Kristina Etter   |   December 23, 2021

How to Grow Cannabis without Growing a Plant

Breakthrough technology produces all-natural, non-GMO, full-spectrum cannabis in a fraction of the space with less energy, time, and resources. Could this be the future for cannabis consumables?
Kristina Etter spent 20 years in corporate IT with a niche in mobile technology and IoT in agriculture. Today, she combines her love of technology with a passion for cannabis as the Editorial Director for Cannabis Tech.

According to multiple studies and reports, the cannabis industry is far from green. Commercial cannabis farming is resource-intensive. From energy consumption to water usage, sustainability is a distant goal for indoor agriculture. Meanwhile, varying weather conditions and increasing demand prevent cannabis from being efficiently grown outdoors at the levels necessary for commercial production. This conundrum has forced researchers and producers to look for alternative methods for cannabinoid production.

Brewing cannabinoids with yeast or creating cannabinoids from chemical conversion in a lab only produces the target cannabinoid. Many cannabinoid-formulated products fall short for consumers because they fail to incorporate other essential elements such as flavonoids, terpenes, and other newly discovered (or undiscovered) active compounds. And while cannabinoid formulations are growing in popularity, these products don't take the Entourage Effect or the other chemical compounds found in the plant into consideration.

However, in a recent press release, an Israeli company called BioHarvest Sciences announced they have a solution that not only produces the exact and complete chemical structure of cannabis but it can do so with less time, space, and resources than traditional farming. Cannabis Tech reached out to BioHarvest’s CEO, Ilan Sobel, to learn more.

Plant Cell Biology and Bioreactor Cell Production

Sobel immediately emphasized during our interview that BioHarvest is "not a cannabis company, but rather a biotech company and leader in plant cell biology." Using a technology platform they call bio-farming, the company launched its first product, Vinia, or bio-harvested grapes for the polyphenol antioxidants they produce.

“We’re able to grow any essential active ingredient from plants including primary metabolites like proteins, or secondary metabolites like polyphenols, antioxidants, and cannabinoids,” Sobel stated.

After taking a cutting of the plant or fruit once, BioHarvest can identify the active ingredients, grow the cells containing those ingredients and maintain the natural structure and composition of the original source material.

Sobel explained, “We can grow these cells in a short period of time in our bioreactors; once we reach a certain amount of biomass, then we go to a harvesting process to collect the plant cells. Then, we go through a drying process, and we’re left with highly soluble, highly bioavailable active ingredients.”

Essentially, this method of cellular production is able to create a consistent level and structure of the plant’s active molecules. In a video from the company’s website, laboratory workers take a cutting of the ideal cells they wish to grow, place them on a petri dish to grow those cells, then transfer the cells into a liquid growing medium inside the bioreactor.

In terms of production, Sobel stated that “one bioreactor, which is approximately 7 feet high and 1.5 meters wide, can produce the same amount of resveratrol per year as what would normally require 240,000 square meters of land of grapevine cultivation.”

Clean, Chemical-Free, Cannabis Biomass

Sobel admits, "Look, if you want the experience of growing your own flower in your house or personal garden, I cannot deliver the ceremonial approach to growing cannabis. On the other hand, we have a unique appreciation of growing the cannabis with fingerprint consistency, safe, clean, pharma-grade, environmentally stable conditions. We ultimately deliver on a unique health and wellness promise to consumers.”

The harvest process eliminates the inconsistencies with traditional farming to provide medical cannabis consumers with a consistent chemical composition. “We leverage the power of nature and the power of science to ensure that we’re able to provide that critical consistency that nature alone simply cannot provide.”

Sobel explained that many of the challenges of growing plants simply do not exist in their processes. “Given the challenges of growing cannabis and the fact that it is fed fertilizers and pesticides that bring heavy metals into the equation – we [grow cannabis] in a way that is responsible to our children and grandchildren.”

Cannabis Sustainability Encapsulated into 7 Sq. Ft.

Beyond safety and cleanliness, the BioHarvest process takes environmental stewardship to a whole new level as well. All of the water necessary for the process is reused and recycled. Additionally, the bioreactors can produce the same amount of biomass "in a fraction of the land using a fraction of the energy requirements," Sobel stated.

“I’m never going to beat the unique ritual of growing the plant, but I can deliver better therapeutics," Sobel admitted. "We're a health and wellness company, and that's what I care about."

He continued, "Patients are not asking me, 'Did you grow a flower?' No, we grow the trichome. We don't grow it in soil; we don't feed it chemical pesticides and fertilizers. We don't waste our already scarce resources to grow [the plant], and we're able to provide it in a consistent, clean way that is environmentally sustainable."

Using Science to Harness Plant Potential

Red grapes and cannabis are only the beginning for BioHarvest. Just as ayurvedic and Eastern medicine have used nature and the plant kingdom for centuries, Sobel believes that there's little technology outside their processes to grasp the full potential of many of these compounds.

"If you look in the Amazon, there are many critical, active ingredients derived from the plants, but we need to have a scalable platform to bring these ingredients to consumers," he continued. “Pharma companies went to synthetics because they wanted a consistency that couldn’t be achieved from the plant – and that’s the critical role we’re playing in today.”

“We’re able to go back to the plant, identify the critical, active essential ingredients the human body needs and bring it to consumers in an industrial scalable way that is democratized so that it is affordable for everyone,” Sobel stated.

Sobel concluded, “We’re leveraging the power of all the science that we’ve learned through the process to unlock the secrets.”

 

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