At the High Times U.S. Cannabis Cup in Seattle, it was no surprise that the most popular expert panels were those on cultivation. It was standing room only to see celebrity growers talk and, believe me, these guys really love plants. Cannabis has been on quite an exciting ride lately and this wasn’t your standard garden club meeting; the conversations were peppered with both scientific botany terms and grower slang. (Ever hear of “seed surgery"?)
While growing tips and wisdom were dispensed, overall the discussion focused on the need for the continued support of growers and their art to avoid a pharmaceutical takeover. Given the huge profits that stand to be made on a legalized, industrialized medical cannabis system, it’s a concern for all of us that know beautiful flowers make the best medicine.
Where Have All the Strains Gone?
The biggest concern within the growing community is the fact that the genetic pool is becoming quite limited by overproduction of the most popular strains. “There are so many bastardized versions of everything,” Swerve, a grower with Cali Connections Seed Bank, said. He admitted to being guilty of the crime himself. “It’s a Kush-driven market and that’s because it’s a faster flower, and it has the 'hit' that people are looking for to get medicated.” He challenged growers to grow new and different strains rather than just something with a sellable name.
Only by maintaining a diverse and expanding gene pool can people have the range to grow and discover the best medical strains (and the best recreational ones, too). Many of the strains entered in the Cup were from smaller growers and collectives, and it is from these types of “homegrown” experiments that some of the most unique and popular strains have been born. DJ Short said that despite current trends to breed for an exotic smell or taste, for him it’s still all about the effects.
The resources and anecdotal research the medical community provides is leading to more strains being successfully grown to treat specific conditions. The most famous current example of this is Charlotte’s Web, which was developed as an anti-seizure medication.
Where are We Headed?
The best way for growers to keep up with the cannabis industry sprint is by working with new technology that gives them better medical quality plants that are also more efficient to produce. The best techniques are already in use, such as Sea of Green and Screen of Green growing to maximize the amount of plants and eventual yield.
Hydroponics, where plants are grown in water and fed liquid nutrients rather than grown in soil, are also still vitally important. As the industry moves to more standardized mass production, hydroponic greenhouses are going to be the way to go. Besides being better for the environment, it may be the easiest way to keep things as sterile as possible for consumers by eliminating the need to sanitize tons of soil.
A rapt audience listens to legendary cultivator DJ Short.
Kyle Kushman is all about his Veganics system, in which no animal products are used. What makes this different from organic growing? The absence of commonly used products such as bat guano, bone meal and blood meal which, besides sounding like boiling cauldron ingredients, can still be organic. Whether or not you care about the vegan aspect to it, Kushman explained that the animal-derived options are making plants work too hard. Veganics replaces these with kelp, seaweed and other innovative fertilizers that are more efficiently digested by plants and leave your soil clean of any bones or bat poo. It may sound like another health trend bandwagon, but Kushman’s Veganic Strawberry Cough took Top Flower at Sunday night’s awards ceremony.
It’s through chemistry that growers are really going to be able to keep their products on the cutting edge. A pretty common refrain was that lab testing is what's going to bring legitimacy and standardization to the industry. The Cup’s own high CBD category was determined by lab results alone. What remains to be seen is what the standard tests will end up being; currently there are a range of testing methods available. Not only do we need to figure out how testing should be done, but there are many different things to test for. Which ones are most important?
Terpenes were the buzzword of the weekend, and everyone is really excited about these compounds that give strains their unique smells and tastes. Not just decorative, they are thought to enhance the strain’s medicinal effects, have oxidation properties and may fight tumors. More than one grower got a little dreamy-eyed talking about the possibilities of a new world of products that could be created with more terpene research. Along with CBDs, these possibilities are more evidence that cannabis’ unique effects on people are about the whole plant, not just the THC.
As dabbing and other other consumption methods become more popular, there seems to be a real possibility that we’ll be seeing a lot less cannabis flowers on the medical and legal markets. When asked by an audience member what strain he thinks people will be smoking in 10 years, Kushman laughed and said, “Hopefully we’ll be smoking and not dabbing.” He was only partially joking and highlighted the real concern that as other options grow, people will have less interest in the humble plant that this powerful medicine comes from.
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