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Podcast: Bot Garden series explores the science of cannabis

With recreational cannabis newly legal in California, the UC Botanical Garden has lined up a full roster of experts to discuss the latest research on the commercialization and use of the popular plant

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Eric Siegel walking outside with a smile

Eric Siegel is the director of the UC Botanical Garden. (UC Berkeley photo by Sara Yogi)

With recreational cannabis newly legal in California, the UC Botanical Garden has lined up a full roster of experts to explore scientific topics raised by the commercialization and use of the popular plant, from the environmental impact of large-scale cannabis cultivation to the effect of cannabis in our brains to its medical uses.

“The garden is a plant-based institution with a strong bias toward research,” says garden Director Eric Siegel, who put together the Science of Cannabis series, which starts Feb. 1. “This is an interesting, widely distributed plant that’s going to have a significant impact on the future of California.”

Among the many questions scientists are studying are how did marijuana acquire its traits and why do the plants have psychoactive properties?

Eric Siegel walking at UC Botanical Garden

Eric Siegel, the director of the UC Botanical Garden, organized the Science of Cannabis lecture series. (UC Berkeley photo by Sara Yogi)

“There are a lot of great scientific questions involved here,” says Siegel, and a lot of the information now available has been generated by the marijuana industry, instead of scientists. He’s excited to have some of them answered, or at least explored, by leading experts in their fields and for the garden to serve as an “honest broker” to disseminate that information.

Amanda Reiman, secretary of the International Cannabis Farmers Association and a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, will speak on environmental issues of cannabis cultivation — pollution, heavy water use, clear cutting of natural areas — and how growers can use more sustainable, traditional farming methods as cannabis production climbs.

Mowgli Homes, co-founder and CEO of Phylos Bioscience, will discuss the genetic relationships among different strains of cannabis and how they reflect the chemical properties of the specific plants. Supplying cannabis users with a product they understand and trust will be critical in its commercialization, says Homes.

When he’s not teaching neuroscience to Tibetan monks, David Presti, a professor of neurobiology at UC Berkeley, devotes himself to the study of the mind and consciousness. He will be speaking about how cannabis affects the brain, mind and behavior.

Thomas Carlson, a professor of integrative biology and a curator at the Jepson and University Herbaria at UC Berkeley, will join the program to discuss the historical uses of cannabis as medicine, food and hemp fiber, among others, and explore how these uses might be applied to future research on cannabis.

Donald Abrams, a chief of the hematology-oncology division at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and an early pioneer in HIV/AIDS research, will speak about the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis in both physical and psychological illnesses. Research into the medical uses of cannabis so far has been limited by federal law.

The Science of Cannabis series will be held weekly, on Thursdays, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Julia Morgan Hall at the UC Botanical Garden. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for members and $15 for students. People can register for an individual lecture online, by phone at (510) 664-9841 or by email at [email protected].

Videos of the lectures will be posted on the garden’s YouTube channel in March.