The Most Efficient Way to Smoke Cannabis? Study Says Dabs

There are so many different ways to use cannabis. But have you ever wondered what method is most efficient? A new study points to dabbing–suggesting that inhaling heated extract vapor maximizes delivery of cannabis’ active ingredients.

Dabbing Outperforms Alternatives

According to the 2019 study from Forensic Science International, dabbing is significantly more efficient at delivering cannabis’ main active ingredient–THC–compared to other inhaled methods like burning a joint or a pipe bowl.

Over 75% of the THC in a dab makes it into the users’ lungs. By contrast, smoking cannabis destroys about 75% of the THC before it can get into the user, the study found.

The experiment utilized a machine built in-house which replicated smoking and dabbing, while collecting the smoke and vapor for analysis. The smoke or vapor that would have made its way into the lungs was analyzed for cannabinoid content. Comparing this result with the cannabinoids in the original sample, scientists were able to estimate how much THC and CBD from the original cannabis product would make its way into the consumer’s system. They called that the “recovery rate”.

Previous Studies on Vaping, Smoking and Joints

While this study points to vast differences between smoking and dabbing, earlier studies found less pronounced results. A 2015 study by Dr. Jeffrey Raber found decent recovery rates for smoking, with a range of 27.5% to 46.3%. While this represents a more optimistic picture for cannabis smokers, it is still significantly lower than the reported 75.5% recovery rate for dabbing.

Dabbing is also different than “vaping”. Dabbers inhale extract that’s boiling off a heated piece of quartz, ceramic, or titanium.

Vapers might be toasting flower in a Pax, or a Volcano, or sipping vapor from the equivalent of an e-cigarette.

Research on vaporizers shows a wide range of recovery rates that vary greatly based on the vaporizer used. Most vaporizers averaged recovery rates in the mid-to-high 50’s. One study showed rates from 51.4% – 82.7%, depending on the vaporizer. Only one vaporizer studied came close to the recovery rates for dabbing.

Keep Those Temps Low

While dabbing seems to outperform the other methods at first glance, Dr. Raber argues that dabbing doesn’t always have such high recovery rates. His team performed experiments on dabbing and pipe smoking, along with his research on joints. They found much lower rates of recovery for dabbing–around 40%. His research suggests that dabbing is on par with smoking when it comes to recovery.

Still, he says, “It is certainly possible that you could see high efficiency in terms of recovery via a dab.”

So why would we see such large variation in these studies?

“It seems to primarily be based on temperature,” explains Dr. Raber.

Higher temperatures lead to more combustion, which may destroy or convert active cannabinoids into something else.

In Raber’s experiments, he analyzed not only the smoke and vapor that goes to the lungs, but also the ash, side stream, and the exhaled smoke. Still, they only recovered about 50% of the cannabinoids from the original sample. The other 50% of the cannabinoids seemed to be destroyed or converted into something else. So, the new study may have used a lower temperature to dab, reducing combustion.

While combustion seems to be the culprit for smoking’s low numbers, we simply can’t assume that these cannabinoids just ‘go up in smoke’. After all, smoking joints has a strong effect that feels quite different from vaping or dabbing.

“It is quite possible other molecules that form during combustion, which are absent in vaporization, are leading to some of those experienced physiological effects,” explains Dr. Raber. Unfortunately, it would be very difficult to determine specifically what that molecule might be.

Is It Dab-O-Clock Yet? Leafly Locates Your Local Dab Menus

Is Dabbing THCA More Efficient?

Another important factor in the varying rates is the composition of the extracts used.

“We did observe differences depending on concentrate composition,” recounts Dr. Raber about his own study.

Raber’s study used extract rich in THC, while the new study used the natural “acid” form of THC — called “THCA” — that you’ll find on the fresh plant. The difference is important.

It may be that dabbing with THCA extracts offers a particularly efficient way to consume THC.

(We’re getting into organic chemistry here, but when you heat THCA it becomes THC — which is great for your recovery rate. But if you heat THC, it becomes CBN — bad for your recovery rate. This is why old weed is so weak. The THCA has mostly become THC and or worse, CBN.)

High-THCA extracts have become increasingly available in recent years, but they aren’t the standard when it comes to dabbing.

Is dabbing really more efficient overall? Or is it about low-temp dabbing with THCA to max out recovery rates? More research is needed to fully understand this picture.

