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How to Grow Cannabis - Marijuana from Seed
Canada has legalized marijuana and I decided to try growing it just because I could! Since I don't use it to get high I though I would try it as a way of sleeping better and dealing with the occasional sore hands, (probably mild arthritis) and occasional sore neck.
This is a record of how a complete beginner grew marijuana for the first time. I'm not suggesting you do it, particularly if it's not legal in your area or if you're underage.
I am a skilled gardener and when I started looking into growing marijuana I was surprised to find a completely new vocabulary. For instance, instead of taking "cuttings", marijuana growers are "cloning". Same process just different words.
Step one: Get some Seeds
That turned out to be much more complicated than expected. There are lots of marijuana seeds around, I just did not know anything about the various types available.
First question I was asked is: Indica or Sativa? Say what?? It turns out that Sativa is the preferred variety if you want to get high. Indica is the chosen type if you want to relax or fight pain. Indica is high in CBD Cannabinoids. The Sativa is higher in THC which makes you high.
Ok so I want Cannabis Indica. As my neighbour, who turned out to be quite an expert, said, INDICA or rather "In Di Couch" is what I want.
There is a dizzying number of varieties available each with fabulous names and descriptions. I chose an indica variety that was higher in CBD rather than THC.
Article about the different types of cannabis. Sativa vs. Indica from Healthline. The article defines various terms and touches on the many chemicals in marijuana and their effects.
Most people choose to grow feminized seeds. Cannabis plants grow as male plants which produce pollen, and female plants which produce seeds if fertilized by pollen, so far so good. Since unfertilized female flowers produce the most active compounds it is preferable to grow only female plants.
Breeders have figured out a way to produce feminized seeds by stressing a female plant. It then makes male sex features (without actually being male) that produces pollen, this is used to fertilize another female plant. The resulting seeds are guaranteed to only grow female plants. This is a great advantage if you can only grow a few plants. It saves you from having to go around and get rid of male plants.
Planting the Marijuana seeds
Instructions included with the seeds suggested germinating the seeds between damp paper towels and planting them after germination, rather than planting them directly in soil. I did both. Some I wrapped in a damp paper towel, placed in a plastic bag and put in a dark spot. Some I planted directly in large pots.
There was not much difference that I could see. The seeds germinated and came up after just a few days.
Same cannabis seedling 3 days later. Marijuana is a fast growing plant
My soil is a nice garden loam I get from Shisler Brothers, near Port Colborne. Choose a nice growing soil.
I kept a couple of plants under lights and the others in my plastic pool greenhouse enclosure.
The light plants were bushier because the light intensity was higher but they both grew well so I don't think it makes much difference.
The photo shows the light set up when I was starting my tomatoes.
I put the light on a timer for 16 hour days. I used a mylar emergency blanket to wrap the rack up because the light is very bright and the mirrored finish of the blanket helps bounce back the light to the plants. Both the greenhouse and the light plants grew quickly and soon I put them all together because they had outgrown my rack.
Growing marijuana plants
Pot plant after 3 weeks. They grow quickly!
When the weather warmed up a bit I put the plants outside. I tried several locations and the most successful was a partially shaded area which only got strong afternoon sun.
All my plants were in pots and as they grew larger I had to re-pot them into larger containers.
I had good soil but I fertilized regularly with Miracle Grow All Purpose Plant Food. The link is to Amazon. I use it in my gardens and it works well. I think there are many other brands that would do just fine.
My plants grew very quickly and needed to be watered up to twice a day or even more. I should have used larger pots.
I think they would have benefited from an automatic drip system. A couple plants started to yellow, I suspect from too much heat and from occasionally going dry. I took more care and watered more often and the plants seemed to recover.
Come September, the plants started to flower. Plants either flower when the days start getting shorter OR in some strains, after a certain number of weeks.
There are any number of fairly complex instructions on the web on what to do when the plants start flowering. If they are being grown indoors under lights then the number of hours should be reduced to induce flowering. There are various instructions on what to feed and when.
I did not do anything special since my plants decided on their own to flower and seemed to be doing fine without my help. They stopped growing and put their energy into flowering.
