Growing Medical Marijuana:
When you consume marijuana medicinally, there are many reasons why you’d want a constant supply on hand. For a lot of patients, this means growing your own. But how do you get started growing marijuana, and how do you ensure the best quality marijuana for your purposes? This guide will discuss the best ways to grow marijuana for medical use.
What is Medical Marijuana?
Before we begin discussing ways to grow medical marijuana, we should first clarify what medical marijuana is. To be honest, there is no real difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. However, depending on where you reside, there may be legal differences based on how it will be used. In some areas, only medical use of marijuana is permitted. In others, such as in most of the West Coast of the United States, medical users are allowed to have more marijuana than recreational users.
When it comes to the actual plant, though, there is no “medical strain” of cannabis. Instead, there are thousands of varieties that include options such as Indica, Sativa, high CBD or a hybrid of many features. Unfortunately for patients though, recreational marijuana options are usually driven by the market demand. This means that many medical users are severely limited in their options when trying to relieve specific symptoms as recreational users may not seek the same effects. Because of this phenomenon, in many areas, medical marijuana is any type of marijuana that is not popular for recreational use.
Many people mistakenly think that medical marijuana means strains that too strong for recreational use. That is also not necessarily true. Marijuana can cause many different effects. Some strains of cannabis produce strong mental effects, while others have more physical effects. Some affect your mood, while others affect your appetite. Deciding to grow medical marijuana, therefore is less about growing a specific strain or quality, and more about growing exactly what your symptoms need.
Why You Should Grow Medical Marijuana Indoors
Marijuana is an easy to grow plant that naturally thrives outdoors, but there are some specific benefits to growing medical marijuana indoors. The largest reason is that indoors, you completely control the results. This is important because when you are consuming marijuana to relieve specific symptoms, you want to know exactly what you are consuming, and you want the highest quality. When growing outdoors, there are more variables (including wildfires, drought, storms, and animals) and therefore, more uncertainty.
Create a hygienic environment
One variable that you are in complete control of is the environment. Indoors, you can ensure a hygienic environment because you are responsible for creating it. When growing cannabis for medicinal use, it should be free from germs, fungus, parasites and any other microscopic organisms that could cause illness. If the patient has a weak immune system or has trouble breathing due to allergies, insects, mold spores and pesticides should be avoided at all costs. A hygienic environment can only be guaranteed when growing indoors.
Creating a hygienic environment also means creating the ideal climate. Climate problems such as high humidity can lead to hygiene problems such as mold. If this occurs outdoors, there is little that can be done. In an indoor environment, simply adjust the environment to prevent this from occurring.
Enjoy multiple harvests
Outdoor growing is great but growing with the seasons is not. When you depend on Mother Nature to provide for your plants, you will be left with only one harvest per year, especially if you live far from the equator. An interesting fact, however, is that cannabis is an annual plant and has a few flowering periods per year. So, the number of harvests is less about the plant and more about the environment. When you grow indoors, you can create the right conditions for a cannabis plant to produce more than one harvest in a year
With practice, you could hypothetically harvest six times per year because it takes a plant two months to mature and flower. That means you could grow cannabis year-round when done indoors. You only need two rooms, one for the vegetation phase (where you give it 18 hours of light) and one for the flowering phase (where you give it 12 hours of light). In the flowering room, your plants could mature while cuttings stem and sprout in the vegetative room. Once the cuttings mature, move them into the flowering room, and by then, it should be about time to harvest the first group that has finished flowering. This simple method enables you to grow up to six harvests annually.
Have a good time
Indoor marijuana growing may not be easy, but it is definitely rewarding. It can also be a lot of work and is something that takes a lifetime to master due to all of the subtleties. Growing marijuana indoors is a craft, and many crafts are fun.
For the chronically ill, crafts are a wonderful diversion, because they provide a learning experience that is stimulating to the mind. Growing marijuana can help patients focus on things other than their health. Learning about how the cannabis plant grows can instill a deep appreciation for healing plants, in general. Plus, there’s not much more relaxing than watching a plant grow.
If medical marijuana could be defined as high-quality cannabis designed exactly for the condition you are intending to address, indoor growing is the best way to grow it. That doesn’t mean it’s always the best decision, though. Indoor growing takes a lot of effort and time. It also costs more than growing outdoors. Most of all, in some areas indoor growing is illegal, whereas outdoor growing is not. Do the research to determine your best option and always stay safe.
Setting up Your Indoor Grow Room
If you’ve decided to grow your medical marijuana indoors, you’ll need to do a little planning. You are going to provide everything that nature does, and it’s going to take some work. Growing medical marijuana is about focusing on quality. You want to produce “medicine” that does its job well, doesn’t introduce new problems into your system, and is always available when you need it. You can do this by keeping your plants healthy, harvesting at the right time and properly drying and curing your harvest. It all starts with the right setup.
Some gardeners prefer to use fluorescent or compact fluorescent lights, but most gravitate toward 400-, 600-, or 1000-watt high-pressure sodium lamps found on the internet and at indoor garden shops. These often include special ballasts and a reflector. Depending on the strain you decide to use, plants need between 45 and 60 watts input per square foot of canopy. A 400-watt light illuminates between 6 and 10 square feet while a 1000-watt lamp illuminates between 16 and 20 square feet. Keep in mind, Indicas and Indica hybrids need less light to thrive than Sativas and Sativa hybrids.
Lighting is essential to your plants because they use it (along with water and carbon dioxide) to produce sugar and release oxygen. Sugar is the primary building block for tissue growth—including bud growth—and is used to power metabolism. The more light energy the plant receives and can use, the faster and more dynamic the growth will be.
