What is hydrocarbon extraction and what cannabis products come from it?Aimee O’Driscoll

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With the extract market burgeoning, there’s an increased focus on how those products are produced. Solvent extraction methods have advanced quickly over the past few years, with popular solvents including ethanol, CO2, and hydrocarbons—organic compounds containing only hydrogen and carbon atoms—which in cannabis are usually butane and propane. If you’ve used vape oil, edibles, or any number of products that incorporate extracts, you could well have been sampling the fruit of hydrocarbon extraction.

While they don’t sound like compounds you want to be ingesting, hydrocarbons have been used in food extraction for over five decades, for example, in the production of flavors and colorings. More recently, compounds like butane and propane are used to produce cannabis extracts with specific profiles. The purity and potency of hydrocarbon extracts vary greatly, but you can find THC-rich extracts that contain up to 90% of the plant’s original cannabinoids.

If carried out correctly, hydrocarbon extracts can be safe, both in terms of minimizing production risks and creating a product fit for consumption. Here we’ll talk about the details of hydrocarbon extraction processes, including their benefits and drawbacks, and we’ll also discuss which products are manufactured in this manner.

Hydrocarbon extracts can come in a variety of forms, including oil, glass, shatter, wax, and hash. These extracts are sometimes synonymous with Butane Hash Oil (BHO), which is often heated and inhaled in a process known as dabbing. That said, hydrocarbon extracts can be used in many other types of products, including edibles, vape cartridges, capsules, and topicals (including transdermal patches).

For extracts to be of high quality, you still need to start with a quality product. For example, nug runs—concentrates that use cannabis flower—are considered of higher quality than trim runs. Plus, the extraction process used, including any refinement steps, will determine the profile and quality of the final product.

Hydrocarbon extraction usually involves butane as the primary solvent, although other hydrocarbons or a blend of two or more may be used. When combined with cannabis plant material, the hydrocarbon dissolves desirable compounds present in the plants.

Butane is an ideal solvent for cannabis extraction—it has a low boiling point of 30.2°F (-1°C) and is used in extraction as a liquified gas. This allows you to avoid exposing temperature-sensitive terpenes and other delicate components to heat.

The boiling point of propane is even lower than that of butane at -43.6°F (-42°C). It’s common to see a blend of both used. Propane may provide benefits by stripping additional desirable compounds, such as terpenes, from the plant. It also allows for a more effective purging of leftover solvent.

Here are the general steps for hydrocarbon extraction:

  • Cold, liquified butane (or hydrocarbon blend) is used to wash the plant matter, dissolving cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD) and terpenes (which provide aroma and flavor), often along with lipids and waxes.
  • The resulting solution may then be refined using a number of methods, depending on the final product. For example, centrifugation can be used to remove terpenes and winterization can remove lipids from the concentrate. Dewaxing and decarboxylation are other common refinement steps.
  • After refinement, the resulting solution is passed through a collection chamber to remove the majority of the residual solvent. The butane is often transported back to the start of the process to be reused.

Finally, the concentrated solution is further purged to get rid of any excess hydrocarbons. The process will depend on the final product but may involve drying in a vacuum oven or whipping.

While hydrocarbon extractions can technically be carried out anywhere, the dangers of dealing with butane gas can often produce disastrous results. Producers of legal extracts work in compliant environments and use equipment specially designed for this application. Do not try this at home.

Hydrocarbon extraction isn’t the only technique out there, and other extraction processes may be preferable depending on the desired outcome. Here are the main pros and cons of hydrocarbon extraction:

Benefits

You can maintain the authenticity of the strain. Each strain has a unique chemical profile which other extraction methods can render unrecognizable. Hydrocarbon extraction can maintain the delicate makeup of the plant so that the original combination of cannabinoids and terpenes remains in the final product.

It offers versatility. There is a range of extract types that can be produced using hydrocarbon extraction because the levels of butane and propane can be tweaked to create the desired profile. Depending on the strain and how involved the production method is, you’ll find products at a broad range of price points.

You can use up trim. Due to the nature of hydrocarbon extraction, you can make use of the less desirable parts of the plant. For example, trim from cannabis harvests might otherwise be discarded as waste. However, these loose leaves still bear lots of resin that is rich in cannabinoids. These and other components can be extracted using hydrocarbon extraction, producing products known as trim runs.

Drawbacks

Extractions can pose risks. If not carried out properly, hydrocarbon extraction methods can be very dangerous. Butane and propane are highly flammable so the equipment and environment must meet strict standards before being considered safe.

It’s possible to produce hazardous products. Similarly, if hydrocarbon extraction is not conducted properly, the consumer could be at risk. For example, some amateur products will use low-quality solvents that contain unknown contaminants. They might also fail to purge the final product of solvents at the end of the extraction, and sell items with residual solvent levels far above what is considered safe. This is one of the reasons it’s important to only purchase lab-tested products, so you know exactly what you’re getting.

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Cannabis, CBD & Anxiety

We are currently living through anxiety provoking times. The coronavirus is the perfect recipe to turn even the most laid back and centred among us into worrying wrecks, imagining the most catastrophic (although unlikely) outcomes for ourselves and our loved ones.

