Column: Modern cannabis
Published 4:20 pm Saturday, October 22, 2022
For 10,000 years, humans have had a relationship with the cannabis plant. While still hunter gatherers, the nomadic people of south and central Asia learned to harness the power of wild cannabis for uses ranging from medicinal to construction. As man settled into an agrarian lifestyle, the plant traveled down the silk road and permeated cultures around the globe. By the beginning of the 20th century, cannabis was widely used in many products and was the lead ingredient in hundreds of medications sold by Eli Lily and the pharmaceutical industry.
Prohibition of cannabis began in the early twentieth century, initially as a xenophobic reaction of California’s liquor and media interests to the growing use of marijuana among California residents of Mexican heritage. As prohibition grew and the fearmongering of reefer madness swept across the country, access to the medicinal power of cannabis moved to the underground market. For the next 80 years, global prohibition continued and the war on drugs incarcerated thousands of Americans for growing and possessing a plant many used for medicine.
As the AIDS crisis ravaged the gay community, an advocate named Brownie Mary began visiting the Aids ward at San Francisco General, sharing pot brownies with the dying men to provide comfort and relief in their final days. Her groundbreaking advocacy led to the 1996 passage of California Prop 215, allowing for the medical use of cannabis. The victory ushered in the end of cannabis prohibition. The plant is now medicinally legal in 37 states and recreationally legal in 19.
Until the arrival of the war on drugs less than 50 years ago, marijuana was grown outside. As criminal enforcement increased, legacy growers began to hide their crops, moving operations indoors and away from the prying eyes of the law. New cultivation methods developed to accommodate for the drastic differences between growing a plant outside in nature and creating an artificial indoor environment free from pets and pathogens.
The pioneers of indoor growing had a tough time creating light sources powerful enough to provide the plant with the energy it requires while also maintaining an ideal temperature for the plants. As experience in indoor growing advanced, so did the processes. Many replaced dirt with inert grow mediums, eliminating the symbiotic relationship between the living organisms in the soil and the plant growing in it. Plants give off enzymes that enliven the biology resulting in the soil providing the plant what it needs for growth and maturation. Without it, the grower decides what nutrients the plant receives, not nature. That process is known as chemically grown cannabis as opposed to biologically grown cannabis which requires the plant to be in the soil.
Over time some growers developed indoor techniques for growing in living soil and maintaining a healthy environment while also mitigating pests and pathogens. Taking the best from nature and combining it with the technology to grow indoors. The results are excellent and should be the standard for indoor cannabis cultivation. Yet, it is not. Most commercial cannabis sold in the US is chemically grown in inert matter, which results in the loss of aroma and flavor compared to the same strain grown in soil.
The end of cannabis prohibition is a reason for joy. Access to legal, tested cannabis should be what every American should expect. However, as consumers, it’s critical to understand that not all weed is created equal. There is a difference in the flavor, aroma, and effect of chemically grown cannabis vs biologically grown cannabis. Biologically grown plants smell and taste more robust. Consumers demand organic choices at the grocery store. As cannabis consumers learn more, they will also require more from licensed growers, starting with wanting a plant grown in soil and fed organic nutrients.
The world of cannabis is changing fast. For old heads or those new to the plant, take the time to know what you’re using and ask the question: Chemically grown or biologically grown? Side by side, you will smell, taste, and feel the difference. It’s time to increase cannabis education and eliminate the shame associated with this incredible plant.
Mike Noonan is a certified Ganjier and co-owner of Southland Farms in Niles. He loves to share his knowledge and passion for cannabis and to dispel the misinformation surrounding the cannabis plant.