Industrial hemp and marijuana growers must work together to ensure a bright future for all sectors of the budding cannabis industry. You can toss it, and lose out on all of that hard work, or you could process the plant materials Why does cannabis potency matter? 29 June 2009 – Of the many people worldwide who use cannabis, also known as marijuana, very few understand the increase in its potency over the years. Cannabis
Weighing the risk of cannabis cross-pollination
Industrial hemp and marijuana growers must work together to ensure a bright future for all sectors of the budding cannabis industry.
A male industrial hemp plant with flowers ready to open. Photo by James DeDecker, MSU Extension.
When passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp, many people in agriculture celebrated the new opportunity that this crop symbolizes for our industry. The spring day when we planted our first hemp plots at Michigan State University Extension’s Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center also had an aura of historic significance. Hemp had not been legal to grow for over 60 years in Michigan, and today we are initiating research and outreach to support the potential (re)development of an entire value chain surrounding this multipurpose plant. Now that our first hemp crop is up and growing, a new concern is emerging with it that could threaten the future of Michigan’s cannabis industry.
For those less familiar, industrial hemp is cannabis cultivated to produce fiber, grain or non-intoxicating medicinal compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD). As defined by law, industrial hemp has less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component in marijuana. In fact, the primary difference between hemp and marijuana is this legal THC threshold, which results from selective breeding for different uses. Yet as members of the same species, the two crops have more in common than not, including the vexing ability to crossbreed.
Cannabis is what’s known as a dioecious species, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. There are some monoecious varieties of cannabis with male and female flowers on the same plant, and stress can also induce the production of male flowers on female plants, but these are exceptions to the plant’s normally dioecious nature. Flowering is induced when day and night lengths become equal. Male cannabis plants flower for a period of two to four weeks, and a single male flower can produce 350,000 pollen grains. Pollen is carried to female plants on the wind and can travel great distances when conditions are favorable. Bees will collect cannabis pollen but are generally not attracted to the female flowers to contribute to pollination.
In the 1970s, marijuana growers found that preventing pollination by rogueing out male plants or producing only females (through clonal propagation or sowing of feminized seed) could greatly increase the yield and potency of their crop. This works because cannabis is one of the few plant species that can actively increase the number and size of its female sex organs in response to prolonged virginity, according to Small and Naraine, 2016. The longer female plants go unpollinated, the more flowers are produced and the larger they get.
Cannabinoids, including the valuable end products THC and CBD, are concentrated in the female flower tissue. A study by Meier and Mediavilla, 1998, found that pollination decreased the yield of essential oils in cannabis flowers by 56%. Today, most marijuana is sinsemilla (Spanish for “without seeds”) and seeded crops are considered inferior, commanding a lower price in the marketplace. The same strategy is now also being applied by industrial hemp growers producing CBD.
Industrial hemp grown for grain or fiber is a different story. Male plants and pollen are required to create hemp grain used for food, feed and oil. Fiber hemp does not require pollination, but the prohibitive cost of planting feminized seed or female clones means that fiber fields will usually include male plants. As a result, the recent introduction of hemp grown for grain and fiber in Michigan increases the risk of pollination for marijuana and CBD hemp growers. I say that industrial hemp increases rather than creates this risk because cannabis pollen has been blowing across the Midwest long before 2019.
A study by Stokes et al., conducted in 2000, years before hemp and marijuana were legalized, found that cannabis pollen comprised up to 36% of total airborne pollen counts in Midwest states during the month of August. This pollen likely came from wild hemp or illicit marijuana fields where male plants were not controlled, minor sources that could be greatly compounded by legal hemp production.
Mitigating the risk of cross-pollination in cannabis presents a unique challenge. The most straight forward strategy involves geographic or physical isolation. Industry experts recommend a minimum distance of 10 miles between outdoor cannabis fields. Research has shown that pollen can travel much further than 10 miles, but the amount of pollen transported decreases logarithmically with increasing distance from the source. Therefore, the risk of pollination should be negligible beyond ten miles from a pollen source.