And that, dear friends, is the day-to-day life of someone living with anxiety. I know because for the last fifteen years it’s an inner world I’ve inhabited. Only for me, it’s not a pandemic I’m freaking out about, but lesser evils such as whether I’m going to make a complete idiot of myself in some social gathering or my own favorite anxiety rabbit hole – feeling anxious about feeling anxious.

While there’s no magic bullet to banish anxiety for good, managing anxiety symptoms is a commonly stated reason why people take cannabis – medical or otherwise – with CBD showing particular promise in preliminary studies.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a collection of mental health conditions characterized by disproportionate worrying about future events that brings about physiological responses in the body such as tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, excessive sweating, agitation, restlessness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

Avoidance behavior are common strategies amongst anxiety sufferers. If you’ve had a panic attack crossing a bridge, there’s a fair chance you’ll never make it to the other side of that river again. And for the socially anxious amongst us, myself included, not turning up to that party or after work drinks or a friend’s wedding are tactics regularly employed.

However, the more situations we avoid, the smaller our worlds eventually become, and it’s often at this point when an anxiety disorder is diagnosed. Right now, it’s estimated 264 million1 people worldwide have some kind of anxiety disorder, with approximately 40 million2 of them residing in the United States.

Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) when anxiety is felt about a wide range of situations or issues; social anxiety disorder (SAD) – the fear of being negatively judged or rejected in social situations; panic disorder – sudden feelings of terror resulting in panic attacks; obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – unwelcomed repetitive thoughts and behaviour; phobias – an extreme fear triggered by a situation or object; and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – anxiety including flashbacks that develop after some kind of traumatic event.

Due to their complex and often individualized nature, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating anxiety disorders. Talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), are often combined with anti-anxiety drugs like SSRI antidepressants or benzodiazepines for a more immediate calming effect. Also known as tranquilizers, benzodiazepines include the likes of Xanax and Valium, and while they may lull patients into a state of anxiety-free calm, taken long term they can result in addiction.

It’s clear, therefore, that a new class of anti-anxiety medication, without risk of abuse or dependence and free from side effects, must be developed. And the big ‘green’ hope is that the cannabis plant might hold the key.

Stress, Anxiety & the Endocannabinoid System

Coping with stress or unwinding from a hectic day, is one of the major reasons millions of people consume cannabis. While your average recreational user isn’t interested in the biological mechanisms behind why they feel more relaxed after smoking a joint, the reason is almost certainly due to the direct activation of their endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS comprises fatty ligands called endocannabinoids which bind to a vast network of cannabinoid receptor sites (CB1 and CB2) throughout the brain, central nervous system, immune system, and organs. Dynamic in nature, it is constantly working to ensure all our physiological systems remain in balance.

Life is filled with external stressors – pollution, poor sleep, that argument with your boss, the 24/7 news reports about the millions of people dying worldwide from the coronavirus. Thankfully the ECS works as a buffer to ensure our organisms don’t develop some kind of illness as a result. It also plays a crucial role in regulating fear, anxiety and how we cope with stress.3

Activating CB1 receptors in the brain and central nervous system has been found to calm feelings of anxiety, which explains why consuming cannabis tends to chill people out.4 However, it’s not a case of the more you smoke, the less anxious you feel as higher doses of THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, can actually be anxiety inducing.5

Enhanced signaling between CB1 receptors and the endocannabinoid anandamide in the amygdala, an area of the brain key to processing fear, has been shown to help mice forget frightening experiences.6 That’s something of clinical interest for the treatment of anxiety disorders where frightening events of the past become indelibly marked in a patient’s memory, fueling future feelings of anxiety.

However, chronic stress itself can eventually impair our endocannabinoid system. Prolonged exposure to stress downregulates CB1 receptor signaling in brain regions involved in emotional processing.4 Chronic stress also increases levels of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), the enzyme that breaks anandamide down in the body, resulting in lower concentrations of the feel-good endocannabinoid.7

With weakened endocannabinoid signaling, we are more vulnerable to developing anxiety and depression. Indeed, one study showed a clear inverse relationship between anandamide levels and anxiety severity in women with major depression;8So in basic terms, the more anandamide deficient we are, the more anxious we may become.

Thus, boosting CB1 signaling could be a potential therapeutic target for both protecting against and treating anxiety disorders – a theory explored in a preclinical study on mice with low anandamide levels caused by stress-induced anxiety. Researchers observed how inhibiting FAAH reversed the animals’ anandamide deficiency, which in turn reduced their anxious behaviour.9

CBD: A Multi-Targeted Approach to Anxiety

While drug companies around the world are experimenting with synthetic FAAH inhibitors,10 hoping they’ll become the next big thing in anti-anxiety medication, cannabidiol (CBD), the non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis, has been shown to inhibit anandamide reuptake and delay its metabolism by FAAH.11 Several studies confirm that administering CBD enhances CB1 signaling, in turn promoting the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus,12 which scientists believe further contributes towards the compound’s anxiolytic effect.

