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Pot is getting more personalized

The race is on to develop a 23andMe-type genetics test for cannabis, with the goal of breeding marijuana for specific ailments.

John Kim/CNET

Among the buds, edibles, oils and plants at the Harborside cannabis dispensary in Oakland, California, is what founder Steve DeAngelo calls the future of cannabis medicine.

Cannabis plants sold at the Harborside dispensary. One day pot might be custom-bred for specific medical conditions.

Cannabis plants sold at the Harborside dispensary. One day pot might be custom-bred for specific medical conditions.

John Kim/CNET

They're pot products that target specific ailments. DeAngelo points out one for arthritis relief. He calls another one the "Ambien killer" because, he says, it's very effective for insomnia. He picks up a bag and turns it over to show us the back.

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"There's different codes, different numbers and letters on here. Each one of those different numbers and letters indicates a different combination of active ingredients. So just like the varieties of cannabis, they have different effects. The cannabis medicines will also have different effects."

Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states, and the popularity of cannabis is increasing, with nine states making recreational use legal for adults 21 and over.

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At Steep Hill Labs, one of the premier marijuana testing labs in the US for purity and potency, they're investing in a future focused on genetics and the cannabis genome.

"We're bringing a whole genomic services kind of division online. So we are establishing a good 23andMe-slash-Ancestry.com service for cannabis," said Steep Hill's chief science officer, Dr. Reggie Gaudino. "Ancestry.com- and 23andMe-type services are absolutely essential for the future of the cannabis industry to be able to breed those things that will be either more targeted to certain populations or medicinal."

Testing cannabis for purity and potency at Steep Hill Labs in Oakland, California.

Testing cannabis for purity and potency at Steep Hill Labs in Oakland, California.

John Kim/CNET

Those types of services provide lineage and DNA analysis and could lead the scientists to improve the crops through directed breeding, similar to what's done to corn, wheat and rice. They're looking to breed cannabis that can more precisely target certain conditions.

Cannabis buds at Harborside.

Cannabis buds at Harborside.

John Kim/CNET

"So there's no one strain, there's no one-size-fits-all in cannabis, because everybody's individual biochemistry really affects that experience," Gaudino explained. "The ultimate strain is the one that is correct for whatever you're trying to do. So, if you know what your symptoms are, then you can source what it is you need to solve those problems. In some cases there are no strains for some of those things. So that's where the directed breeding and the tools that we're building help to be able to focus on some of that, to be able to build that strain that is good for you. That's like trying to build a strain for insomnia, trying to build a strain for pain relief."

Steep Hill also hopes to be able to develop a take-home version of the tests for backyard growers, similar to a testing kit it created to determine the sex of a cannabis plant.

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