Since the DNA testing craze began, we’ve seen the technology being used in some pretty unexpected places. From testing migrant children who have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and are lost in a chaotic system, to Spotify claiming to enrich your listening experience by tapping into your heritage. In fact, you can now use your DNA home-testing kit results to find the perfect skincare, tailor your diet better, find out which sport your child should take up and even understand what skills you have to help you on ski slopes. But one market that has taken a liking to DNA matching is set to grow exponentially with its new personalised angle: the cannabis industry in the U.S.
Strain Genie is a platform that claims to match your DNA results with the type of weed that’s right for you. It does this by partnering with home-testing kits such as 23AndMe, MyHeritage, Ancestry and FamilyTreeDNA, or if you’re new to the field of DNA testing, you can simply request a Cannabis DNA test kit from the company directly. Whether you upload a .txt file from previous results or spit into a brand new test tube, it takes about 24 hours for Strain Genie to process the DNA information and generate a personalised 19-page cannabis report, just for you.
The ‘Cannabis Health Report’ sets out to identify genetic traits in users, such as an elevated risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or carrying a genotype that means you have a reduced CBD metabolism. In an example report Strain Genie makes available on its website, it shows that tips inside the report include a personalised recommendation for the ratio of THC and CBD according to each users’ genotype, which means users can begin to customise the products they consume accordingly. For example, a strand of weed that helps to stimulate memory cells will be recommended to those prone to Alzheimer’s.
Following a general introduction to THC, CBD and genes, the Strain Genie report takes its user on a more visual journey into what it has divided into categories of benefits each user can reach with different cannabis products, and which genres they might benefit from the most. From ‘chill’, ‘energise’, and ‘sleep’, to ‘create’ and ‘medicate’, there is a pathway for each and everyone one of us in the magical world of personalised marijuana. According to Strain Genie, that is.
In a recent article on The Hustle, a media company operating inside your email in the form of newsletters, Zachary Crockett explains how Nicco Reggente, co-founder of Strain Genie, first entered the industry with WoahStock four years earlier in a bid to create the ‘Netflix of weed’. The CEO had co-created a platform “that collects data on thousands of marijuana strains, asks users to fill out a medical questionnaire, then enlists an algorithm to ‘intelligently’ recommend the right products for the right people.” Writes Crockett. With a PhD in neuroscience, Reggente told The Hustle that “I thought, maybe I could leverage DNA to gather information about my customers and help them make better purchasing decisions.” So it only makes sense that the next step for Reggente was to enter the DNA realm and elevate the type of personalisation he offers his customers that one step further.
Having anxiety issues? Purple Voodoo is here to chill you out. Writer’s’ block? Fear no more, Lemon Wreck wants to get your creative juices flowing. And when you think about it, matching strands of cannabis to genotype characteristics makes sense; perhaps more sense than matching a new pair of skis to your DNA.
The legalisation and monetisation of the cannabis market is on a mega rise in the U.S. and other countries where it has been legalised, and is expected to reach $146.4 billion by end of 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. So it comes as no surprise that Reggente is on a mission to lead its personalisation aspect with Strain Genie and WoahStock. Sure there are some questions surrounding the validation of DNA testing and how accurate the results really are. But spending your money on making sure you are getting high on the right substance doesn’t seem like a bad place to start.
On May 31, the U.S.’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public hearing to obtain scientific data and information about the safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labelling, and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived products. At this point, there’s almost no need to ask why. In the U.S., as well as in the U.K. and many other countries, cannabis-related products have flooded the market, making health claims about pain relief, immune function, anxiety, and depression. But it turns out there is little known about how effective these are.
My aim here is not to demonise cannabis Nixon-style but to underline the uncertainty that surrounds it. Understandably, it is difficult to push people to study a substance that until very recently has been almost globally illegal. Even the few studies we’ve had on the topic are outdated, with all the recent developments made in plant-breeding and the changes made in THC concentrations (from the low single digits to more than twenty percent).
From my personal experience, cannabis products seem to work for pain relief and treating anxiety. But I’m not a doctor, and everyone reacts differently to different things. Although it was very necessary, the FDA’s public hearing delivered close to no results and one clear answer: we don’t have enough scientific research to prove the medical benefits of cannabis, and we need to get on it ASAP. What do we have? Testimonies from recreational smokers, cancer patients and new products showing up everywhere—new types of weed, CBD oils, vapes, edibles, creams and more.
When discussing cannabis on a political level, the argument of it being a ‘gateway’ drug is always raised by more conservative voices. And in response to this, there are often two rigid answers: the first one would be that weed has a negative neurological effect on us and pushes people to behave in certain ways, leading them to more serious addictions. The second answer is that, on the contrary, marijuana offers people a safer alternative to other ‘stronger’ drugs, keeping them away from opioids and stimulants. And here again, both answers sound too short-sighted, and I can’t help but feel like we’re missing years of research on a variety of participants to really assert anything.
During the FDA’s hearing, acting commissioner and director of the National Cancer Institute Dr. Ned Sharpless said, “When hemp was removed as a controlled substance, this lack of research, and therefore evidence, to support CBD’s broader use in FDA-regulated products, including in foods and dietary supplements, has resulted in unique complexities for its regulation, including many unanswered questions related to its safety”. And this raises another issue—how exactly are we going to regulate something that has recently become legal in some countries when we don’t even know its long-term effects?
For now, all these questions are left with no answers. We’re only a bit over a decade into the widespread recreational use of marijuana, meaning the data we actually have are pretty messy and vague. The same issue will probably show up in a few years, this time concerning e-cigarettes and vapes. The only certainty I have to offer is that, yes, we need more scientific research on cannabis-derived products. Until then, nothing can be said for sure, not that it matters most of the time. What’s important to remember is how many deaths marijuana has caused: zero, nada, unlike many other drugs, and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t like to spark up after a long day? Junk food clogs your arteries and yet you’ll see me eating chicken nuggets like they’re going out of fashion. I’ll leave you with my hypocritical advice: consume everything in moderation—chicken nuggets and weed included.