However, CBD’s anti-anxiety action extends beyond increasing endocannabinoid signaling. Animal studies show how CBD interacts with serotonin 5-HT1A receptors in the brain, which are tried and tested targets for anti-anxiety medication.

In one study, administering CBD to rats submitted to 60 minutes of enforced restraint not only lowered their heart rate and mean arterial pressure, but also reduced anxiety levels. However, these results were not replicated when the rats were given a 5-HT1A antagonist, which blocked CBD from interacting with the serotonin receptors,13 What remains unclear is whether CBD elicits this effect by directly binding with 5-HT1A14 receptors or by indirectly facilitating 5-HT1A serotonin signaling.15

Neuroimaging in healthy subjects given 400mg of a CBD isolate suggested that the relaxation they reportedly experienced may have been caused by activity in the limbic and paralimbic brain system, areas of the brain associated with emotional processing, memory, and cognitive processes.16

CBD & Anxiety: Outside the Lab

While more still remains to be discovered about the mechanisms behind CBD’s anxiolytic effect, in certain US states and countries where medicinal use of cannabis is legal, doctors are treating their patients with CBD-rich cannabis strains for anxiety disorders. For the rest of us still condemned to the dark ages of prohibition, CBD oil derived from hemp has been our anti-anxiety salvation.

Consider the case of Emily Wilson, a 30-year-old British aid worker living in Greece. For the last three years, Emily has been education coordinator at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Athens, where 2800 displaced persons from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran live side by side in converted shipping containers, many still suffering from severe trauma.

With limited resources, Emily was often left feeling stressed and frustrated by the limitations of the work she could do. After two years working at the refugee camp, her naturally buoyant and positive nature was no longer a protection against the physical and mental strain she endured on a daily basis.

“I remember a few times,” Emily recounted, “where I’d just be walking and I’d start to think about work and my chest would tighten and I’d have to start taking deep breaths because my chest was tightening so much and my eyes were watering like I was crying. But it was tears of frustration and tears of panic. This happened about once or twice a week for about three or four weeks until I realized there was something really wrong. It was so crippling that I didn’t go to work because I couldn’t get out of bed.”

Emily started taking full spectrum CBD oil, and after gradually building up the dose from one drop to three drops, three times a day, she started to feel her anxiety levels subside.

“I think the major benefit of it for me,” says Emily, “was it prevented the anxiety from becoming all encompassing. It didn’t take away the problems, but meant that they were there, I acknowledged them, I knew that I had to work through them, but they weren’t in my chest, they weren’t in my throat, and weren’t stopping me doing things. So there was a distance from them. I also felt a deep sense of calm and a deep sense of, OK, well, everything can be solved.”

Evidence With Limitations

Thousands of glowing anecdotal accounts are one thing, but without some randomised clinical trials, mainstream medical institutions will never take CBD seriously as an anti-anxiety treatment. Unfortunately, as with most areas of cannabinoid research, clinical research into CBD for anxiety still falls rather short.

Because anxiety is such a broad term, most research conducted so far has concentrated on just one type of anxiety disorder, namely social anxiety disorder. A well-established protocol for measuring the effectiveness of an anti-anxiety drug is its administration to socially anxious individuals before they take part in a public speaking test.

In one study, healthy and socially anxious subjects were both asked to perform a simulated public speaking test.17 Those with social anxiety disorder were either given a one-off dose of 600mg pure CBD or a placebo. The healthy subjects performed the test without any medication.

This hefty dose of CBD allowed the socially anxious participants to perform the task with “significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance,” as well as reducing their stress levels prior to the test. In comparison, the placebo group fared less well experiencing high levels of anxiety. No difference in anxiety or performance was noted between the CBD group and the healthy subjects, suggesting a one-off, high dose of CBD before public speaking may allow the socially anxious to perform just as well as someone without social anxiety disorder.

However, giving a single 600mg dose of purified CBD does not reflect the clinical experiences of doctors recommending medical cannabis to patients with anxiety or that of the millions of people around the world taking hemp-based CBD oil for anxiety-related conditions.

Purified Versus Whole Plant CBD

With a race on to find a new anti-anxiety drug potentially worth billions of dollars,18 there’s little financial gain to be enjoyed from developing medication based on whole plant cannabis. But purified CBD, while potentially more lucrative and easier to study in clinical trials, has its own therapeutic drawbacks that aren’t present in full spectrum CBD-rich cannabis extracts.

Anyone who’s tried a CBD isolate will vouch for the fact that a high dose is generally needed to get any therapeutic effect. This common experience was confirmed in a meta-analysis comparing CBD-rich products with purified CBD in patients with epilepsy.19 The study found much lower doses of CBD-rich cannabis were taken by patients to successfully control their seizures compared to the high amounts of purified CBD used in Epidiolex clinical trials.

Not only that, animal studies demonstrate how purified CBD has a ‘bell shaped dose-response’,20 whereby it only shows significant therapeutic benefit at a substantial dose, with little efficacy at lower or higher doses.

