With wealthy Earthlings like Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk currently locked in an intergalactic manhood-measuring contest, human forays into space look set to become increasingly commonplace.
This will likely open the door to more scientific experiments and product development in zero-gravity environments. And, raise the prospect of testing cannabis cultivars in orbit. All of this raises the crucial question: can you grow weed in space?
Weed On The International Space Station
Growers have to decide between cultivating their cannabis plants outdoors or in a controlled grow room here on Earth. Each of these scenarios offers benefits and drawbacks. Plants growing in both contexts have to battle against the force of gravity to rise above the ground. Like all other terrestrial species, cannabis adapts to this minor nuisance, although researchers are now keen to see how plants grow with gravity removed from the equation.
In March 2020, hundreds of hemp cell cultures were launched to the International Space Station (ISS). There, they spent a month in zero gravity. The payload was delivered by a rocket developed by SpaceX, owned by the cannabis-loving Musk.
Unfortunately, these samples were not intended to be enjoyed by the astronauts on the ISS. Nor there to investigate the effects of smoking weed in space. Containing only trace amounts of THC, the cell cultures were housed in a temperature-controlled incubator before being sent back to Earth as sapling plants.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder then analysed the samples to discern how their zero-gravity experience affected their gene expression.
Cannabis plants respond to various stresses – including changes in temperature and lighting – by altering their gene expression.
By removing gravity’s pressure, the researchers hoped to understand how these responses are coordinated at the cellular level. Though they haven’t published any results yet, the scientists say their findings could pave the way for the development of plants with new stress adaptations. One day resulting in the creation of sturdier cannabis cultivars.
Can You Smoke Weed In Space?
The milestone of growing weed in space may have been reached, but getting high outside Earth’s orbit is another story. NASA has stringent rules and regulations that prevent astronauts from using cannabis. So while no one has smoked weed in space, chances are no one from NASA has smoked it on earth either.
As a federal agency, the organisation is bound by regulations such as the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. It requires all employees to abstain from weed and other federally controlled substances.
This is something that Musk knows all too well. After openly smoking a joint while appearing on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in 2018, the SpaceX and Tesla CEO became the subject of an investigation by NASA. The agency has several contracts with SpaceX, which means that even though Musk doesn’t actually operate any rockets personally, his public cannabis use represented a potential violation for NASA.
Ultimately, Musk’s stoner antics went unpunished. But the whole episode served to illustrate just how hardline NASA’s approach to cannabis is.
But What If You Did Smoke Weed In Space?
No one can say for sure how getting stoned in space would feel. Though celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has weighed in with his opinion on the subject. Despite being a proponent of legalising cannabis on Earth, Tyson says that smoking weed in space probably wouldn’t end well.
“Well, the problem is, in space, many things will kill you,” he said in an interview a few years ago. “So if you do anything to alter your understanding of what is reality, that’s not in the interest of your health.”
Offering a word of advice to anyone who does decide to get baked in orbit, he says that “if you want to get high in space, lock yourself in your cabin and don’t come out because you could break stuff inadvertently.”