At first there is a whole lot of little white filaments at the tip of the branches. That is the beginning of the female plant. If you get little balls with a sort of a stem then you have a male flower and should cut it down. See the link to Royal Queen Seeds above.
If you have feminized seeds then it's unlikely you will get male flowers unless you have stressed them a lot.
I worried a lot about female / male flowers but I did not need to. My friend had a male flower and and the differences are very obvious when you see them side by side with female plants.
The flower gradually darkened and turned a reddish brown. They were also very sticky with resin and sort of sparkled in the sunshine. The leaves started yellowing at the bottom of the plants. Not all my plants looked the same and some did not get the reddish colour. There was quite a lot of variety even in my 4 plants.
Since the top was ripening faster than the bottom branches I started harvesting from the top. It's quite a lot of work to snip off the flowering branch, trim off the fan leaves and larger sugar leaves. The sugar leaves are the small leaves that grow around the flowers and they have lots of active components. The fan leaves are the big leaves that everyone recognizes as marijuana leaves, they don't have a lot of active chemicals.
After trimming, I hung the plants in my storage room to dry. I just hung them across clothe hangers in a dark place. That took longer than I expected. Eventually they were dry but not absolutely brittle. I stuck them in mason jars and went to harvest another batch that had ripened.
Cannabis has a strong smell
As soon as the flowers started coming out, the marijuana plants started smelling. It's a very distinctive smell and it is very strong. The smell intensified and when I harvested my plant and hung them up to dry, they filled the house with cannabis smell. It's not a bad smell but it's very recognizable if you have smelled it before.
According to Mr. Google, the plant produces filaments called trichomes which produce aromatic terpenes and cannabinoids.
Cannabis under the microscope
The image shows sugar leaves with resin and larger fan leaves with no resin. I was curious to see what the difference was between the 2 leaves.
This helps explain why the smaller sugar leaves carry lots of active chemicals and the larger fan leaves are not very useful and are often not kept unless you are producing lots of cannabis and can use them to extract the small amount of useful material from the big leaves. I just put mine in the composter.
A few close ups of the flowers and leaves covered with sticky resin.
At that point the flower buds could have been used and smoked but since I was not interested in drugs but rather in the pain/sleeping help, i went on to extract the oil.
What is decarboxilation?Leafly.ca page explaining decarboxilation.
Cannabis contains a great number of active compounds. Many of the health benefits can be enjoyed by consuming raw or dried cannabis. If however you are planning to get high, you have to decarboxilate your cannabis. I won't go in the details of the chemistry, read the link to Leafly above if you are interested.
In practice, if you want to get high you have to heat your cannabis. This causes it to decarboxilate and produces the THC which makes you high. If someone is smoking the marijuana, then the decarboxilation happens as it is heated. If you plan to make edibles material that make you high, then the cannabis has to be heated. There are countless methods but generally the dried cannabis is put on a baking sheet and put in the oven at a temperature between 190-240 for as little as 20 minutes and as long as several hours. Most instructions seem to be around 225 F for 45 minutes.
It's important not to heat it too high which will damage your cannabis.
Once your cannabis has been heat treated it can be further processed to extract oil or used directly in cooking.
I asked Mr. Google how to extract the DBD oil I hoped would help me sleep and take away the odd bit of pain in my hands. I was in for a surprise. There are as many recipes as there are people growing cannabis.
I eventually came up with 3 separate procedures. None of these procedures are intended to make material that make me high. There is no decarboxilation step although the long soaking in warm oil probably caused some to happen.
1- I blended fresh buds with oil and a small amount of water, heated it moderately for a few minutes then strained it out. This created a layer of green oil, a layer of mixed oil/water/sap, and a top layer of watery green stuff. I did my best to get rid of the mixture and top layer. Eventually this got a bit moldy even in the fridge. This was not very successful and I would not recommend it.