Face-Off: Dabs and vapes might beat joints for efficiency. Note: rates can vary by device, method and chemistry Sources: 'A preliminary investigation of lung availability of cannabinoids by smoking marijuana or dabbing BHO and decarboxylation rate of THC- and CBD-acids.' Marianne Hadener, Sina Vieten, Wolfgang Weinmann, Hellmut Mahler. Forensic Science International, Vol. 295. February 2019, Pages 207-212. 'The Conversion and Transfer of Cannabinoids from Cannabis to Smoke Stream in Cigarettes' Sytze Elzinga, Oscar Ortiz, Jeffrey C Raber, Natural Products Chemistry & Research, Jan. 2015
OG Face-Off: Dabs and vapes might beat joints for efficiency. Note: rates can vary by device, method and chemistry
Sources: ‘A preliminary investigation of lung availability of cannabinoids by smoking marijuana or dabbing BHO and decarboxylation rate of THC- and CBD-acids’, Forensic Science International, Feb. 2019; ‘The Conversion and Transfer of Cannabinoids from Cannabis to Smoke Stream in Cigarettes’, Natural Products Chemistry & Research, Jan. 2015; ‘Medicinal Cannabis: In Vitro Validation of Vaporizers for the Smoke-Free Inhalation of Cannabis’ PLoS One. 2016 (Graphic by Leafly)

Sounds like low-temp, THCA dabs might be the way to go! Comment below!

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Colorado’s Top CBG Grower Just Happens to Be Blind

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, spindly Aspen forests and their own cattle herd, Rob and Linda Trotter of Pot Zero Farms in Western Colorado have discovered a spot that’s ideal for growing special cannabis in an eco-friendly way.

The Trotters have harnessed the magic of this environment–uncontaminated “snow-to-grow” mountain water, intense ultraviolet light, and biodynamic farming practices–to create some of the most CBG-rich cannabis plants in the business.

Snow melts off nearby 12,000 ft. mountains, trickles down collecting mineral nutrients and feeds Trotter’s 3,800 plants, which are never treated with chemicals or pesticides. Instead, they use a horde of 100,000 lady bugs to protect against aphid infestation, and a heard of Scottish highlander cows fertilize the soil.

What’s more, for the last 30 years Rob has lived with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that causes his retina to deteriorate and has left him 85 percent blind.

Pre-Dawn Patrol

As a result, Rob’s farming methods are intense and peculiar. He wakes up every morning before the sun has a chance to crest the horizon.

‘Eyes are an overwhelming sense. They block out other senses. Once you remove it, the other ones go way up.’

Rob Trotter, cannabis farmer, CBD specialist

He navigates winding, rugged terrain in the dark, unlocks a secured gate, toggles some equipment, and walks through the plantation to feel and smell plants.

As his vision worsens, he says his cultivation acumen improves due to what he considers a “sixth sense”. Rob is capable of detecting slight changes in temperature on the back of his neck, allowing him to strategize his planting accordingly. He picks leaves by feel and smells buds to determine optimum time to harvest.

“Eyes are an overwhelming sense,” he says. “They block out other senses. Once you remove it, the other ones go way up. There’s a lot of benefit there.”

While driving his four-wheel buggy, he points out the hydroelectric pump, which he services and maintains based on how it sounds. This single turbine powers the entire facility and contributes to a zero-chemical, zero-waste operation. The Trotters pride themselves on marrying the green industry with green energy.

“It’s all about the plants, and all about this place, and me not screwing it up,” he said.

Fire and Snow Muck Up Your Plans

The environment isn’t always this forgiving, though. The Tritter’s grow cycle has been threatened by drought and the Lake Christine Fire, which burned more than 12,500 acres about seven miles away. And in October of 2017, eleven inches of snow dumped on the plants during harvest.

Surprisingly, the unexpected storm enhanced Pot Zero’s cannabis plants. After the snows, the Trotters discovered their plants were suddenly loaded with 15-30 percent THC and 1.5-4 percent CBG, the latter of which is one of the rarest and most therapeutic cannabinoids.

“Pretty much like the human race, with these plants what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Trotter. “They can be tortured by the weather, as long it does not kill them, and they are actually just stronger from it. They adapt, they cope, and they perform.”

