly to improve fiber production over resin production. The tools and resources exist to improve cannabis agriculture, but we need academia and industry to work together more closely to use the knowledge base and truly create a resurgence of cannabis’ place in the global economy.

This book succeeds because it combines basic sciences such as botany with applied sciences such as biotechnology. This combination has proven powerful enough to solve many issues, such as how to decontaminate dried flower tops or apply genetic testing to breed specific medicinal chemovars (chemical varieties). The book also identifies a number of research projects that could allow cannabis (as hemp or a medicinal plant) to have a significant economic resurgence. It is also useful for students who are looking for long-term projects or industry entrepreneurs who are trying to earn licenses or increase funding opportunities by using innovative research technology. Personally, the book has been a useful guide for my partners in the cannabis industry to help choose and focus on projects for various cultivation operations.

I recommend this book to many people, especially cannabis growers, in hopes that it encourages cultivation operations to work with agricultural specialists, biochemists, and analytical chemists to enable a consistent and global supply of standardized medical cannabis for patients and researchers. This book will be of considerable importance not only in summarizing present-day knowledge but also in advancing innovations in the cultivation and use of cannabis.

—Jahan Marcu, PhD
COO and Director of Experimental Pharmacology and Behavioral Research
International Research Center on Cannabis and Mental Health
New York, New York