Cannabis sativa L is an important plant, which is a source of durable fibers, nutritious seeds, and medicinally important phytocannabinoids including Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Light has shown to be a key modulator of biomass and cannabinoid yield suggesting responsive photochemical machinery. The present study was envisaged to understand the effect of the increasing levels of metabolic THC on the photochemical efficiency in Cannabis. The chlorophyll a fluorescence kinetics, photosynthetic pigments and immuno-detection of the photosynthetic machinery was analyzed on seven accessions from different environments, in conjunction with the cannabinoid content. All the accessions were clearly divided into three groups based on their relative content of CBD and THC. Group I with (CBD/THC > 1) had a clear advantage in terms of the damage to the D1, RbCL and Lhc1 protein holo-complex. Performance indicators of photochemistry based on the OJIP kinetics suggested a stoichiometrically negative correlation with the THC content. Zeaxanthin-dependent quenching is primarily responsible for lower NPQ in Group III with high THC content (THC > 6%). The THC treatment on Arabidopsis thaliana also suggested dose-dependent decrease in the photochemical efficiency suggesting the exclusivity of THC in causing the response. This resulted in the damage of photosynthetic machinery and the generation of free radicals, thereby compromising the yield. The study also opens a new screening method for Cannabis, based on cannabinoid content.
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