Growing Every Day

For 30 years, Rob Trotter has lived with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that causes his retina to deteriorate. He says he is 85 percent blind. As his vision worsens, his cultivation acumen improved due to what he considers a “sixth sense”. “Eyes, to tell you the truth are such an overwhelming sense, that they block out your other senses. Once you remove it, the other ones go way up. There’s a lot of benefit there,” he said. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter check on his plants July 24, 2018 at TNT Ranch. The result is a pure product loaded with 15-30 percent THC and 1.5-4 percent CBG. Rob calls the unique compound “recreational therapeutic”, which allows for a more body-high with less anxiety. “They’re going to produce better camabinoid profiles under the sun and with minerals in the ground, and we’re proving that,” he said.(Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

A temporary worker carries trays of plants to put in the ground on June 19, 2018 at TNT Ranch. There are 3,800 plants between 10 to 12 strains. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter opens a gate with his dog Chong while driving his buggy up the road to an upper lake to divert water May 16, 2018 at TNT Ranch. Snow melts off of nearby 12,500 foot mountains, trickles down collection minerals and nutrients, and feeds his plants. 2018 reported minimal snowpack and basins were about 60 percent of normal accumulations. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Plants shortly after the germination phase May 26, 2018 at TNT Ranch in Gypsum, CO. Pip cleaners are used to hold up plants that are too weak. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter turns off a light in a container June 19, 2018 at TNT Ranch. “Because of my eyesight, I do everything by feel. So if I pick fan leaves, I can feel them and know where they are located. I just come down the plant with my hands. Bang bang bang,” he said. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter hops over a fence after corralling his cattle July 24, 2018 at TNT Ranch. The Trotters have 35 head of Scottish highlanders that are used to fertilize the soil. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

(Rob Trotter uses a watering can on his plants before planting in the soil June 19, 2018 at TNT Ranch. Snow melts off of nearby 12,500 foot mountains, trickles down collection minerals and nutrients, and feeds his plants. The Pot Zero concept combines a subalpine environment with an idiosyncratic process to result in a special product. There’s no use of chemicals or pesticide. Instead, they launch a horde of 100,000 lady bugs to eat aphids and mice. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Francoios Nanin, a full-time, seasonal head gardener, uses a magnifying glass to check if a plant is ready to be harvested Sept. 29, 2018 at TNT Ranch. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Francoios Nanin, a full-time seasonal head gardener, drinks some water June 1, 2018 at TNT Ranch. “As far as I can tell, unless something changes, it’s going to be a warm, warm year,” Rob Trotter said. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter cleans a filter to the irrigation system June 19, 2018 at TNT Ranch. This is the first day plants were in the soil. The entire compound is also powered by a hydroelectric pump, which he services and maintains based on hearing. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Francoios Nanin, a full-time seasonal head gardener, removes make-shift greenhouses that protect the plants and allow for sunlight June 1, 2018 at TNT Ranch. The plants have been moved outside containers and will be ready to be planted in the soil in a couple weeks. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter uses a sprinkler hose to spray water on his property July 24, 2018 at TNT ranch. This grow cycle has been threatened by drought and the Lake Christine Fire, which burned more than 12,500 acres about seven miles away. “We will continue to monitor the fire and keep the compound wet,” he said. The Trotters has packed up valuable possessions in a car in case they were evacuated. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter smells his plants shortly after the germination phase May 26, 2018 at TNT Ranch in Gypsum, CO. Trotter has been a farmer for 25 years, mostly cows and hay, but started growing marijuana in May 2015. He never asked others for tips or advise, and instead relied on trial and error. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter and a temporary employee weigh a plant using a scale before harvesting Sept. 29, 2018 at TNT Ranch. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter feels plants to see if they are ready for harvest Sept. 29, 2018 at TNT Ranch. “I can’t see the trichomes. I can tell a plant is done on two things, smell and hardness,” Trotter said. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Francoios Nanin, a full-time seasonal head gardener, carefully measures chemicals to properly pH the water supply June 19, 2018 at TNT Ranch. “We use nematodes in our water to protect against infestation of lava at roots. There’s things you do with mother nature that make the whole thing work without having to go into synthesized chemicals, and especially that’s really important with marijuana. Because they are sucker plants that pick up everything from the soil and put it into their buds,” Rob Trotter said. “The better, cleaner the soil is, the better the product is going to be.” (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Francoios Nanin, a full-time, seasonal head gardener, moves different strains of marijuana June 1, 2018 at TNT Ranch. The plants have been moved outside containers and will be ready to be planted in the soil in a couple weeks. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter check on his plants July 24, 2018 at TNT Ranch. The Trotters have 3,800 plants between 10 to 12 strains. The Pot Zero concept combines a subalpine environment with an idiosyncratic process to result in a special product. There’s no use of chemicals or pesticide. Instead, they launch a horde of 100,000 lady bugs to eat aphids and mice. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter walks back to his home after checking on his plants early in the morning on June 1, 2018 with his dog Scout, at TNT Ranch in Gypsum, CO. Trotter walks up a winding road in the dark to toggle lights and fans. He can feel changes in the catabolic air flow on the back of his neck. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

