The dark years of cannabis prohibition in California created an innovative and highly competitive black market for weed that thrives to this day despite the state’s relatively progressive path toward legalization. Risk has always been high for illicit growers and their tactics to avoid the prying eyes of law enforcement have evolved over time. Decades ago, the use of helicopters and spotter planes to target pot farms forced growers to camouflage their cultivation, or in many cases, move it all the way indoors.
This radical change in the way cannabis was grown, particularly in Cali, led to a massive leap in quality control as indoor growers could now “play god” and manipulate all environmental conditions to their liking. However, it also led to a drastic drop in overall yields.
Remember, we are talking about the Nineties, so most of these were not yet warehouse-style grows. They were closets, garages, basements, and spare rooms for the most part and even though you could flip each room a few times per year, the overall weight harvested paled in comparison to the massive trees that could be grown outdoors.
With a limited footprint to grow in, and a limited canopy above (ie. the ceiling and lights), growers began looking for any way they could to boost the number of grams of finished buds that they could pull from each square foot of cultivation space.
For some, like our friend Josh D, that meant revolutionizing hydroponic grow systems and optimizing that method for cannabis production while at the same time introducing and perfecting the ultimate indoor strain — OG Kush. The optimal genetics of this iconic strain naturally produced shorter, bushier plants with massive, dense, and potent buds, making it ideal for indoor cultivation.
Not all growers were blessed with such genetics or know-how, though, and it didn’t take long for some of them to start to seek out some rather unsavory store-bought shortcuts to try to compensate for lackluster harvests.
Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs)
Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs) date back well before the Nineties cannabis boom. First introduced to American agriculture in the 1920s, these chemical compounds were used for nearly half a century to either boost or slow down the natural rate of growth of plants through phytohormonal manipulation.
For example, groves of fruit or nut trees could be filled with shorter trees that yielded more produce thereby reducing the time and risk of harvesting and, in turn, increasing profits.
However, when independent lab studies showed that certain synthetic PGRs could potentially be carcinogenic, the FDA stepped in and banned the use of such products on consumable food crops in the 1970s.
Those products, however, did not vanish. They continued to be used to keep trees at parks from growing too tall, or to make bouquets of grocery store flowers bloom brighter and grow at such uniform sizes and, as we know, to artificially boost cannabis yields. In fact, the global demand for PGRs has more than doubled in the past six years and now stands as a $6.4 billion sector of the agricultural industry.
Some growers are using this particular shortcut knowingly but many others may be pumping their pot full of PGRs without even knowing it as this controversial compound has been found (often unlabeled) in many popular brands of fertilizers and nutrients. If growers use those products and just so happen to see tighter, denser, and heavier nugs as a result… win/win, right? What’s wrong with increased yields and solid buds, anyway?
It’s no secret that, for the most part, the regulated cannabis market in California is flooded with mid-grade weed that is barely worthy of a blunt wrap for most seasoned smokers. The logistics of the supply chain and the way things have to be packaged in today’s market can mutilate even the best-grown buds by the time they reach the end-user but, sadly, most of the supply these days was pretty shoddy to begin with. We call it California’s “Mids Life Crisis”.
As many state-sanctioned cultivators struggle to stay afloat in the new legal market, too many are feeling the pressure of whatever deal they signed with the devil to fund their startup and are willing to do whatever it takes to make their numbers make sense. PGRs are the perfect tool for such an unscrupulous job.
Simply put, the way that PGRs boost cannabis yields is by pumping those nugs full of water at the cellular level which leads to the expansion. You are not boosting the vigor or potency of the plant, that added weight is literally moisture and cellulose. So while California cannabis testing labs are not required to flag samples for PGR levels, they will show lower overall THC levels — bigger buds do not always equal stronger buds.
So how can you tell if that herb you are inspecting at the dispensary has been treated with Plant Growth Regulators? Here are a few telltale signs to look for:
- Buds that are extremely hard or dense in structure
- Buds with an excessive amount of pistils, often matted or intertwined
- Pistils often have more of a brown hue than the rusty orange seen on healthy buds
- Distinct lack of visible developed trichomes
- Lack of strain-appropriate aroma
Still unsure? Ask the budtender direct questions about it. Who grew it? Where was it grown? Research that feedback or pass on those products if that information is unknown. At the end of the day, it is our job as consumers to do the due diligence to ensure that what we put into our bodies is legit. Relying on any company or corporation to do that for you is naïve, particularly when it comes to the Wild West of legal weed.
