A plant biotechnology company called 22ND Century (NASDAQ: XXII) is developing two very interesting new crop varieties. One is a line of tobacco that barely makes any nicotine. The idea is to use that tobacco to make cigarettes that can help people quit smoking. 22ND Century’s other new offering is a line of marijuana that doesn’t make THC. The goal in this case is to make it possible for people to realize various medical benefits of Cannabis without the physical and legal complications of the high. Both of these offerings demonstrate how the increasingly sophisticated scientific understanding of plant genetics can lead to positive contributions.
The plants we humans enjoy as cultivated crops provide us with energy, protein, vitamins and micronutrients. Plants are also pretty amazing chemists that provide us with a diverse collection of and useful compounds. These include delectable flavors and fragrances that enhance the experience of foods. Many foods also provide beneficial “bio-pharmaceuticals” such as anti-oxidants.
Some plants provide us with chemicals we use as drugs. The coffee plant makes caffeine, which many of us use as a stimulant to help start our mornings. Some excessive consumption of caffeinated products can be problematic, but in general this is a plant-based drug that society uses safely and without regulation.
Tobacco makes nicotine – a psycho-active chemical which stimulates certain receptors in the brain. Unfortunately nicotine is highly addictive and drives users to continue smoking in spite of the profoundly negative health outcomes of doing so. In spite of the extremely well documented risks to both smokers and bystanders, smoking remains a legal, if sometimes taxed or restricted, activity. According to the World Health Organization, over 1.1 billion people smoke.
The main product concept for the very low nicotine tobacco is for prescription cigarettes that doctors can recommend to patients who want to stop smoking. Kicking the nicotine habit is quite difficult. Independent studies have been encouraging about the potential for smoking cessation aided with cigarettes made with the very low nicotine cigarettes (VLNC). The physical and sensory ritual of smoking without the narcotic effects seems to be an easier transition.
Cannabis contains the psychoactive drug, THC, which is the basis for its recreational use. The plant also makes a number of other chemicals that can potentially relieve nausea for those in chemotherapy and prevent seizures for those with various conditions. Sorting out the medical potential has been complicated by the patchwork of differing legal status throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world.