2-My second effort worked better. I used dry material crumbled up and used high proof alcohol. I read a lot of warnings about this method because the alcohol gas is very flammable and can easily start burning. After heating the mixture for a while in a glass coffee maker pot and electric hotplate working outside with a fire extinguisher nearby, I strained out the green liquid and continued gently heating. The alcohol eventually boiled out and I ended up with a thick goopy resinous material. This did not want to dissolve in anything and was probably fairly psychoactive. Not what I wanted. I just put it in the jar of oil and went on to try a third method. I don't think that is a useful method and it is dangerous.
3- My third experimenty was the most successful method for me. I used vegetable oil and crumbled dried buds. Everything went into a slow cooker to simmer at 170 F overnight. Mine was in there for about 22 hours. The cooker was closed. At the end I strained the oil out and put it in mason jars. It smelled very nice. In this experiment I used 450 grams of dried cannabis and a litre of oil. I had a lot of dried material since all my plants produced bumper crops.
I used a thermocouple that came with my multimeter to keep an eye on the temperature. The slow cooker is difficult to regulate exactly and the temperature fluctuated between 190 and 120 F. I kept it on the cooler side as much as I could.
Keeping the temperature down and the slow cooker covered helps reduce the loss of volatile compounds such as terpenes. According to Mr. Google, it helps prevent the oil from becoming bitter and keeps it smelling fresh.
A similar method is used to make butter extracts but I think the times are shorter. Some people used coconut oil instead of vegetable oil.
So, does it work?
I used some of the oil on my hands one day when they were hurting. I rubbed oil over the knuckles and sort of massaged it in. Eventually the pain went away. It's not an instant effect but it works. I've tried it many more times on my neck and back and hands and it always helped. It works better if it is applied several times over a few days so maybe a certain level needs to accumulate before it does any good. I certainly did not get high from a back rub.
I also tried the oil under my tongue at night to see if I slept better. I sometimes have trouble sleeping and was hoping to see an improvement.
In my experience it does not help me get to sleep BUT it seems to keep me asleep. In the end I get a better night's sleep.
I tried upping the dose from one eye dropper full to two, under the tongue, and did not see much of a difference except that I was a bit dizzy during the night. There is probably enough THC in the oil to have a slight effect.
What does the research say about cannabis?
Because it is a controlled substance that is illegal in many places there is not a lot of research available. This is changing and many projects are underway.
Cannabis is not a single substance but a combination great number of chemicals so the effects are often due to a interaction between the various components.
A recent article claimed that a combination of CBD and THC was more effective than CBD alone in controlling pain. This support the interaction of various chemicals is greater than single one.
There are many different strains of cannabis, each with a different composition.
At this point the research is not there to categorically explain observed benefits. Results are sometimes contradictory which adds to the confusion.
Cannabis and cannabinoids for the treatment of people with chronic noncancer pain conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled and observational studies. This study and many other fail to find cannabis a reliable pain medicine.
Anecdotal information confirms this. Using cannabis sometimes works for some people particularly in Neuropatic pain relief but sometimes has no effect.
Since pain measurement is quite subjective it is hard to quantify the effectiveness of cannabis as an analgesic.
Here is another paper on the effect of cannabis use for pain. It is more encouraging than the previous one. Cannabinoids for Medical Use: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.
Although cannabis is disappointing in pain control, it has proven effective in reducing nausea. Here is a paper Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids published by the British Pharmacological Society.
One area where marijuana derivative medicines have been shown to work is for some forms of child epilepsy. FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy
To add to the complexity of researching marijuana is the fact that many of the components interact with other medicines including antipsychotics and blood thinners.
Marijuana has been used for inflammatory bowel disease with success. It has also been used in Tourette's sydrome, muscle spasm and schizophrenia. Marijuana has been shown to slow some cancers. In depth double blind, placebo controlled research is not available at this point so we do not understand the mechanisms and effects of cannabis.
Web MD has a series of pages on Medical Marijuana and what the research shows This is a good article and is worth reading.
This information is for general knowledge. I am not an expert, this simply chronicles my experience growing and trying medicinal CBD oil. This is not intended to encourage people to use or experiment with cannabis. Some people have had bad reaction using cannabis, I make no claim as to it's safety. Don't give it to kids. Cannabis is legal in Canada but not in the US.