Roughly a decade after the FDA banned the use of synthetic Plant Growth Regulators on crops meant for human consumption, the Environmental Protection Agency followed suit in the 1980s by placing even heavier restrictions on the use of certain PGRs and labeling them as environmental pollutants. The EPA warned that exposure to these synth PGRs could elevate a person’s risk of cancer 240 times higher than the acceptable standard.
That being said, many of those studies involved subjecting rats to astronomical levels of various PGRs in order to trigger negative reactions and there is no hard evidence that smoking weed treated with PGRs is much different than eating In n’ Out instead of a home-cooked burger. But, to us, it does matter and we will avoid synthetic PGR weed at all costs. We don’t want to smoke it, we don’t want to vape it, and we certainly have no interest in extracting it to create full-spectrum cannabis oil. Nothing about Plant Growth Regulators benefits the consumer, period.
Now, that’s not to say that all PGRs are bad news. In fact, there are many natural sources for Plant Growth Regulators that can be useful and healthy supplements for your fertilizer or nutrient base. But as a grower, you should feel obligated to thoroughly understand how they are sourced from nature and exactly how they work with the balanced chemistry of your plants before putting them to use. Failure to do so can take you from “Top Shelf” to “Midzotics” real quick!
Remember, fellow cultivators: If your SOP calls for more PGRs, then your QC is probably BS.
Look for PGRs to make a major splash in the newly established American hemp marketplace as the importance of higher yields compounds dramatically at the large scale that those farms will be operating at. Combine that with the relative lack of lab testing requirements and Plant Growth Regulators figure to play a large role in helping the U.S. compete in the global market. American hemp is mandated by federal law to produce a ridiculously low 0.3% THC content, so the fact that PGRs murder trichomes only helps growers and manufacturers.
As for what role Plant Growth Regulators will play in the future of cannabis, that will likely come down to regulation since we see that there are too many growers who are willing to cut that corner when it is left up to them. At the very least, plant fertilizer and nutrient companies should be mandated by law to accurately list all ingredients and contents of their products. That way the growers who are trying to do the right thing can make informed decisions about how they treat their gardens, farms, and warehouse grows.
Finally, as consumers, we can speak with our hard-earned dollars. Quit buying PGR tainted buds! Tell your favorite dispensary that you aren’t interested in buying those products. If enough of us do exactly that, the free market will… ahem… weed out the PGR growers and those who push their products.
Beard Bros. Pharms has earned their reputation as a trusted source for cannabis news, content creation, and culture preservation. With decades of experience in cultivation and marketing, their fearless voice for the plant includes advocacy for veterans, inmates, people of color, and anyone else who has been oppressed by generations of cannabis prohibition. See what they’re up to now at BeardBrosPharms.com
Taking the Temperature of Northern California’s Heritage Cannabis
Long story short, it’s rocky out there for many of the Emerald Triangle’s heritage cannabis businesses — but they want to be doing it legally.
It’s been over two years since Proposition 64 was passed in California. Profit projections, law enforcement, the black market, and climate change have kept the cannabis business in the Golden State everything but predictable. People continue to be imprisoned for crimes connected to cannabis while legal businesses are turning a profit. Legal weed has even backfired on the people who made it legal, as big corporate investors coming in change their business landscape.
Yet it remains a general consensus that legalization is all for the better. No one wants to go to jail anymore for growing or selling weed, there’s absolutely no denying the many medical benefits of the plant and hemp is poised to present itself as the green alternative to the overconsumption of fossil fuel products. Cannabis is a disruptor to big pharma, big alcohol and big tobacco, which in turn has the “bigs” attempting to either sabotage and/or establish themselves in the marketplace.
Long story short, it’s rocky out there for many running legitimate legal cannabis businesses but they want to be doing it.
Northern California took a big hit — and it wasn’t just profit loss. While policymakers tried to model California’s legal market after Colorado, they fell short because the cultivators in California don’t operate the same way. The green rush flooded prime growing communities with people who were so green to cannabis, it doesn’t seem right to even call them that. But many heritage cannabis farmers in these communities wanted to break the cycle of fear instilled over the years and moved forward with legalization regardless, for all the right reasons.
Chiah Rodriques and her husband James Beatty run River Txai Farms and Arcanna Flowers, the brand and sustainable cannabis farm and nursery in Mendocino County. Rodriques and Beatty grew up on a large back-to-land intentional community and are second-generation Mendo cannabis farmers.
