A DECADE AFTER the first states legalized recreational cannabis, American weed culture is in the last gasps of its decadent era — giving up a life of fun for a phase of pharmaceutical stability.
The $10.8 billion market has fluffed that inscrutable stuff you used to buy off a disheveled guy on a bicycle into a flurry of lifestyle products engineered for your self-optimization. The next phase of its evolution will be less trendy, but possibly more trippy. Think: genetically modified weed, super-plants that flower all year round, “skinny” strains that curb your appetite. Scientists are trying to bio-hack this ancient plant, demystify its biochemical composition, and refashion it to deliver targeted, custom highs. The goal in the long run is a new class of strains that treat symptoms as reliably as pharmaceutical medicine.
This new wave of sci-fi weed is not far away, and Big Pharma is investing millions into the science that would shuttle it into the mainstream, possibly replacing the super-charged but scattershot strains we’ve gotten used to. But if this once-mysterious plant loses its ineffability to a DNA-enhanced model of analysis and reproduction, would it even still be the same thing? What do we stand to gain from splicing the mystery out of marijuana, and what would we lose along the way?