Humans have long dreamed about colonizing space. But first we'll have to figure out a way to take plants with us.
"The ability to grow plants in space will have an enormous impact on the success of future interplanetary space exploration," according to NASA's findings on growing plants in microgravity. "Any long-term human presence on the Moon or Mars will require sustainable plant growth, which can provide a renewable food supply for explorers and assist with the maintenance of breathable air."
With this in mind, astronauts on the International Space Station have been tasked with experiments in botany, including growing dwarf wheat, tomatoes, loblolly pine, spinach, periwinkle, white clover, pepper, sage, and purple cone flower. One can reasonably conclude that cannabis might, eventually, join those ranks, especially as the plant's medical uses are increasingly legitimized by more rigorous scientific study.
Our findings about off-planet plant growth could also have some pretty compelling applications for cannabis production on earth, given marijuana's rapid emergence as a valuable, increasingly-legal cash crop.
NASA's Plant Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus is, according to the space agency, "designed to control light, moisture, temperature, and gases in a closed container to maximize plant growth": lessons which, as Motherboard points out, could assist medical cannabis companies in their efforts to more tightly control the THC content, cannabinoid ratio, and growth parameters of the bud they're growing in hydroponic setups and other, soil-less growth environments.
The research so far has been promising: it appears spaceflight doesn't measurably alter plant genetics, or hamper their growth - although more research is needed to ensure that plant cell walls, or lignin, develop normally.
And there's still the issue of high levels of radiation from the sun to contend with - especially if scientists plant to pursue the still-fairly-fanciful notion of growing marijuana on Mars, which is a) a pretty intense six-month journey at the existing rate of space travel and b) has a much thinner atmosphere than earth, once you get there.
While the prospect of weed adventures in microgravity remain, for now, speculative - the trippy, eye-popping visuals of plants growing in space do have a certain, ahem, elevating effect on the imagination.