Researchers from the La Trobe Institute of Agriculture and Food, home for the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture (ARC MedAg Hub), have reviewed international studies of cannabis genomics and identified significant gaps in the research.

Lead researcher associate professor Mathew Lewsey said cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants believed to have unique medicinal properties, but for decades research into identifying those properties has been restricted by anti-drug laws.

“These rules have meant that while our understanding of the basic biology and properties of other crop species has advanced through the use of genomics for example, our knowledge of cannabis has lagged.

La Trobe
Associate professor Mathew Lewsey said cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants believed to have unique medicinal properties.

“We already know about some of the medicinal properties derived from cannabis, such as its ability to relieve nausea caused by some anti-cancer treatments, act as an anti-inflammatory agent, to alleviate pain in palliative care patients, and reduce seizures in children with some forms of drug-resistant epilepsy.

“But there are potentially many more untapped benefits of this fascinating plant,” said professor Lewsey.

The paper, published in New Phytologist, also found that illegal cultivation of cannabis had restricted the genetic potential of existing cultivars and that genomics-assisted breeding would increase the efficiency and precision of cannabis crop improvement. 

The researchers posit that a better understanding of how cannabis genomes differ between cultivars could make a major contribution to the growing medicinal cannabis industry.

Co-author and director of the ARC MedAg Hub, professor Tony Bacic, said: “There is ample anecdotal evidence and an increasing number of clinical trials about the benefits of cannabis, but there remain challenges around the production of high-quality, plant-based therapeutic grade products and their provenance. 

“Part of our focus at Hub is to dig deeper and provide scientific evidence and understanding to inform public policy and therapeutic use.”

The A$24 million La Trobe-led ARC MedAg Hub combines academic and industry research and expertise to drive better cultivation, breeding and manufacturing practices to support Australia’s medicinal agriculture industry and ultimately improve health outcomes for patients.  

It was officially launched by education minister Dan Tehan in 2019.

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