When it comes to the cannabis you ingest, you want to be sure you are getting a high-quality product. A lot of that quality comes from the way the cannabis plant is grown—organic and pesticide free. But another factor in quality control is how the buds are preserved.
After all, cannabis, like anything grown for consumption, is a perishable item. So while you might be buying weed for the weekend and don’t care about what’s been done by producers to ensure that you have the freshest product available, producers do care, particularly as repeat customers are the key to their businesses growing. Considering the quality for the longer term means that preservation is as important as the quality of the plants being produced.
Industry standards are changing, but there are some key questions that are producers are asking, and that trend is fanning out to include what consumers are looking for:
- What is perishability, when it comes to cannabis?
- Why should the issue of perishability be important to marijuana consumers, particularly those who smoke it?
- Why does preservation have a big impact on marijuana quality?
What is perishability, when it comes to cannabis?
First off, marijuana is a plant and, like all other plants, it is perishable. Like the tomatoes on the vine or the lettuce in the produce aisle at the grocery store, it can go bad quickly if preservatives aren’t used. Unpreserved marijuana will, over time, lose some of the properties that make it interesting to the consumer. Like fruits and vegetables lose their vitamins and minerals, and an open pop bottle will lose its fizz, cannabis that isn’t properly preserved will lose some of why people buy it in the first place.
Would you drink the pop that has lost its fizz? Maybe, but the experience and part of the reason you enjoy it won’t be the same. It’s the same with cannabis. It won’t have gone bad in the sense that it’s unsafe to smoke it, but the point of smoking is to get high, and those properties—and the resulting experience—are seriously diminished when pot sits around too long and isn’t preserved.
What can cause marijuana to go bad?
- Light — Whether from direct sunlight or from bulbs, light is necessary for growing plants. But when it comes to cultivated buds, the radiation that light emits can affect the end product in a couple of ways. For one, light raises the temperature on a product. With that increase comes other processes that break down plant based elements, like oxidation and discoloration. Ultimately and over time, light will affect a product by breaking it down chemically. For cannabis, that means the breaking down of the THC or CBD, the cannabinoids which make cannabis what it is.
- Oxygen — Another important piece in growing cannabis can be a problem, post cultivation. Exposing the buds to too much air can enhance perishability by allowing the growth of enzymes and microorganisms, which will, at best, affect the flavor and aroma of the weed. Air also affects the plant chemically by breaking down fatty acids contained in it; these acids help maintain both flavor and aroma.
- Humidity — Humidity is, at a basic level, water in the air. When plants of any kind are exposed to too much water, they rot. Humidity in the air creates the conditions for bacteria like yeast or mold to grow and thrive in the plant, which will rot the plant. Too much moisture will also create chemical reactions that deactivate or reduce the potency of the chemicals that cannabis is famous for. Without them, your favorite smokable that has been exposed to moisture might suddenly not have as much kick as a fresh batch might.
- Temperature — As with light exposure, which can raise the temperature of the buds, any heat will impact the shelf life of cannabis. Heat increases natural chemical enzyme reactions and promotes the breakdown of plants. If you combine heat with moisture, then the plant is affected at all levels, including its color, flavor, and odor.
Should perishability be important to cannabis consumers?
With all of the above in mind, it’s clear that if marijuana is improperly stored, the quality suffers. For the end consumer, the overall experience will decrease in potency and enjoyability, over time. One way for producers to avoid issues of perishability is to leverage the ‘entourage effect’.
The entourage effect
The entourage effect is defined as the interaction of cannabis compounds other than THC with THC, to alter the psychoactive effects of the plant. Other compounds include CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes. The entourage effect matters because certain physical effects that a consumer might be looking for in their consumption of cannabis won’t occur without it.
For example, THC is a great treatment for appetite loss while CBD helps to lessen anxiety. You can’t take CBD and hope that your appetite will return. Each has an effect on the physical body that is unique to it. However, if you put THC and CBD together, you now have a variety of effects that come into play that, from a treatment point of view, can be very beneficial. From depression to arthritis, the combination of THC, CBD, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds, treatment for these ailments with cannabis creates a tangible result through a process known as synergy.
Synergy is where two or more substances, or other agents, are combined to create an effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. Each on their own, they are not interchangeable, but if combined, the synergistic effect creates a new benefit. THC on its own will not combat sleep issues, for example. For some people, pure CBD won’t either. The combined synergistic effect of the two compounds can make a very positive difference however.
It’s also important to remember that there is not just one version of marijuana. Cannabis is available in thousands of different strains and each has a unique chemical profile, which creates its own effects. For consumers, it’s important to try different ones to get to the effects you are looking for since one strain of marijuana can make you feel serene while another strain can make you feel nervous. The entourage effect plays an important part in the experience you ultimately have.
To come full circle on this discussion, it’s clear that marijuana is perishable. It can “go bad” if exposed to too much light, oxygen, humidity, and temperature fluctuation. In this chemical breakdown process, the entourage effect is impacted if one element breaks down faster or sooner than another, disturbing the balance that otherwise makes a given strain potent or effective.
This matters to consumers for a simple reason: your experience immediately after buying a strain of marijuana may be completely different a week or two later, because of the breakdown of the plant matter. This is why preservation is vital to sustain quality and maintain the ‘entourage effect’ for a reasonable period; certainly long enough for you to consume your available cannabis.
Why does preservation have a big impact on cannabis quality?
Proper storage is essential to maintain the plant and it goes far beyond where you store your marijuana after you get home from the store. Preservation is a factor that producers need to consider throughout the production process, from initial soil growth, to harvesting and ultimately, packaging and shipping.
A hi-h quality producer will work hard to ensure high standards are maintained throughout the growing process. Organic soils and fertilizers; specific regulation of light, oxygen, humidity, and temperature; and storage options for the end product designed to maintain that hard earned quality level.
Packaging and storage matter
While chemical breakdown of plant based products is a natural occurrence and can’t be fully prevented, the right packaging and storage of your marijuana can slow down the perishability. Like the synergy between the cannabis elements themselves, where one compound on its own benefits from the effects of others, the same goes for preservation and storage. Effective methods to package and store cannabis will extend its shelf life.
From a producer point of view, reclosable metal cans have proven to be the strongest and most effective packaging method available, while at the same time being environmentally friendly. With metal cans the right packaging techniques—such as flushing the package with nitrogen prior to applying the lid to create a hermetic seal—the buds are safe from oxygen, light, and humidity. Unlike plastics, there are no chemicals that can leach into the buds when there are fluctuating temperatures, all of which contributes to a preservation and storage method which can keep flowers fresh for a long time. The added advantage to the closable containers is that the consumer can maintain their marijuana in the cans, to get optimal results even days or weeks post-purchase.
For regular consumers of cannabis, whether recreationally or for medicinal purposes, the quality and longevity of the product is important. Keeping perishables as long as possible makes it easier to make the choice to go with producers who have cared about preservation every step of the way, and into the final production of their product. Quality matters when you’re putting something into your body, and knowing how a producer assures the quality of their product matters too.
Anthony Franciosi also known as Ant, is an honest to goodness farmer whose fingers are as green as the organic cannabis he grows. He is the proud founder of Honest Marijuana – an all natural, completely organic marijuana growery in Colorado. Anthony is also in industry expert contributing his advice to a variety of publications including Bustle, Medium, Elite Daily, Dope Magazine, Sierra Magazine, Marijuanadventure, and more.