This inverted bell shaped dose-response was confirmed in the context of social anxiety when healthy volunteers undertaking a simulated public speaking test only experienced a reduction in anxiety when given 300mg of CBD, but no change with either 150mg or 600mg, suggesting a narrower therapeutic window compared to CBD-rich cannabis.21

Until recently, there’s been little evidence from human studies about the anti-anxiety effects of taking CBD over a prolonged period of time. However, just last year, a randomised placebo study was published in which Japanese teenagers with social anxiety and avoidant personality disorder were given 300mg of pure CBD or a placebo daily over four weeks.22 Not only did CBD significantly decrease their anxiety, but half of the participants given CBD expressed a wish to seek therapy or further treatment at the end of the study, while none of the placebo group mentioned such a desire.

In an open label retrospective study also published in 2019, 72 psychiatric patients with anxiety or sleep disorders were given between 25-175mg of CBD a day, alongside existing psychiatric medications.23 After two months of treatment, 78.1% of patients reported feeling less anxious and 56.1% experienced improved sleep.

A Clinician’s Experience

These encouraging results validate the experiences of clinicians who regularly prescribe medical cannabis to patients with anxiety. “For me, it’s a really good choice for treating anxiety in people,” says Dr. Rebecca Moore, a UK-based consultant psychiatrist who sees patients at The Medical Cannabis Clinics in London.

“I’ve seen some amazingly wonderful results. People who’ve had lifelong anxiety, who are doing all the right things in terms of their diet, their exercise, their supplements, but still have a fairly crippling anxiety, and within a couple of months they don’t have any anxiety at all and can’t quite believe what’s happened to themselves.

“One lady told me that she had been able to pick up a book and read for the first time in 20 years, focus and enjoy it. And another said she was planning her first holiday in 10 years. You know, it’s just life-changing differences for people.”

Dr. Moore has found medical cannabis – in particular CBD-rich oil, but also including small amounts of THC – to benefit patients with all types of anxiety disorders. In general, patients need far smaller doses than used in published preliminary studies, with some benefitting from as little as 30mg of CBD a day.

Patients usually arrive at Dr. Moore’s clinic because they find the anti-anxiety drugs they have been prescribed over the years don’t work well, and they struggle with the harsh side effects. “I’ve had people come in,” says Dr Moore, “on four or five different medications, who have managed to stop them all and just be on CBD. People who were on two antidepressants, plus a benzodiazepine, plus a sleeping tablet at night, plus an anti-hypertensive, and they stopped all of them.”

It’s in her treatment of PTSD using cannabinoids where Dr. Moore has seen some of the most fascinating changes in patients: “I think particularly with trauma memories, it’s so interesting the way it seems to impact on people’s recollection of their memory. People talk about feeling like their trauma memories are being deleted. And then I’ve had lots of people say they actually then start to remember positive memories, which they weren’t able to access before.”

Clinical Trials

Right now, a number of clinical trials to study the effectiveness of CBD for anxiety are in the process of recruiting, including one using 25mg of full spectrum CBD soft gel capsules over a period of twelve weeks;24 and a phase II clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of CBD for social anxiety, which will also measure changes in endocannabinoid levels.25 And a Harvard Medical School research project will compare whole-plant and single-extract CBD solutions for anxiety.

Unfortunately, though, with clinical research moving at a slow pace, we’re a long way from official approval of CBD as an anti-anxiety medicine.

In the meantime, in a bid to minimise any damage to our endocannabinoid system caused by current coronavirus stress which may make us more vulnerable to anxiety disorders now and in the future, we could do a lot worse than incorporating high quality, CBD-rich cannabis or a CBD oil into our self-care routine.


Mary Biles, a Project CBD contributing writer, is a journalist, blogger and educator with a background in holistic health. Based between the UK and Spain, she is committed to accurately reporting advances in medical cannabis research.


Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.


Footnotes

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Leafly’s outdoor cannabis grower’s calendarPat Goggins

Growing cannabis outdoors is easy. All you need is a nice open space that gets lots of light, a water supply, good soil, and a way to cover the plants when the weather turns.

One of the most important things to know is that cannabis is dependent on a photoperiod, meaning that it changes from the vegetative to flowering stage when days start to shorten and nights get longer. You want to time things right so your plants can maximize their exposure to light during the summer before fall sets in.

Growing and harvest times here reflect ranges of time in the Northern Hemisphere. For more growing tips on specific regions, check out this guide on different climates.

(Leafly)

On the West Coast of North America, cannabis farmers in Northern California have a long season: They can put plants outside early and harvest later into the season because of the region’s relatively warm weather.

Washington state, on the other hand, will have a shorter time frame, as plants can’t be put outside until later in the season because there’s not enough sunlight yet. Harvest needs to be completed earlier, before cold weather descends on buds and makes them wet and moldy.

The Spring Equinox is a good reminder that it’s time to kick off the outdoor growing process and start germinating your seeds.

As the sun reaches up high in the sky, your cannabis will want to as well. Make sure all of your plants are outside by the Summer Solstice.