Committed to legal growing since the 9.31 ordinance enacted in 2008, they founded Mendocino Generations, a collective of sustainable cannabis farms in Mendocino County who strive to work together as a brand, farm landrace genetics, and promote “better living through cannabis.”
But keeping Mendo’s exceptional cannabis tradition alive throughout legalization has presented challenges. Visiting the area during this season’s harvest, I took the temperature with Rodriques.
“Basically over-regulation is like the ankle-biter,” shared Rodriques. “It’s the Achilles heel of the small farmer because in order to compete in this market you have to cultivate enough cannabis to compete with farms in other counties with larger cultivation allowances. Ultimately, they’re our competition but on a shelf with jars of cannabis, they’re not, because you wouldn’t want to put that cannabis in a pretty jar on a shelf — most of that product is going to oil and biomass. You have different levels of competition. You have competition for pricing because their cannabis is still going into the market, which makes prices fluctuate. Then you have the shelf space for all the brands, and lots of these brands thought that they could do a small brand and survive with that, but I don’t think that that’s really going to play out as we thought. Running a small brand takes a lot of overhead.
“Basically it’s hard to know if your brand from one small farm can have enough cannabis if your brand goes big,” she continued. “You may need to start reaching out and getting cannabis for your brand from other cultivators. In Mendocino County, we have a disadvantage because we can only cultivate 10,000 sq. ft., but there is a push for there to be a ballot to change it to one acre. That has mixed reviews from the farmers too, basically half the farmers hate that idea and half the farmers are into it. I think that’s mostly because they don’t have the space or the water or the infrastructure to handle that much.”
Rodriques believes that a contributor to the disconnect in policy is that no one consulted with Mendo’s heritage cannabis farmers when creating regulations.
“Farmers were not invited to the table until much of the ordinance was in place and there was a big rush to push things through as is and make changes later — so the county was ready for Prop 64 to go into effect. It was a race to the finish line. They didn’t think we had valid concerns, or maybe felt like the hippies needed to get organized. Admittedly so, we were all over the place with requests and needs that I’m sure it was overwhelming to lawmakers,” Rodriques said.
There was no real insight into what is actually practical or what is actually happening on farms in the area. Most of the regulations were written around indoor cultivation and don’t play out for sun-grown farms in Mendo.
A more community-oriented step towards action is the Mendocino Appellations Project, a group designed to set up a process for defining cannabis appellations, which are geographic areas in which small farmers can classify their crop with that name. A valiant effort, it plays into marketing and promotion, though the true cannabis aficionado will appreciate the information the same way a wine connoisseur likes to know where exactly a pinot noir grape is grown.
Small farming is no easy task in itself and going legal has created hardships for many.
“I think last year sucked so bad most people were struggling pretty hard, and in terms of pricing, it was bad last year,” said Rodriques. “Crops this year were a mixed bag. We definitely had a lot of people who had frost, and we had mold. There’s a lot of powdery mildew this year because the rain didn’t come. It’s like this weird humid that makes no sense because it’s really been dry. There’s been a lot of theft. There have been a lot of fires, so there’s smoke damage material.
“[As for] the market, who knows what it’s actually going to look like in the next couple months. Right now, its sort of a mixture, a lot of people are saying they’re going to back out. A lot of people are scared, but then there’s a lot of people that are moving forward with all these other ideas and plans. They’re doing okay, so it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen with the ultimate heritage cultivators, like my parents’ generation. Most of them aren’t doing it anymore because they were on the brink of retirement anyway so who wants to go through all this bullshit, right?”
Recently, the county has realized they’re not getting as much tax money as they hoped and the Board of Supervisors are planning to give the small farmers what’s called a Cannabis Cultivation Amnesty Transition Pathway. The plan would give more years for legacy growers to transition into county compliance, which may help attract more applications. The vote was unanimous to create the Amnesty, which Rodriques sees as the county throwing them a bone. Considering 1588 total people applied to participate in legal cannabis in the county, and only 232 were approved and issued permits, and it appears not many more would apply since the regulations are so problematic. Building and planning issues like commercial zoning and ADA rules for bathrooms and parking lots are costing farms money they don’t have. Especially when the reality is it’s usually not probable to have anyone in a wheelchair working on a farm. Workarounds are likely because people are trying to be compliant, but the same rules are putting people in uncomfortable positions.
“Comparatively to Humboldt, I would say that Mendo is struggling a little bit harder and that’s more because the bureaucracy hasn’t allowed people to get into the system,” Rodriques concluded.
