Cannabis and the Environment

Written by Alexandra Arnett

You may notice a lot of farms throwing around the term ‘sustainable farming’, but what does that actually mean? Sustainability is defined as the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. But is sustainability really sustainable? The purpose of sustainability is to maintain. Maintaining what was already there is simply not enough when looking at the bigger picture. As hard as we may try to maintain, the biodiversity of the planet is still suffering from our actions, thus we must make efforts to restore this biodiversity. Methods such as regenerative farming include taking part in a diverse bioecological system and giving back to the earth. Practices include planting complementary plants alongside your cannabis, growing various crops in the offseason to protect the soil, composting, using natural soil and avoiding chemical additives. Some farms have even been successful in dry farming cannabis plants which means they don’t use supplemental irrigation systems for their plants. Now, in a place like Oregon, this may produce cannabis that ends up molding, but for drier climates, this practice does show some promise.

Regarding “organic” cannabis farming, the USDA actually does not certify any cannabis as organic as it is illegal under federal law. Hemp, on the other hand, can obtain a USDA Organic certification. In an effort to obtain similar “organic” certification for cannabis farms, various organizations have been established that helps to ensure farms follow specific “sustainable” standards. Some of these organizations that work with farms in Oregon include Dragonfly Earth Medicine, Certified-Kind, Sun+Earth Certified and Clean Green Certified. Each organization has different requirements for getting certified and some are more stringent than others in regard to certain farming practices. [The various rules for each are linked above.] There are also a number of farms that make claims about having “organic” practices, but the reality is that we can’t be certain. In addition, everyone has their own idea of what “organic cannabis” looks like. Farms should make an effort to practice regenerative farming methods in order to give back to the earth.

I know we would all like to think that growing cannabis does no harm to the planet. But the reality is that growing cannabis in a way that benefits the environment wholly takes much more effort than simply choosing to grow outdoors. There are three main environments in which cannabis is commercially grown: indoor, outdoor and light-deprivation greenhouse. Some farms just grow cannabis using one of these methods, others may implement multiple methods if accessible. Typically, cannabis plants are grown in soil, either directly in the ground or in a planter pot. However, indoor cannabis growing operations may often use a hydroponic method of growing. Hydroponic growing involves suspending the roots of the plants in buckets of water and a medium such as perlite or coconut fiber.

Out of all the growing methods, outdoor growing is the one that would require the least energy and water. Greenhouse growing methods are also another good choice if you may be dealing with inclement weather for growing cannabis. Indoor growing and hydroponic methods are the most wasteful, in both energy and water consumption, especially when the methods are combined. If you want to choose the best method for the environment, growing cannabis in the earth’s natural soil provides a number of benefits to the earth and uses the sun rather than artificial lighting and energy.

While there is an overall lack of research on the effect indoor cannabis cultivation may be having on the environment, in 2020, one researcher Evan Mills published an in-depth follow-up study to a 2012 paper on cannabis energy use and cost. According to his data, indoor cannabis cultivation produces up to 15 million metric tonnes of CO2 per year and can cost upwards of $6 million a year. To compare this, Oregonians produce around 20 million metric tonnes per year in transportation emissions. However, there are ways to mitigate some of the negative effects of indoor cannabis cultivation there are a few steps that can be taken. Implementing things such as renewable energy sources, LED lighting, reusing water through reverse osmosis and even collecting rainwater for use are all ways indoor cannabis cultivators can help lessen their impact on the environment. 

Let us not forget though that there can be negative effects to the consumer if cannabis is grown in less than ideal environmental conditions. Not only does cannabis pull toxins out of the soil it is grown in, when it is grown outdoors there is a chance for dirt and other allergens to contaminate the plant. Overall, knowing your grow is the most important thing you can do to ensure you are getting the most quality product on the market.

Cannabis, COVID-19, and our Lungs

Written By Alexandra Arnett, photographed by Danny Avina

Shortly before the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, the US was suffering another lung crisis. Vape pens were all over the news in 2019 for reports of illnesses and deaths related to smoking them. The most recent update by the CDC was on February 18th, 2020. It showed that there have been 2,807 cases of illnesses related to nicotine or cannabis vapes, with 68 deaths. Among these patients, 2,022 of them reported which substance was being vaped, with 82% reported using THC containing products, while 33% reporting the use of exclusive THC containing products. Of the affected, 50% reported where their product was sourced, with 16% having obtained them from retail businesses and 78% obtaining them from friends, online, or other dealers. Overall, since the last article in February, there has not been a large rise in cases. However, it’s possible that the pandemic took front row for CDC priorities and it simply was not viable to keep reporting vaping illnesses, especially with what we know about the virus.

As a recap from the last Cannabis & The Lungs piece, we know that cannabis, specifically the terpene pinene and the cannabinoid THC, are both bronchodilators. As a bronchodilator, they help open up the airways to the lungs and may even help with conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma. However, there are several ingredients that companies have been found to use in vape cartridges that have not shown to be safe for vaping—or have not been tested for inhalation safety at all. These ingredients include MCT oil, natural and artificial flavorings and non-cannabis derived terpenes.

So far, the vaping crisis seems to have been subdued and the focus has been shifted. Other than Colorado, no other states pursued permanent bans on anything other than Vitamin E acetate. Currently, in Oregon, the OLCC is in the process of putting together a cannabis vape-additive ban which would ban all additives other than natural cannabis-derived terpenes. This means no more natural and artificial flavoring, no non-cannabis-derived terpenes, and no MCT oil or other additives. California has similar pending legislation but it would allow for botanically derived terpenes and other natural flavors. 

More recently, COVID-19 and cannabis have been in the news as researchers have been scrambling to find some sort of medicine that can help ease symptoms and/or treat the effects of the virus. As mentioned in the paragraphs above, we know that THC and pinene are bronchodilators. Currently, researchers have been analyzing CBD and specific terpene formulations for potential to help fight against the virus. 

CBD has been found to be an ACE2 inhibitor and it reduces inflammatory cytokine production. The inhibition of ACE2 expression plays an important role in how COVID-19 enters host cells. When ACE2 expression is inhibited, the virus has a more difficult time entering a host cell. In relation to cytokine production, COVID-19 creates what is called a “cytokine storm.” This cytokine storm is the release of so many cytokines that they become harmful to the host cells. Researchers in Israel are currently looking at CBD in combination with a terpene formulation. This terpene formulation is a blend of 30 various terpenes that have shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. While the research has not gone through any clinical trials, the results the research has produced is promising information. 

Neither the author nor Green Eugene endorses anything in this article as medical advice for treating or curing COVID-19. If you are having symptoms please get tested and speak with your doctor. Remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing out in public spaces, and avoid large crowds.