 

Rob Trotter checks on his plants early in the morning on June 1, 2018 with his dog Scout, at TNT Ranch in Gypsum, CO. Because of the high altitude grow operation at 8,200 feet, the farm can experience frost in the summer, and the plants are kept in a container until strong enough. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

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Tips for Growing Cannabis in a Tiny Space

For those who don’t have big properties or extra space, don’t worry: You don’t need a huge space to grow cannabis. Cannabis is an eager plant that will grow nearly anywhere given the right light and nutrients, making a grow room of any size feasible.

Growing in a tiny space has benefits too, allowing you to produce cannabis discreetly, in case you’re afraid of what the neighbors will think. A small grow also won’t create as much noise from machines or generate as much smell and will therefore attract less attention.

A small grow doesn’t necessarily mean small returns, but, you do want to be growing as efficiently as possible. Here are some tips to maximize your tiny space to get the best and biggest returns.

What Your Space Needs

A grow space can be as small as a 2′ x 2′ x 4′ grow tent or as big as a warehouse, but they all have a number of things in common.

  • Adequate space for growth. The bigger the plant can grow, the larger your yields will be. Generally, you’ll need more height than width, to keep the lights off the plants. Space gets tight quickly.
  • Sterilization. Dirty closets won’t suffice–you must be able to keep the space clean and contained from the outside environment. You’ll also need to be able to drain the plants properly and keep them out of standing water.
  • Ventilation. Plants need fresh air. A continual exchange of air is necessary to keep them healthy and vibrant. Depending on where you live, you may need an AC unit or heater to regulate the climate.

Many small-space growers use grow tents, small units where you can grow one to a handful of plants–they can be as small as the size of a laundry hamper. These self-contained units will provide a controllable environment for your plants without the hassle of building out a big grow.

Don’t Burn the Plants

One of the biggest concerns with a tiny grow is lighting. Grow lights run very hot and need to be kept at a safe distance from your plants so they don’t burn buds or leaves. Either the plants must be kept short or your lights need to be elevated–the latter can be hard to pull off in a confined space, so usually plants need to be kept small through topping and pruning.

LEDs are changing the game for small-space growing by providing quality full-spectrum light with minimal heat. This allows plants to grow closer to the light source without damage from heat, while also reducing the need for climate-control equipment to bring down the temperature in your grow. It should be noted that LEDs can still burn your plants, but there is less of a risk than with older lights.

This will give your plants more room to grow and therefore give you a bigger return when it’s time to harvest.

Train Your Plants

With a limited space, you can also train your cannabis plants to increase yields. Some effective methods include:

  • Scrogging (screen of green)
  • Low-stress training (LST)
  • High-stress training (HST)

Scrogging is probably your best bet for getting a high return with minimal space. This process involves weaving the stalks and branches of a plant through a screen–mesh sizes usually range from 3-6 inches square–before switching to a flowering light cycle.

This spreads out the plant’s branches, allowing all nodes to receive more light and also opening up the plant so that middle and lower branches can receive more light. This will give you a level canopy that will fill out with big colas.

Everything below the canopy can be pruned to save energy and keep the space clean and free of pests while the buds have direct exposure to light, increasing your yield.

Low-stress training involves tying down parts of the plant to create offshoots that will lead to additional cola sites.

A more aggressive method, high-stress training increases cola sites through topping or super cropping to promote an even canopy and increased cola sites.

Know Your Genetics

Sativas, indicas, and hybrids all grow differently. Sativas are known for their lanky growth and more open bud structure, while indicas tend to grow short and stocky and have denser buds. Hybrids can have traits from both.

For a tiny grow, indicas will probably be easier to maintain when looking to maximize your space and yield because of their short and stocky nature. Sativas can work too, but you might have to spend more time and attention in pruning them.

Keep in mind that this is a generalization of strains–some indicas grow tall, and some sativas grow short. Be sure to check out Leafly’s strain explorer for growing tips on specific strains.

You can also try growing autoflowering cannabis, plants that start flowering when they get to a certain age, rather than when the light changes. They also grow short and small.