Important variables related to pollen transport and viability include wind speed, direction, precipitation and humidity, topography, physical barriers, time since release, etc. For example, a study by Small and Antle, 2003, on pollen dispersal in cannabis found that a 3-mile isolation distance downwind was equivalent to a 0.6-mile distance upwind in terms of the amount of pollen deposited.
While geographic isolation may be a technically feasible strategy, accomplishing it in the field is more complicated. Maintaining isolation distances requires identifying where cannabis is being grown. Marijuana growers in Michigan are currently regulated by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). Industrial hemp producers are regulated by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). Although these agencies maintain records on where cannabis is produced, there is currently no coordination between the agencies regarding this issue and the location of cannabis fields is not public information. Maintaining geographic isolation would therefore require voluntary sharing of location information by growers. Even if growers could be encouraged to share this sensitive information, enforcement of isolation distances would be difficult.
Physical isolation accomplished by growing marijuana or CBD hemp indoors with air filtration systems can achieve the same result as geographic isolation, but also dramatically increases the cost of cannabis production. Growing grain or fiber hemp indoors is not practical given the scale required to achieve profitability with these lower value commodities. However, it may be possible to physically isolate grain/fiber hemp and the pollen it produces using strategic windbreaks or irrigation. Borders of thick crops or trees planted downwind may be able to intercept a great deal of pollen. A study by Ushiyama et al., 2009, found that windbreaks reduced dispersal of maize pollen by 30-60% depending on their design. Precipitation or irrigation water can weigh down pollen and prevent it from floating away on the wind. However, research on the use of these techniques in cannabis is lacking.
As a result, other states and local units of government are responding to the risk of cross-pollination in cannabis by simply banning marijuana, industrial hemp, or male cannabis plants specifically. In Michigan, Ballot Proposal 1 of 2018 legalized both recreational marijuana and industrial hemp, so it is unlikely that either would be banned at the state level to address cross-pollination. Municipalities in the state can legally restrict where marijuana is grown, so that may offer some flexibility for hemp production in communities that opt out of marijuana. Local governments do not currently have the power to control where industrial hemp is grown, but MDARD could potentially implement such a policy in the future as part of their hemp regulatory plan.
That said, cooperation and a little creativity should hopefully make it possible for all sectors of the cannabis industry to coexist. One potential solution to cross-pollination that captures this spirit of cooperation is temporal isolation. As noted above, flowering in cannabis is controlled by day length. Artificial shading can therefore be used to induce flowering at almost any time of the year. This technique is feasible for marijuana and CBD hemp growers working on a relatively small scale. It requires a shading structure and extra labor to cover and uncover plants daily, but is not prohibitively expensive.
Forcing flowering via controlled light regimes is likely not a realistic option for grain and fiber hemp grown at a larger scale. However, auto-flowering cannabis cultivars that flower based on age rather than photoperiod do exist. If the auto-flowering trait could be bred into elite cannabis cultivars, it could be used to off-set the release of pollen in hemp from flowering in female marijuana and CBD hemp plants.
Until more research can be conducted to assess the risk of cross-pollination in cannabis and policy created to mitigate that risk, the best advice I can offer is for cannabis growers to start an open dialogue. After so many years of prohibition, it would be a shame to see factions develop within the industry that limit potential growth by favoring either marijuana/CBD hemp or grain and fiber hemp. Together, with cooperation from forward thinking regulators, we can identify equitable solutions to the problem of cross-pollination.
Everything that you need to know about smoking seedy weed
It can happen to the best of us, especially when it comes to outdoor crops, as it really doesn’t take much for one lonely male to pollinate hundreds of females within a several mile-wide radius. Cannabis seeds can appear when we least expect them to, and that’s why it’s so extremely common to get a crop or a bag from your local dispensary that has these annoying pieces scattered throughout the flower.
This is one of the reasons why so many cultivators take such strict steps to avoid contamination by wearing full-body gear and even PPE that is completely sanitary and disposable, but once you’re past the point of no return, and left with a pile of weed seeds in your buds, there are only so many options. You can toss it, and lose out on all of that hard work, or you could process the plant materials along with the marijuana seeds into oil or some other concentrate, but for those who have invested their last few dollars, or prefer the enjoyment that pure flowers can offer, one question remains.
