The spooky future of genetically-modified weed
Howdy ya’ll! I’m spending my last few days in Texas next to the NASA Space Center in Houston, listening to the roars of overhead aircraft as I transcribe an interview I recently nabbed with an outlaw rave crew throwing renegades deep in the underground tunnels of Austin. My next piece TEXAS TECHNO will be dropping ~exclusively~ for paid subscribers—and annual subscriptions are 40% off till Halloween, as a treat.
Also super stoked to announce that Rave New World will be co-published as a column in my favorite psychedelic magazine DoubleBlind, a women-run platform that is, in the words of the New York Times, “keeping the hippie dream alive for a new generation.” First up in this series is my investigation into the rise of 3-MMC, the designer drug of choice for Berlin ravers and Balenci-gays. Unleashed from behind the subscriber paywall, the full article is live now at DoubleBlind’s website. Paid subscribers to RNW will still have first access to the juiciest content, and I’m excited to cross-pollinate a community of freaky psychonauts through this collaboration <3
Just in time for this spooky weekend, my deep dive into the Frankenstein future of genetically-modified weed was just published in the drop dead gorgeous new issue of GROW (a magazine run by the biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks).
When I was asked to the future of weed, I was feeling pretty disillusioned with the California cannabis industry, which has been epically failing on many fronts since legalization. The assignment gave me the opportunity to take a new look at the weed world from a mind-bending angle, as I attempted to answer one of the industry’s most pressing questions: can we create pharmaceutically-predictable highs from this deeply complex and mysterious plant?
Until now, the notion that a specific joint can make you more “creative” or “chill” has been mostly marketing spin. But Big Weed’s pursuit of customizable highs opens a Pandora’s Box of possibilities—like strains that curb your appetite and help you lose weight (!!!)—thereby raising epistemological questions about what defines cannabis to begin with.
This new wave of sci-fi weed is not far away, and Big Pharma is investing millions into the science that would shuttle it into the mainstream, possibly replacing the super-charged but scattershot strains we’ve gotten used to. But if this once-mysterious plant loses its ineffability to a DNA-enhanced model of analysis and reproduction, would it even still be the same thing? What do we stand to gain from splicing the mystery out of marijuana, and what would we lose along the way?
Reporting this story took me right to the edge of cannabis’ new biotech frontier—I hitched a ride with a porn star to Palm Springs weed wonderland called Hall of Flowers, where I puffed menthol joints while assessing the latest product trends. I hobnobbed with academics at a weed biotech conference in Pasadena, where farmers with PhDs discussed using CRISPR to gene-edit plants and make them more resistant to the climate crisis. Along the way, I wondered what we are losing.
For some of us, drugs are exciting and intimate experiences precisely because they’re not predictable, commodifiable sensations. Perhaps one day, our yearning for the mysteries of weed will just be another misplaced nostalgia elided by a new class of designer drugs. The cannabis plant — broken down into its components and reverse engineered from the molecule up — might not even be the same thing to the generations after us, but rather a Ship of Theseus sailing into the unknown (and perfectly stoned) future.