Growing cannabis is not difficult – but growing really, really great cannabis is much, much harder.
When that cannabis is intended for use by sick people, who may have weakened immune systems and heightened susceptibility to infection, the stakes become even higher.
One major concern with poorly-grown and processed cannabis is the presence of mold and pesticide residue, which may usually be harmless for a healthy individual, but could cause life-threatening infections in the immunocompromised!
So in this article, we’ll talk you through the considerations you need to put in place to grow high-grade, pro-level medicinal cannabis.
Top-quality medicinal cannabis can be characterized thus:
- well-presented, well-trimmed flowers with excellent appearance and aroma
- optimum levels of cannabinoids and terpenes
- mold, fungus, and pesticide residue within safe levels
- lab-tested to ascertain the above
So, how do we achieve this? First of all, let’s consider our setup and cultivation techniques.
Medicinal Cannabis Cultivation Techniques
Organic for Patient Safety
Many growers would argue that organic, soil-based cultivation is the way forward for medicinal cannabis, and the method certainly has many advantages.
With organic, soil-based cultivation, the aim is to create a truly “living” ecosystem, complete with bacteria, fungi and other microbes that thrive in soil and help provide nutrients to the plant.
This approach is widely thought to yield superior cannabinoid and terpene profiles to non-organic methods.
It may also help the plant to achieve optimal defenses against pathogenic bacteria and fungi, by maintaining healthy levels of beneficial bacteria.
As well as this, many people also think that organic cannabis is safer for medical users as it is less likely to contain traces of potentially-harmful chemicals and pesticides.
However, if you decide to grow organic cannabis for medicinal purposes, it is highly advisable to read up on safe use of organic pesticides, as plenty of compounds classed as organic are highly toxic.
Hydroponic for Precise Control
On the other hand, some non-organic or soilless methods may be superior for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis – at least in certain aspects.
Yield is often higher in hydroponic systems, and the life cycle of cannabis plants is somewhat reduced. This could translate to more affordable, and more readily available medicine.
Furthermore, if good cultivation practices are followed, it’s possible to produce hydroponically-grown cannabis with excellent flavor and aroma profiles, which contain optimum levels of cannabinoids and terpenes.
On top of this, hydroponic cultivation allows for the delivery of precise quantities of nutrients and a great deal of total control of the way the crop grows.
This level of precise control may help to ensure more consistent production of cannabinoids and terpenes between batches.
Lastly, if the cannabis is intended to be processed into extracts, keeping the grow room immaculately clean and free from dust is preferable, as dust particles can easily end up in your oils and tinctures. Thus, choosing a soilless method may be preferable for this reason alone.
Of course, these aren’t the only techniques we can use to grow medicinal cannabis. Aeroponics and aquaponics are both becoming more popular – check out this post from Medical Jane for a comparison of the various techniques.
Pest & Pathogen Control
When growing cannabis for medical patients, ensuring that your crop remains free from potentially-harmful pathogens like mold and fungus is paramount.
Accepted levels of mold and residual pesticides in medicinal cannabis varies between US states. Some states (such as Arizona and Alaska) don’t have guidelines at all, essentially meaning that any amount is acceptable.
Others, like Colorado and California, have detailed guidelines on acceptable levels; others still, like Maine, prohibit all use of pesticides on medical crops, although with some exemptions. Check out Leafly’s excellent guide to testing guidelines in US states.
The utmost care must be taken with any pesticides used – if they are overused or applied too late in the growing season, it can mean that harmful residues are still present when the crop is harvested, dried and ready for distribution to patients.
Again, there is more than one approach to pest and disease control.
The organic approach implies using treatments derived only from natural ingredients, while the non-organic approach implies use of synthetic or artificial ingredients in pest control.
Many assume that “organic equals safe”, while in reality, plenty of organic compounds can be extremely injurious to various aspects of health. Conversely, many non-organic compounds can be safely used as pesticides, providing that guidelines are followed.
Maximizing Cannabinoids and Terpenoids
To grow medicinal-quality that really stands the best chance of helping your patients, a great deal of care must be taken to ensure that your crop produces abundant cannabinoids and terpenes.
For medicinal crops, this should usually be a much higher priority than overall yield.
To ensure healthy and abundant cannabinoid and terpene production, it’s important to dial in the fundamental aspects of your grow operation – the airflow, temperature and humidity being the most fundamental of all.
For more info on maximizing terpenes, check out my article on International Highlife, which includes techniques on water stress, tweaking light spectrum, fine-tuning your microbiome, manipulating twilight period, and much more!
Of course, choice of strain is important too.
Strains containing high levels of particular cannabinoids or terpenes (such as CBG, THCV, caryophyllene or limonene) may be particularly medicinally useful.
In general, terms, selecting abundant producers of trichomes with good terpene profiles will obviously yield better results.
After you’ve covered the basic steps, you can also look at some more advanced tweaks to boost your cannabinoid and terpene levels that little bit more.
If you take all of these points into consideration when setting up your medical grow, you should already be well on the way to serving up medicinal-grade cannabis of excellent quality.