Many people wonder if cannabis is safe to smoke when it’s full of a bunch of seeds, and if it is, in fact, safe as far as the lungs are concerned, whether or not there are any other potentially adverse effects that they should be privy to. Since this is such a common problem, we feel the need to answer these questions in-depth, so that consumers know what they’re getting into when they’re inevitably faced with this scenario.
Is it risky for your health to smoke cannabis seeds?
Marijuana seeds consist of completely non-toxic plant matter, so they are entirely safe, as far as we can tell, to smoke along with flower, which means that if you find them in a bag, they aren’t going to make you sick, but unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily translate to a truly enjoyable experience, as you will soon find out.
Adverse effects on taste
Cannabis seeds are incredibly annoying when they get lodged in a joint roll or stuck in your grinder, but the absolute worst thing about them is that they taste terrible when they’re smoked, which can completely ruin the normally delicious flavors of your weed. This might sound strange at first, after all, the materials all come from the very same plant, but those yummy trichomes and terpenes that you’d normally bask in simply don’t exist in weed seeds.
Unfortunately, what they do have is a whole lot of fibrous material, so when these bits of the cannabis plant are burnt, they leave behind a distinctive and shocking level of taste that many compare to charred popcorn. It’s certainly not going to be enough to hurt you, but they could leave you coughing or with a burnt tongue feeling, and both of those things can significantly impact the flavor of your herb in a bad way.
If you’re one of the truly unlucky ones that have a crop that gets hit really hard with a foreign dose of pollen, then the weed seeds that develop could seriously reduce the quality of your cannabis, and it’s not just the taste that is impacted. Since cannabis seeds are a fair-sized, they take up a whole lot of room and add weight that otherwise wouldn’t be there, which results in a double whammy as far as potency is concerned because they also don’t contribute any cannabinoids to the harvest.
That’s right, those heavy, irritating cannabis seeds might look pretty and be attached to a fully matured plant, but they have absolutely nothing in common with the flower materials that surround them. To put it more simply, if you had one gram of two identical plants, with one that had been pollinated, the bud would weigh more, but it would have far less for cannabinoids like THC or CBD, which are the elements that influence how you feel right after taking a bit hit off of a joint.
In their absence, your buds won’t be nearly as strong or effective, which means that you will need to smoke way more to get the same results, so you’re also going to find that you go through a whole lot more weed than you’re probably used to with better quality product, and you still might not be satisfied once all is said and done. Now, of course, this isn’t the case with all seedy cannabis as there are various levels of seed production to consider, but it will greatly reduce the potency of what could have been a stellar harvest.
So now that you know what smoking seedy weed can do, it’s time to highlight one of the only real dangers of applying heat to cannabis seeds. These little balls seem nearly indestructible, and carry a wood-like texture that might have you believe that they’d burn away slowly just like a chunk of wood, but the way it works is much more like popcorn kernels which explode to produce the light and fluffy snack.
Sadly, marijuana seeds aren’t nearly as fun to watch heat up, especially when they’re in a joint or well-packed bowl, because they can and often will explode, and that can result in flying hot coals and joints that get ripped wide open due to the incredible amount of pressure. These things might not be overly dangerous, but they are something that every cannabis consumer should be aware of, as they tend to hit sensitive areas like the eyes or mouth, which can be quite painful.
The best ways to deal with weed seeds in your flower
Now that you know everything there is to know about smoking seedy cannabis, it’s time for us to discuss some of the different ways that you can choose to deal with the problem. Some are certainly more effective than others. However, all three of these solutions will work to at least reduce the effects that cannabis seeds can have on the experience of getting high.
1. Remove them manually
If you have a really bad case of seedy weed, then this might not be the best option, as it can be time-consuming to do, and even if you do manage to remove every single one, they will leave behind dried up shells that will still produce that lingering taste we talked about earlier. The best way to use this is by hand, using your fingers to gently shuffle through the bud and pinch any seed casings which should make them fall right out.
2. Make the flowers into a cannabis concentrate
If removing the marijuana seeds sounds like way too much work, and you’re open to trying or using other more potent cannabis concentrates like cannabis oil or cannabutter, then the best choice might be to toss the whole pile into the solution. Cannabis seeds might taste awful when they’re smoked, but that quality doesn’t carry over when they’re included in plant materials that are used to make concentrates. They strain right out, and you’re left with only the best element, which is why this is a preferred method of dealing with seedy weed for many cannabis consumers.