The weather will start to turn and the sun will begin descending in the sky as your plants fatten up with sweet, sticky buds. It might be tempting, but wait until around the Fall Equinox to start harvesting.

Everything should be cleaned up, dried, and curing well before the Winter Solstice. Now’s a good time to make your own cannabutter, topicals, or tinctures with all that trim from the harvest. Kick your feet up, relax, and hunker down for the cold, it’s been a long growing season!

I can’t stress enough that the time frames on this graphic are ranges of time for the Northern Hemisphere. You’ll need to adjust them based on your specific region and local weather and climate.

Be sure to keep a grow journal to track the progress of your plants. Looking back on your notes will help you learn from mistakes and maximize the quality and quantity of your buds.

Take meticulous notes on when and how you perform each step, as well as what the weather is like. Other notes can include how much water you give plants, at what intervals, and how much nutrients you give them. Pictures will also give you a better sense of how your plants look along the way.

Buy seeds

Figuring out which strains you want to grow, where to purchase them, where on your property you want to grow, and your local climate and weather can take some time and work. And once you order seeds, it can take a few weeks for them to arrive. Be sure to do your research early and get a head start so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute and miss the ideal time to grow.

Germinate/Sow seeds

It takes about 3-7 days to germinate a seed. A lot of growers will do this indoors because seeds are delicate and it’s easier to control the temperature and climate inside. But if you live in a warmer climate, by all means, start growing them from seed outside. You can also use a small greenhouse outside to keep them warm.

When you start growing your seeds depends partly on how big you want your plants to be for harvest. If you’re going for high yields, the earlier you grow your plants, the bigger they’ll be. But keep in mind that smaller plants are more manageable and easier to top and prune.

Move outdoors/Put in the ground

If germinating seeds and growing them indoors first, this is the time frame that you’d move your plants outside so they can get some serious sunlight. You want them to get at least 6 inches – 1 foot in height before putting them outside, so they’re big and strong enough to handle the weather.

Some old school gardeners will tell you to wait until after Mother’s Day to take them outside, and generally speaking, you want them in the ground by the Summer Solstice at the latest.

Top/Prune plants

Most growers top their plants a few times (two or three) throughout the season to encourage outward development and make plants bush out. It’s a good idea to give them an initial top after the plant develops five or so nodes.

Once your plants start flowering and producing buds—generally, sometime in August—you want to stop topping your plants.

Pruning and cleaning up plants is done as-needed. You want to get rid of dead leaves and lower branches that won’t get light so the plant can use that energy for producing buds in healthier branches.

Growers can clean up their plants anywhere from 1-4 times during the season, depending on how big the crop is and how much labor is needed.

Harvest

What kind of strain you have and what climate you live in will determine when to harvest your strains. Indicas typically grow stouter and bushier and there is more of a concern that their dense buds will get moldy, so they’re usually harvested on the early side of the season. Sativas are generally taller and less dense, so they usually get harvested later.

Growers in colder climates will need to finish their harvests earlier, sometimes as early as September, for fear of wet, cold weather setting in and molding out buds. Warmer climates can sometimes harvest well into November.

This post was originally published on January 15 31, 2019. It was most recently updated on May 1, 2020.

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Luther Burbank, Cannabis & Me

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A few years ago, I cultivated a CBD-rich medicinal cannabis garden in Sonoma County, California, on a parcel that was once part of an experimental farm owned and operated by the famed horticulturalist Luther Burbank. Known as a “plant wizard” and a creator of novel botanicals, Burbank purchased the property in 1885 to expand his plant-breeding work.

More than 130 years later, I became an unlikely beneficiary of Burbank’s wise decision to plant on this terrain. The land was blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate and well-drained, loamy soil — “the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned,” as Burbank described it — and perfect, it turns out, for growing ganja.

Burbank knew this firsthand. He was a big fan of cannabis sativa, breeding it and promoting its many uses. Yet, this aspect of Burbank’s legendary career as a pioneer horticulturist has largely been ignored by historians and is not well known. It should be. Many people have eaten Luther Burbank’s Russet Potato or his Bartlett Pear, but few know much about the man himself or his connection to cannabis.

Burbank’s life spanned America’s first golden age of medicinal cannabis. When he was in his prime, cannabis was listed in The U.S. Pharmacopeia and The National Formulary as a remedy for numerous ailments. From the mid-1800’s until the late 1930’s cannabis tinctures and poultices were popular over-the-counter remedies for treating pain, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, colds and flu, seizures, and lack of sexual desire, to name just a few indications. Apothecaries sold cannabis cigarettes for asthma, and “hasheesh” candies were retailed by the likes of Sears, Roebuck and Company.

Burbank was particularly interested in the industrial applications of cannabis. He developed a cultivar for superior fiber content, envisioning it as an alternative to the dwindling supply of wood pulp for paper. “The experimental work is only at its beginnings, but it seems to be of considerable promise,” Burbank wrote. He also encouraged the use of hempseed oil for a variety of products, noting its widespread applications in other countries, while bemoaning the waste of agricultural resources he had observed in the United States.

