Organic cannabis—does it really matter? Yes!
The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products. When organic farming is harvested, the best practices are designed to reduce pollution, enhance soil and water quality, and foster self-sustaining farms (1). Organic foods and wellness products have become a standard for healthy living over many years, and the recent major growth of the cannabis market has created a demand for organically produced cannabis as well.
Demand for organic cannabis is rising
As the legality and availability of cannabis products increases, savvy consumers want safe, consistent, and high-quality products. Organic farming methods help ensure these goals while adding to the sustainability of the production and environment (2).
Every part of the cannabis plant can be used, and in a multitude of sometimes-surprising ways. Cultivated varieties of cannabis are harvested for their therapeutic and psychoactive cannabinoids, whether ingested in original form or extracted to maximize the potential of compounds like CBD, CBG, CBN, and other minor cannabinoids. Second, cannabis is an excellent nutritional source many describe as a superfood (3). The seeds are harvested for their rich proteins and fatty acids—and you can even eat raw cannabis! Cannabis is also a sustainable textile powerhouse. The fibrous stalks, for example, are harvested and processed into eco-friendly materials for clothing, bedding, etc.
Indica plants, with shorter flowering cycles, grow well in cold, short-season climates and typically produce relaxing effects when used therapeutically. Sativa plants, which can produce energizing and creative effects, have longer flowering cycles, and are better in warm areas with longer seasons (4). Both varieties benefit from organic methods, largely because of the greatly increased nutrient bioavailability that comes with organic methods (5).
The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp defined as cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low concentrations of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis), from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (6). This ushered in an unprecedented period of demand for hemp. Following a rush of active experimentation and development, we have the many innovative CBD products available on the market today, with the promise of endless more to come.
Who says it’s organic?
Organic plants must be grown from non-GMO seeds without using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, so organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods (7). Organic fertilizers are made from plant and animal waste, while non-organic fertilizers likely use raw elemental salts. These salts reduce bio-availability by limiting beneficial microbes and fungi in the soil (5). Bio-availability is important in determining absorption of nutrients and hence the speed and quality of the growth cycle, along with other factors like physical conditions of the soil, soil temperature, moisture content, etc. (8).
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the governing body in the United States that administers the certification of organic industrial hemp production (9), but even without official certification, growers can follow organic production standards to yield clean and sustainable cannabis harvests. The USDA publishes The Program Handbook: Guidance and Instructions for Accredited Certifying Agents and Certified Operations, which exists to guide organic operators through compliance with its National Organic Program.
Why farmers choose organic
There are many advantages that may influence farmers’ decision to pursue organic production. Organic farming increases bio-availability and bio-diversity. It also means safer working conditions for farmers and staff throughout the entire growth cycle.
Cannabis products grown organically have higher purity with no toxins from fertilizers or pesticides. This means less general pollution for the earth and healthier and more productive soil. In addition to the benefits to the farm and staff, purchasers of their yields will rest assured that they’re getting pure organic CBD in every dose.
Why consumers choose organic
There are compelling reasons why consumers want organic products, and why they specifically prefer organically-produced CBD, CBG, CBN, and other hemp-derived products. Organic foods and health products decrease pollution and toxins in the world and deliver clean nutrients to our bodies, which are clear advantages.
This is especially important for cannabis which is a bioaccumulator, meaning it is a type of plant that excels at drawing pollutants from the soil without releasing them as waste, and could be contaminated by these elements if grown in non-organic conditions.10 Research has found that microbes, heavy metals, and pesticides are the most commonly found contaminants in cannabis intended for human consumption, and these can mean exposure to Salmonella, cadmium, fungal spores, and even carcinogenic mycotoxins (11).
Whether the crop was grown indoors or outdoors, there are two common ways to determine if it’s ready to harvest. The first is to observe the hair-like strands on the buds, called stigma, which will start to curl and turn from white to orange, or red to brown. Secondly, the trichomes which are resinous glands all over the plant, will change from clear to opaque to amber.
The plants’s cannabinoids and terpenes are contained in the trichomes, which become fragile at this time. Growers can limit damage by using drying, trimming, and curing practices that minimize agitation in order to preserve these potent products (12).
The value of organic cannabis production is clear to producers and consumers alike and we expect continued demand for organically-made cannabis products. Cannabis users who are interested in natural, toxin-free enjoyment and wellness should always seek high-quality, organically-grown cannabis goods.