3. Use an electric grinder to break them down
If you aren’t willing to budge on the idea of a freshly packed bowl, and you’re really not interested in dedicating a whole bunch of time to the removal of the cannabis seeds, then you are left with only one option other than tossing it out, which would be a waste. Using an electric grinder will help you to avoid clogged or broken manual grinder, and it will reduce the cannabis seeds into dust so that you won’t see any sparks flying that may cause burns when you smoke them, but unfortunately, this method isn’t typically ideal, because it still leaves the strong taste that can ruin the natural flavors of your buds.
Why does cannabis potency matter?
29 June 2009 – Of the many people worldwide who use cannabis, also known as marijuana, very few understand the increase in its potency over the years. Cannabis has changed dramatically since the 1970s. New methods of production such as hydroponic cultivation have increased the potency and the negative effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most psychoactive of the chemical substances found in marijuana. It is important to understand cannabis potency because of its link to health problems including mental health.
The amount of THC present in a cannabis sample is generally used as a measure of cannabis potency. One of the most comprehensive studies, conducted by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in 2004, concluded that a modest increase in aggregate cannabis potency had occurred, possibly attributable to the use of intensive indoor cultivation methods. The authors of the study noted that, nonetheless, THC content varied widely.
While a United Kingdom Home Office study in 2008 found little change in cannabis potency: samples of sinsemilla cannabis from 2008 had a median potency of 15 per cent, compared with 14 per cent for samples from 2004/5. Long-term increases have been reported in the United States, with an average potency of 10 per cent reported in 2008.
There are several methodological factors that influence the ability to generate comparable data and infer trends with respect to cannabis potency. Important variables to be considered include the phytochemistry, the type of cannabis product, cultivation method, sampling and stability.
As detailed below, each of these factors can affect the measurement of cannabis potency.
Plant part used: The secretion of THC is most abundant in the flowering heads and surrounding leaves of the cannabis plant. The amount of resin secreted is influenced by environmental conditions during growth (light, temperature and humidity), sex of the plant and time of harvest. The THC content varies in the different parts of the plant: from 10-12 per cent in flowers, 1-2 per cent in leaves, 0.1-0.3 per cent in stalks, to less than 0.03 per cent in the roots.
Product type: There are three main types of cannabis products: herb (marijuana), resin (hashish) and oil (hash oil). Cannabis herb comprises the dried and crushed flower heads and surrounding leaves. It often contains up to 5 per cent THC content. However, sinsemilla, derived from the unfertilized female plant, can be much more potent. Cannabis resin can contain up to 20 per cent THC content.
The most potent form of cannabis is cannabis oil, derived from the concentrated
resin extract. It may contain more than 60 per cent THC content. The increase in market share of a particular product type can influence the reported average potency values. For example, the rise to an average 10 per cent CH content in samples seized in 2008 as reported by the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy is attributed to the fact that high potency cannabis (presumably indoor-grown) has gained a 40-per-cent share of the market.
Cultivation methods: The cannabis plant grows in a variety of climates. The amount and quality of the resin produced depends on the temperature, humidity, light and soil acidity/
alkalinity. Accordingly, herbal cannabis grown outdoors varies considerably in potency. Intensive indoor cultivation of female plants and clones, grown under artificial light,
often without soil (using hydroponic cultivation) and with optimized cultivation conditions, produces cannabis of a consistently higher potency.
Sampling: Most data on cannabis potency are derived from the analysis of seized samples. This means that those samples must be representative of the entire seizure so that inferences and extrapolations can be made.
Stability: THC is converted to cannabinol on exposure to air and light. This process reduces the THC concentration, especially in old samples which have not been stored under suitable conditions (that is, a cool, dark place). It is believed that claimed increases in the potency of cannabis preparations confiscated in the United States over a period of 18 years may not adequately take into account the issue of the stability of THC in older samples.
Only through careful examination of these factors can we make a more systematic, scientific and comparable assessment of cannabis potency in different places and over time.