Apples and Ganja

My cannabis garden was set amongst some of Burbank’s still-producing apple trees, with south-facing terraces that made full use of the sun. It also benefited from the afternoon sea breezes, which modulated and circulated the warmed summer air, a natural convection action that also helped to stave off mold infestation so devastating to ripening marijuana plants.

The growing season would begin in the early spring. As the buds on Burbank’s centenarian apple trees were swelling nearby, I’d clean and organize the greenhouse, root clones, germinate seeds. When the apples were in full flower, it was time for me to turn and replenish the soil.

In early June, I planted my foot-high cannabis starts, and for the next several months I would nurture them as they grew into humungous powerhouses bursting with potent, resin-heavy flowers. I cultivated cannabis as if I was caring for my own body. I emphasized the building of robust health as the best strategy to help my plants fend off pests and disease and reach their full potential.

I pinched and “super-cropped” them to encourage branching. I fed them side-dressings of compost and misted them with home-brewed “tea” rich with micronutrients and beneficial bacteria. I released thousands of ladybugs and praying mantises into the garden to beat back insect invaders. And I played music in between the rows while I worked — Mississippi Delta blues, Afro-Cuban rhythms, and favorite indie bands like Built to Spill and Califone.

The landowner of the property was a friend, affectionally nicknamed “The Naked Jew” for his nocturnal tromps out to the garden in nothing but a pair of rubber boots (an occurrence triggered by a sudden bump-in-the-night that had him imagining a pack of errant teenagers sneaking into my ganja grove to score some fresh schwag). On breezy late afternoons, he would wander over to “the field” as he called it, modestly clad in a sarong, to see how “the girls” were doing and bring me a cold mug of kombucha. We’d chat about our children and the current state of the apples, the world, and the weed. The ever-changing garden was our meeting place, the plants our silent witnesses.

Wonder, Beauty & Delight

My days were long and physically exhausting, but I never tired of the labor. Working in my cannabis garden refilled me in countless way and taught me lessons that I still carry with me. “Nature is the most logical school of learning,” Burbank once wrote. “The truth is that life is not material and that the life-stream is not a substance. Life is a force — electrical, magnetic, a quality, not a quantity; and if we start there we can understand a lot of things about man and his works and orders and processes.”

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Gate to Burbank’s farm

A lithe, boyish man with placid blue eyes, Burbank was known for his rumpled yet elegant sartorialism, due to his habit of wearing a suit, hat and gloves to work in the garden. This made him “more picturesque than ordinary” with an “indubitable air of gallantry and personableness,” according to his friend and biographer William Hall.

“Merry, humorous, whimsical, loving life and loving laughter, he radiated a personality that drew him toward everyone he encountered,” Hall wrote in the long out-of-print biography, Harvest of the Years. Burbank’s belief that “life overflowed with wonder, beauty and delight” reflected his curiosity about science and the natural world. He held little interest in religious dogma or ideas of Heaven and Hell. Instead, Burbank felt that “good work well done, sincere motives, and loyalty to high ideals formed the whole duty of man; to these Burbank added, for the creation of heaven on earth, the single essential, Love,” Hall recounts.

Near summer’s end, my cannabis flowers would start to thicken just as Burbank’s apples were filling out. After a day’s work, I’d often take a walk, passing by the senior housing complex next door, also on land formerly part of Burbank’s farm. I’d see the residents gathered in their community garden — planting, watering, weeding or just resting on benches, enjoying the greenery.

A bit further on I would arrive at Burbank’s old caretaker cottage and the beds filled with his amazing cultivars. I had long admired his inventions: his sweet-tart Santa Rosa Plum, Spineless Cactus, and the White Blackberry, bred to keep ladies’ gloves from staining. My favorites of his floral hybrids are the variations on his Shasta Daisy. Like white-haired ladies, each wore a different hairstyle: some petals curled, others tidy, another a wild and exuberant mane. “Flowers,” Burbank once wrote, “always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.”

The Last Harvest

My cannabis flowers would be close to harvest by late September, and putting on an extravagant show, their beauty a heady mix of mystery and hidden potential. The ripening colas were so dense and heavy they needed constant tying and staking; their provocative fragrance floated on the breeze all the way down the road. When you spend so many hours doing a certain kind of work, it can infuse your dreams, and mine were populated with mischievous green witches and voluptuous Viking queens wearing crowns of serrated leaves.

Burbank considered humans and plants as “part of the same onward-moving procession, each helping the other to do better things.” In Burbank’s mind, we were meant not only to cultivate plants, but to form actual relationships with them. Those of us who’ve spent a significant amount of time growing cannabis understand this intimately, as the work offers something uniquely its own. Being a “grower” is an act of affirmation, a yes to the mystery and exploration of the body, mind and beyond, with cannabis as our willing ally.

By mid-October, the harvest would be under way. Before sunrise I’d be out in the garden, cutting branches laden with sticky clusters of ripe buds. The apples would be ripe as well, and I’d fill baskets of them for the trimmers to munch on. I was fortunate to hire a crew of Tibetans to manicure my weed, which they did with unshakable calmness, chanting Buddhist sutras as they worked to trim, dry, and cure the flowers. Once a week they’d make homemade momos — a type of Tibetan dumpling served with a tongue-lashing chili sauce — and I’d pitch in, practicing the thumb twist they taught me to seal the edges of this delicacy.