Everything You Need to Know If You’re New to Dabbing
Dabbing is an ideal ingestion method best for those that have a high tolerance to cannabis or patients that need a quick, controlled dose of cannabis.
Dabbing is an ideal ingestion method best for those that have a high tolerance to cannabis or for medical users that need a quick, concentrated and controlled dose of cannabis. However, it can be confusing, even for long-time pot smokers. In fact, unless you’ve done it, seen it, or read up on it, dabbing can be a total mystery.
Dabbing is a relatively new way to consume cannabis and it is has become very popular in recent years despite rumors that it is dangerous. It is a highly concentrated experience, with THC at levels much more elevated than most regular flower you would encounter in a joint. For patients, dabbing can be a very effective way to dose because the effects hit the user very quickly and can typically be measured more easily. For those with a high tolerance for cannabis, dabbing can be a way of feeling the effects of pot with more potency.
Before you can get into dabbing, you need to know a little about cannabis concentrates and extracts. Shatter, budder, wax, crumble, pull and snap, and hash oil are a few of the most popular types of cannabis concentrates and extracts. Extracts and concentrates are named so because they are products of a process where THC and other cannabinoids are extracted from the flower. Sometimes, during the extraction process, a solvent (like alcohol or butane) can be used and other times a solvent is not used. Either way, the final product is a smaller, stickier package that packs a powerful punch.
The Dabbing Process
Keep in mind that nails and domes can get incredibly hot. Like, RED hot, literally. Do not underestimate the heat that can occur — be cautious to prevent any burns.
First, you will need something to dab. We have heard the recommendation more than once to keep away from alcohol-based extracts when dabbing. Consult your budtender about this one, or just skip alcohol based-extracts — your call. There are a lot of concentrates and extracts to choose from, enjoy the hunt for your perfect pick.
Next you need something to dab out of. You can purchase a dab rig or just convert an existing glass water pipe with glass dab attachments. You are also going to need a titanium, ceramic, quartz or electronic nail that fits the glass dab attachment you are using. A typical nail is going to require the use of a dome in order to trap the vapor before it dissipates into the air. A dome can be as simple as a glass piece that fits over the reservoir where the extract or concentrate is vaporizing.
Get your dabber ready. A dabber is a tool that is ceramic, metal, glass, that is used to place the dab, or concentrate/extract, on the super-hot nail.
Lastly, unless you are using an electronic nail or e-mail, you will need a mini torch. Some less patient dabbers will use a full-on, propane-fueled torch in order to more quickly heat their nails — experiment at your own risk. In case the dab is a little overwhelming for you and your body, the safest place for you to be is sitting down to avoid any falls.
Turn on your e-nail OR use your torch to heat your nail until it is red-hot. Allow it cool for at least 10 seconds (for titanium) and up to 45 seconds if you are using ceramic or quartz nail.
Once cooled, use your dabber to place your concentrated dab on the nail. Place the dome over the nail as you inhale. Then, exhale. Victory!
If you weren’t already sitting down, you probably will be now!
Take these words of advice to heart — start small. If you haven’t tried dabbing at all before, don’t make your very first dab a large one. You won’t regret taking a small dab, but you might regret taking one that is too big. Always ask your budtender any questions you have about your purchase and if the product you are buying is the best thing you can buy for dabbing, vaporizing, smoking, etc.
The Mighty Trichome: From Bag Appeal to a Billion Dollar Business
There are an ever-increasing amount of methods to ingest cannabis these days, but it all comes down to the mighty trichome and the microverse of molecules swirling inside. Our knowledge of the importance of the trichome is still developing, but let’s take a trip back to the good ol’ days… back when eyeballing an eighth was an earned skill and legendary strains like Hawg’s Breath, Bullrider, and White Widow were pushed in ziplock bags out of the backpacks and trunks of your local neighborhood hustler.
If you’ve ever scored weed on the streets you can probably relate, and in those wilder days money and product often changed hands quickly, leaving the buyer with little time for any sort of inspection of the goods. We were trained to hone in on certain aspects that collectively took on a name of their own: “bag appeal”.
Our crew has always sought out the best of the best, and before we knew all that we know now, we already recognized that buds that had a heavier blanket of sticky, shiny crystals typically led to a tastier and stonier experience.
