Harborside Health Center continuously strives to be at the forefront of all aspects of the medical cannabis movement. In the current era of scarce, costly resources and global environmental degradation, it is becoming readily apparent that we can no longer remain ignorant of the full environmental price of our medicine. Doing the math, the benefits of outdoor - or sun-grown cannabis (as we prefer to call it) - vastly outweigh the artificial, resource-intensive methods of growing indoors.
The sun-grown cannabis of today is a much different medicine than it was even ten short years ago. The commercial production of cannabis was literally pushed into the shadows from the 1980s to the 1990s. Plants that had once flourished under California’s glorious sun were forced under the shade of Redwood trees and Manzanita bushes. Cultivators switched to indoor grows, where this incredible adaptive plant - with the potential to grow sixteen feet tall or more - was confined and restricted to a much smaller space.
Indoor cannabis spends its entire lifespan in a virtual prison, nourished by harsh artificial lights under regimented schedules, patrolled by vigilant guards…excuse me, I mean growers. (Disclaimer: I do love indoor cannabis. Heck, I just like cannabis in general.) In this author’s humble opinion, however, nothing compares to well-grown, well-cured sun-grown cannabis. The range of flavors expressed by buds grown in a natural environment is endless. French wine experts speak of terrior, the flavor that comes from the land in which the grape was grown. Wine, coffee and tea flavors are all said to be affected by the soil they are grown in, the atmosphere that surrounded them and the season they grew through - simply, all of the elements of a balanced ecosystem.
Cannabis develops its distinctive flavor profiles from the terpenes produced by each individual variety or strain (look for upcoming articles on the role of terpenes in cannabis). The terrior also plays a huge role in the tastes and even effects of the cannabis buds. A true connoisseur can tell the difference between Grass Valley grass, and Ft. Bragg buds. By comparison, indoor cannabis (and I’m probably not making any friends here) frequently tastes grassy, flat and harsh. Indoor flowers, in their new environment, developed into chunky, crystal-covered nuggets. It is almost as if they were grown on steroids: fed specific “bud-building” formulas, subjected to forced-feedings and placed under artificial lights on an unnatural timing cycle.
It’s important to recognize that the move of cannabis cultivation indoors was necessary for the community to survive during the “shaded days” of the 1980s. Shielded from the prying eyes of law enforcement, breeders and growers were able to slowly, but greatly, advance the science of cannabis. Most of the incredible diversity of varieties of cannabis that we currently enjoy is the fruit of these clandestine indoor breeding projects of the 1990s and 2000s. The cannabis community owes a great debt of gratitude to all of the growers and breeders who risked so much in this era for the improvement of this incredible plant we love so much. However, since the “shaded days” are not as dark as they once were, it might be time to look to the outdoors yet again.
Setting aside issues of taste and appearance, indoor cannabis is far too energy-intensive to continue that type of production on a large scale. New studies of the energy consumption used in the production of indoor cannabis, most notably by Evan Mills of the University of California Berkeley1. The results of these studies are truly shocking. According to Mills, over 8% of California’s electricity is used for indoor cannabis production. This is enough juice to power one million homes. The combined power used for indoor grows in California is more than the usage of the entire states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Perhaps the most staggering number is the pounds of coal needed to produce the electricity to grow one pound of cannabis: the answer is two hundred pounds, or five barrels of oil.
The extravagant energy consumption used to produce indoor cannabis should be unconscionable for any concerned planetary citizen. In many parts of the country, and indeed the whole world, cannabis must still necessarily be cultivated indoors. Also, in many urban areas it is simply not practical to grow outdoors. California, however, is blessed with enough viable outdoor space to produce more than enough cannabis to satisfy everyone’s needs and desires. The quality and potency of sun-grown cannabis has risen dramatically in the last decade, and it can frequently test between 15 to 20% THC.
Sun-grown has emerged from the shadows and come into its proper place in the bright light of the California sun. The towering Christmas trees of cannabis, covered in glistening trichomes, are truly a wondrous sight to behold. Walking amongst these gentle giants, listening to the wind and feeling the kiss of the rain, is an awesome and inspirational feeling. Cannabis teaches us many lessons about truth, beauty, respect and most of all, harmony - with both each other and with the Earth itself. Following these lessons can help restore cannabis to its rightful place, free and outdoors under the sun. Keep an eye to the display cases this season, as Harborside Health Center will be attempting to illuminate our patients to both the exceptional quality - as well as the “conscious” benefits - of sun-grown cannabis.
Rick Pfrommer is the Purchasing Manager for Harborside Health Center, (HarborsideHealthCenter.com)