Keep Your Roots Healthy

The grow medium is the home for roots, which send water and nutrients to the rest of the plant. A quality grow medium is especially important for a tiny grow in order to get the most out of a plant in a cramped condition.

Try using complete soils or super soils–they have a majority of the nutrients a plant needs and they allow a plant to efficiently store water for a longer time between waterings.

Be sure to include enough soil in your pots to prevent roots from getting bound. Frequently check to see if roots are exposed. If you see them coming out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, it’s time to transplant it to a bigger pot.

A stunted plant that appears droopy even after watering can also be a sign of roots being bound and needing more soil.

Control the Climate

Climate control is also crucial in a tiny grow. Ideally you want to maintain a healthy temperature of 70-75 degrees with a relative humidity between 40-75%. Using LED lights will reduce the overall temperature and your need to cool down your grow, but you will still need a fan to pull fresh air into your grow space.

Fresh air circulation is crucial to getting high yields, as your plants use CO2 in the process of photosynthesis. Fresh air will give them a boost of growth and will also be effective in cycling new air into your garden while pulling out stale air, keeping the temperature and humidity in check.

Tiny grows can be a lot of fun and will give you insight on the growing process and these methods will improve the quality and yield of your cannabis.

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World Health Organization Calls for Cannabis Rescheduling

International drug treaties have long stood in the way of cannabis reform on the national level. But in newly issued recommendations, the World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s time to change course on how the United Nations categorizes cannabis.

It’s the latest sign that the world is warming to the health benefits of a plant that for decades has been dismissed as a dangerous drug. Reform advocates around the globe were quick to cheer the news.

“This is the best outcome that WHO could possibly have come up with,” said Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli, the head of research at For Alternative Approaches to Addiction Think & Do Tank (FAAAT), a Paris-based drug policy nonprofit. In a statement, Riboulet Zemouli called the recommendation “a beginning of a new evidence and health-oriented cycle for international Cannabis policy.”

The WHO recommendations call for cannabis and its chemical components to be rescheduled under international drug agreements. They advise that whole-plant cannabis as well as cannabis resin be deleted from the most restrictive category (Schedule IV) in a 1961 international drug convention.

(Unlike the US Controlled Substances Act, which labels the most-restricted drugs “Schedule I,” the UN treaty defines Schedule IV as its most-restricted category and Schedule I the least-restricted.)

The recommendations came in a Jan. 24 letter from WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to the secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. The letter has not officially been made public, but drug reform advocates circulated it Friday. The complete letter is embedded below.

If the recommendations are adopted, cannabis and its resin would instead be designated as least-harmful, Schedule I substances under the UN treaty. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its isomers would also be moved to Schedule I of the treaty.

Extracts and tinctures of cannabis would be removed from Schedule I of the 1961 treaty. Pharmaceutical preparations that contain THC would be placed in Schedule III.

The recommendations also echo prior WHO conclusions that pure cannabidiol (CBD) shouldn’t be scheduled at all under international drug conventions, recommending the addition of a provision that would read: “Preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol and not more than 0,2 percent of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabidiol are not under international control.”

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has issued similar advice, suggesting last year in an internal letter that CBD “could be removed from control” under the Controlled Substances Act. Drug Enforcement Administration officials, however, reportedly advised that the 1961 UN convention would stand in the way of federal CBD de-scheduling.

Adoption of the WHO recommendations could open the doors to further US reforms around CBD. While products containing the cannabinoid are widely available online and at stores throughout the country, their legality is still uncertain.

As for how the recommendations would affect the treatment of THC, well… that’s less clear. Longtime cannabis legalization advocate Tom Angell writes at Forbes that the upshot would be more political than practical:

The practical effects of the changes would be somewhat limited, in that they wouldn’t allow countries to legalize marijuana and still be in strict compliance with international treaties, but their political implications are hard to overstate.

Taken together, recommendations, if adopted, would represent a formal recognition that the world’s governing bodies have effectively been wrong about marijuana’s harms and therapeutic benefits for decades. WHO’s new position comes at a time when a growing number of countries are moving to reform their cannabis policies. As such, a shift at the UN could embolden additional nations to scale back or repeal their prohibition laws–even though legalization for non-medical or non-scientific reasons would still technically violate the global conventions.

For now, the recommendations are precisely that–advice, which has yet to be adopted. The proposals will now go to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs, where member nations will vote on whether or not to accept them. It remains unclear how the US will vote.

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