Taking a Closer Look at Trichomes
Once we started growing our own cannabis we began to recognize those crystals for what they actually were — trichomes, the microscopic mushroom-shaped outgrowths that produce and house the very cannabinoid and terpene profiles that differentiate our favorite cultivars from one another.
There are quite literally hundreds of known cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes which when combined in varying ratios produce the gassiest OGs, the heaviest purps, and the headiest hazes that we all know and love. The trichome is essentially the factory where all of those compounds are created and combined. Everything from the strength, the aroma, the flavor, and the overall effects of a particular strain of cannabis all emanate from the trichome.
The cannabis plant produces trichomes naturally on its flowers, fan leaves, branches and stalks. This coating of trichs is more abundant in the later stages of the plant’s growth cycle and is fueled by UV light as its contents continue to mature. This is the main reason why plants grown indoors typically have a higher THC content than the same strain grown outside. The consistent light source may boost the percentages, but we have learned that more trichomes do not always necessarily mean a “better” bud. Outdoor-grown weed lovers will contend that a broader spectrum of light (sunlight) leads to a broader spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Quality over Quantity
Zooming in on the cannabis plant, you’ll notice that trichomes generally form in three different fashions, and that form tells us quite a bit about the contents within.
Capitate Stalked Trichomes
The average human eye can detect items as small as 40 micrometers, or microns. As the largest (50-100 microns wide) and most abundant of the three categories of trichs, the Capitate Stalked Trichome is visible to the naked eye and is what puts the bling in bag appeal. When the plant is being grown properly, these multicellular trichs will feature a strong stalk leading to a waxy, round head. It is in that top floor that top-shelf trichs are formed.
Capitate Sessile Trichomes
Slightly less abundant in number than their Stalked counterparts, the Capitate Sessile Trichome will resemble a stunted version of them. They still play an important role in the ‘entourage effect’ that we get when we consume the full spectrum of cannabinoids.
At about a quarter of the width of a human hair, you are 100% more likely to notice a human hair in your bag of weed than you will the Bulbous Trichomes blanketing your buds. Even without a stalk, these basic microscopic bulbs also contribute to the full spectrum that many medicinal users seek. Like all trichomes, the abundance of these sticky outgrowths also serves to deter pests, particularly on plants grown outdoors and in greenhouses.
As a grower, it is crucial to become familiar with the ideal growth cycle of the strains in your stable. The difference between chopping plants down on Day 58 or on Day 64 can change an uplifting Sativa-like hybrid into a couch-locking sleep aid and that has way more to do with the maturity of the trichomes than it does the cultivar or phenotype.
There is a fine line between maturing and degrading and most cultivators make use of a handheld microscopic lens, perhaps a 50x zoom, to monitor the development of their plants’ trichs as they get closer to their target harvest date.
Though this can vary from strain to strain, clear heads on trichs generally indicate that the plant Is not fully mature. THC and other desirable cannabinoids are being formed, but be patient.
Once the trichomes display a milky or cloudy composition under the scope the plant can be harvested and the resulting buds and concentrates should deliver as heady and uplifting of an effect as the phenotype allows.
Over the course of the next few days, the observant grower will notice swaths of trichs turning to an amber color. It is very common for growers to chop their crop as soon as they determine that 30% of their heads are amber. With many strains, this will deliver the blend of heady vs. heavy that most consumers are after but it definitely varies.
For example, Beard Bros. Pharms is known for our superior cut of Extreme Cream which is absolutely caked in glistening trichs. Bill Levers, co-founder, reveals some insider information on their phenomenal phenotype.
“We first began harvesting her at just over eight weeks when her trichomes first began turning amber from cloudy,” said Levers. “We found that by allowing her another seven to 10 days and not harvesting until half or better of the trichomes were turning amber, that we received a much more desirable terpene and cannabinoid profile.”
As a consumer, it is important to recognize that trichomes continue to degrade even after the buds are trimmed, cured, packaged and sold. Factors like ambient temperature, light, physical agitation, and even time will age your trichs. What is the best solution? Smoke them before that happens!
For real though, any grower worth their weight in worm castings will take great care in producing potent trichs and it’s up to us to appreciate them. Regardless of how big the cannabis industry eventually becomes, it all begins in the dome of the trichome.
Beard Bros. Pharms has earned their reputation as a trusted source for cannabis news, content creation, and culture preservation. With decades of experience in cultivation and marketing, their fearless voice for the plant includes advocacy for veterans, inmates, people of color, and anyone else who has been oppressed by generations of cannabis prohibition.
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