My final, deeply satisfying task of the season was to deliver my CBD-rich medicine to state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in California, where patients with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer to neuropathic pain would gratefully purchase amounts to treat themselves.

This was the last time I would grow cannabis alongside Burbank’s apple trees. On January 1, 2017, cannabis became legal for adult use in California. But under the new zoning regulations, the rural residential parcel where I had cultivated my crop was now off-limits for growing more than six plants for personal use. I was forced to close down my medicinal garden, which I did with a heavy heart. (Sadly, many other skilled cannabis cultivators and small-is-beautiful farmers in Sonoma County were also regulated out of existence.) It was the end of an era, and I would miss it.

A Radical Freethinker

Who knows what Luther Burbank would have thought about the current cannabis revolution, the commercially driven green rush, the resurgence of interest in the plant’s medical uses? He died not long before cannabis was maligned by reefer madness and the devil weed’s became the mascot for eight decades of federal prohibition.

A radical free thinker, Burbank was interested in “the wonders of the mind of man and the subjects that we now consider mystical.” He counted among his friends Paramahansa Yogananda, the Hindu spiritual teacher, who called Burbank “an American saint.” In his book Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda describes how Burbank once told him he “sometimes felt close to the Infinite Power,” and often talked to his plants “to create a vibration of love.”

Burbank’s final year was overshadowed by the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in which high school teacher John Scopes was found guilty of heresy by the State of Tennessee, for the crime of teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Burbank was appalled. “I am an infidel,” he asserted. “A doubter, a questioner, a skeptic. The scientist is a lover of truth for the very love of truth itself, wherever it may lead.” In his memorable address in a San Francisco church, Burbank argued for “righteous behaviour and the highest spiritual development,” while expressing his “utter disbelief in the mockery of dogma.”

Burbank’s outspoken views stood out at a time when religious fundamentalism and xenophobia were on the upswing. His radical honesty triggered a global backlash steeped in ignorance and bigotry. Once loved the world over, Burbank had become a pariah. Undaunted, he strove to answer the thousands of hateful letters he received, responding to each with reason and compassion. But it was too much. Those close to him believed that the heavy stress and heartbreak led to his illness and ultimately to his death from a stomach virus. Burbank, age 77, died at home in Santa Rosa on April 11, 1926. He was buried in an unmarked grave under a Cedar of Lebanon tree he had planted near his greenhouse.

And yet, nearly a century after his death, Burbank’s words are still as fresh and novel as a new peach cultivar, as relevant a balm to the current burdens of modern society as they were on the day he wrote them: “What is civilization?” he asked. “What is idealism? Which way does our future lie?” If we look at textbooks or history for the answers, he argued, we will be baffled, “but if we go to Nature and inquire into her processes we discern more than a glimmer of light.”

“In every man,” Burbank maintained, “no matter how ignorant or how hurried or how driven or how successful in other lines, there is a dormant love of Nature and natural things; it would take very little of the time you crowd so full of everything else for you to breathe some of the incense of gardens, to feast your eyes on the calm and changeless beauty of the hills, to rest your bodies on the quiet beauty of the earth, and to heal your souls in the perfect serenity of some unbroken wilderness.”


Melinda Misuraca is a Project CBD contributing writer with a past life as an old-school cannabis farmer specializing in CBD-rich cultivars.

Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.


Sources:

Burbank, Luther and Hall, William. The Harvest of the Years. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1927.

Luther Burbank on cannabis/hemp breeding: https://www.hempbasics.com/hhusb/hh4bot.htm (reference #29, from an article in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences).

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Leafly’s cannabis homegrow

Welcome to Leafly’s cannabis homegrow! Watch as our writer Johanna Silver grows a set of marijuana plants from seed to harvest in her backyard in Northern California. Check back every week for a new post, and be sure to follow #Leaflyhomegrow on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Also, check out her book, Growing Weed in the Garden: A No-Fuss, Seed-to-Stash Guide to Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation.


There’s not a ton to do as we wait for all of our seeds to sprout. So, let’s talk for a minute about watering. Seedbeds need to be kept evenly moist through germination. “Evenly moist” is a term we throw around in gardening. It means wet but not soggy. It also means all the way through the bed. When the little babies do germinate, they have root systems about as long as the sprout is on top, which is to say, quite short. And that area needs to stay nice and moist to keep the plant alive. Here I’ve thrown in some of my radishes and other veggies with the weed seedlings.

The very best way to water is to use a shower setting—either on the end of a watering can or as the setting on a hose nozzle. I’m sorry if this is painfully obvious for you, but trust me, for others—it’s not. For example, I see a lot of misting of seeds. No dice. Won’t get the job done. You need that whole mass of seed bed to be moist. Shower setting. Nothing harder. Irrigate until you see water coming out of the bottom of the containers.

