Article: Custom Highs GMO weed is the next step to demystifying your favorite drug.


A DECADE AFTER the first states legalized recreational cannabis, American weed culture is in the last gasps of its decadent era — giving up a life of fun for a phase of pharmaceutical stability.

The $10.8 billion market has fluffed that inscrutable stuff you used to buy off a disheveled guy on a bicycle into a flurry of lifestyle products engineered for your self-optimization. The next phase of its evolution will be less trendy, but possibly more trippy. Think: genetically modified weed, super-plants that flower all year round, “skinny” strains that curb your appetite. Scientists are trying to bio-hack this ancient plant, demystify its biochemical composition, and refashion it to deliver targeted, custom highs. The goal in the long run is a new class of strains that treat symptoms as reliably as pharmaceutical medicine.

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?

The Perfect High for Coding

To taste the rainbow of tomorrow’s pot market, you go to Hall of Flowers, a California trade show where the gentrification of marijuana has reached its latest extreme. Imagine a music festival inside the world’s biggest dispensary and you’ve got it: the Coachella of cannabis. Individual tickets cost $750. DJs spin house music next to decked-out party buses. Stylish stoners in bucket hats lounge in shaded cabanas, sipping sparkling THC water and puffing on pre-rolls of the latest “strain drops.” More than an industry event, where dispensaries discover new brands, this is a weed wonderland where the hype machine is on full blast.

On an afternoon in May, a shuttle bus full of weed influencers drops me off at the Palm Springs conference’s entrance gates, where I shuffle through the security line, relieved not to have to hide my vape pen. I follow the fog of skunky smoke billowing from the consumption area — an AstroTurf lawn covered in orange bean bags, where grizzled ganjapreneurs with arms full of tribal tattoos talk shop with perfectly coiffed publicists. In the cacophonous event hall, weed brands display their goods: Pure Beauty’s menthol joints, Sundae School’s yuzu-flavored mochi gummies, Beed’s Nespresso-like machine that spits out perfect pre-rolls. One dominant trend is impossible to miss: instead of hawking popular weed strains like Blue Dream or Purple Kush, brands are selling experiences — describing products with labels like “CREATIVE” and “COOL” to suggest the feelings they could elicit.

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Custom Highs

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