A wise farm manager once taught me that the trick when watering small plants is to keep moving; keep moving the hand that’s doing the watering and keep moving your body up and down the length of the bed. This might be overkill if you’ve just started a few seeds, but it’s good info to keep in mind if and when you start a whole bun of seeds or even plant a whole bunch of small transplants.

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The babies are sprouting! So far, I’ve got 5 out of 6 showing their green. I’m certain the others will bring up the rear quickly.

Emerging first are the cotyledon leaves—small round ones that don’t look like weed leaves—because they’re not! Cotyledon leaves are embryonic. They’re actually part of the seed. They help the plant access stored nutrients as the plant gets up and running with photosynthesis.

Any flowering plant has cotyledon leaves. Basically, any plant except those that come from spores (think: ferns) and evergreens (which produce cones) start with cotyledons, so they might look wildly familiar if you’ve ever started anything else from seed in your garden. The radish seeds I’ve got right next door to these are also sporting their cotyledons—similarly round, succulent-ish leaves.

What’s cool about cotyledon leaves is that they’re the only part of a cannabis plant that doesn’t have THC in them. It’s possible to take the leaves and mail them off to a lab for genetic testing to find out the sex of the plants long before waiting the many weeks it otherwise takes for them to start flowering to tell the difference. And since there’s no THC, you’ve not broken any laws by mailing a part of the plant.

I’ve done that in the past, using Phylos. Steep Hill is another great option. The process is fun: You mash the cotyledon onto special paper and mail it. You feel like a scientist. A few days later, you get results on who among your babies is female, and who is male. It can be especially helpful if you’ve not got the room to grow out all of your seedlings until they start flowering and reveal their sex.

I’m forgoing it this year. I’ve got time. I’ve got space (sort of). Mostly, I didn’t start a crazy amount of plants and I’m just going to give them all some time to show me who’s who and what’s what.

It’s been raining like cats and dogs around here. I’m all for it. The seedlings are in the little plastic greenhouse, so I still have to pop out there every day or two to make sure the seedbed stays moist. Who’re we kidding? I check on them like 8 times a day. I love baby seedlings. Of any kind.


cannabis, homegrow, Leafly

Hello fellow weed growers!

I grow weed in my Berkeley, California, backyard, along with veggies, fruits, herbs, and cut flowers. While info resources abound for the other crops I grow, sensible, accessible, outdoor only, garden-scale, weed-growing info is hard to come by.

So, I’m here to help. My goal is to give you regular updates (weekly at first because so much happens early on!) on how to grow weed outside, in your garden, with as little extra fuss as possible. I’ll tell you exactly how I do it.

Today I started my seeds. Could have been anytime between late March and late April. I chose today because I had a spare moment, the sun was shining, and the toddler was sleeping.

I’m growing three cultivars this year:

Freakshow

Genetics by The Humboldt Seed Company.

Chosen because it has crazy looking leaves that don’t resemble that classic cannabis leaf.

Sweet Annie

Genetics by The Humboldt Seed Company.

Chosen because it also has beautiful leaves, albeit more classically cannabis. I met this plant in person a few years back at a pheno-hunt and it looked so unique. Much more ornamental. It’s also 1:1 THC:CBD and mama could use something calming.

Cherry Pie x Chem Lemon

Seeds given to me by a friend and expert East Bay grower who has a seed collective.

Chosen because he told me it is beautiful and smells great.

If it isn’t glaringly obvious: I choose plants based on smell and looks. After all, I’m a gardener more than a weed connoisseur. Oh, but weed connoisseurs tell me my weed is legit. So, you’re good learning from me. Promise.

I’m only growing three plants total this year—two in the ground and one in a pot. The legal limit for homegrowing cannabis in California is six plants, but I want to keep some room for my veggies. I’m only starting four seeds of each cultivar. I trust that at least one of four seeds of each kind will turn out to be a female (we’ll get to sexing plants in a few weeks, but you always want to start off with 3-4 times the number of plants you’ll end up with).

I grow entirely outside. No lights, no mats. I’ll tuck them in a small plastic greenhouse to keep them safe and just a little warmer and cozier.

I start my seeds in fresh potting soil, scooped into 4-inch nursery containers I’ve amassed over the years. Seeds needn’t be planted deep—twice as deep as the seed is wide, is the rule of thumb with most seeds.

Absolutely crucial: labels. Don’t make the mistake of swearing you’ll remember. You won’t. Pro tip: Get a Sharpie Extreme. They’re the only ones that are actually permanent in outdoor conditions.

I’ll keep the soil moist through germination, which likely means a daily splash of water from a gentle setting (not “mist,” but like, “shower”) on the hose nozzle. Strong enough to drench it, but not so hard as to blast the seeds away.

In past years, I’ve pre-sprouted seeds in wet paper towel—a great thing to do if you have old seeds and want to test their viability before using unnecessary soil. I’ve also soaked them in water for 24 hours, something that can speed up germination. But, my seeds are good. I am in no rush, so straight into the soil they went.

Check back next week to see these seeds start to pop out of the soil!

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Check out Leafly’s growing section for answers to all your growing questions 

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