In the same space, a garden grown under a 400-watt lamp will only produce 40% of the bud that a loop-watt lamp would. Gardens generally yield about 3/8 to 1 gram per watt of lighting. A gardener using a 400-watt lamp will usually harvest between 6 and 14 ounces every two to four months. Under a loop-watt lamp, the harvest can increase to between 13 ounces and a full 2.25 pounds.
Temperature and Climate
Your plants need the perfect temperature and climate to thrive, but all of those lights make it hot. In order to maintain adequate temperatures, the heat produced by the lamps needs to be eliminated. The two best ways of achieving that goal are an air-cooled reflector or a water-cooled reflector. These units will enclose the lamp in a cooling system that is not a part of the grow space. The air or water is odorless and can be used for heat in another space.
Temperatures can also rise due to the absorption of light, much of which is converted to heat. The humidity will also build up causing the plants to practically mine the CO2 from the air. Without CO2, the plants cannot produce the vital tissue-building sugars, and growth will stop until the CO2 is replenished. Because of all of this, the growing space must be ventilated with fresh air.
Of course, simple ventilation can be achieved by opening a curtain or door, but some gardeners prefer complex methods like using flexible tubing and an inline fan. You could have the ventilation line controlled by a thermostat or humidistat, but some growers like to keep the ventilation going whenever the lights are on.
Indoor gardeners can choose between growing in planting containers with planting mix and using hydroponics. Hydroponic systems use a non-nutritive rooting medium that provides nutrients by adding fertilizer to the water. Using hydroponics effectively requires more skill and accuracy because there are no natural buffers in the medium. Read this guide for more on hydroponic growing.
Once you’ve set up your indoor grow room it’s time to start planting. Whether you’re starting with sexed seedlings or clones, place your plants in containers filled with a high-quality enriched indoor planting mix. For the sake of convenience, use three-gallon containers. They aren’t that heavy, and they also give the roots enough room to grow.
Set up your room so that you can leave the lights on for 18 to 24 hours per day. The longer light periods will help the plants reach the flowering stage faster.
After about three weeks, the plants should be between 1 and 1.5 feet (30 to 45 cm) tall and ready to flower. At this point, you should change the light cycle to 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of light. Use an automatic timer so that the light goes on and off at the same time each day without running the risk of human error. It’s important to avoid interrupting the dark period, even briefly, with light. If you must use light, choose green light – it is the only safe light to use while in a dark garden.
You’ll also want to change the fertilizer to a special flowering formula. In 7 to 10 weeks, depending on the particular variety, the top buds will be ripe. Make sure any buds hidden underneath the top canopy are left on the plant. They will ripen in around 7 to 10 days.
Optimizing your Grow
The basic idea behind growing indoors is quite simple, but if you want to have the best results, you’ll want to do a bit more. These steps will not only result in high-quality medical marijuana but also lower your costs so that you can focus on growing more of it.
- Choose full spectrum lights. LED lights are not as powerful as other options, but they use less electricity and produce less heat. Plus, the full spectrum wavelength matches what plants use in nature resulting in a more natural grow.
- Grow feminized seeds. If you accidentally introduce a male plant into your garden, you could ruin an entire harvest and have to wait another 2 months to redo it.
- Cultivate “fast-finish” strains. Certain strains will finish flowering in eight weeks (instead of fourteen). A shorter flowering period means more harvest per year.
- Learn and use training techniques. Techniques such as Sea of Green and Low-Stress Training can help boost yields while also lowering costs.
In addition to saving money, you may also want to use your ability to “grow your own medicine” as a way to keep it as natural as possible. When you buy marijuana from a dispensary or dealer, you are never quite certain if it has been treated with dangerous chemicals. When you are in control, you do not have this worry, as there are plenty of ways to reduce the use of chemical while growing medical marijuana. Whether you decide to use natural nutrients, natural pest control, or even create natural pesticide sprays, you can optimize your garden to produce the most natural and cost-effective “medicine” available.
A Note on CBD Strains
Although, as explained above, there isn’t a specific “medical marijuana strain,” many medical users enjoy high amounts of CBD in their marijuana. When considering strains, therefore, it is important to understand what CBD strains actually are. Generally, a CBD strain is any strain with at least 2% CBD. Most strains today produce less than 1% CBD; therefore, 2% is enough to be considered “high CBD.” However, for therapeutic purposes, the ratio of CBD to THC is much more important than the actual percentage. For example, a strain with a 1:1 THC to CBD ratio will have much more mild effects than one with a 2:1 THC to CBD ratio. This is simply because CBD can minimize many of the effects of THC.
If you are looking for a strain with high CBD levels and limited psychoactive effects, you’ll want something with at least 2% CBD that also has a ratio of CBD that is greater than THC. In general, autoflowering strains tend to have higher CBD because they are created by crossing hemp plants with an established strain. The hemp naturally has CBD, making many of these varieties naturally high CBD strains. You can also find non-autoflowering strains that have been specifically bred for CBD. These strains are often available as clones.
Growing a high CBD strain is less about you and more about the plant as CBD levels are based on a plant’s genetics. You can never make a cannabis plant produce more CBD than it is designed to do. You, can, however, provide the optimal environment so that the cannabis plant can reach its full potential.
When growing high CBD strains, you want to take the same steps as you would any other type of marijuana, such as not harvesting too early and keeping your plants healthy. However, since CBD is much more prevalent in hemp (a cousin to marijuana) some alterations to the growing environment might prove beneficial. Wild hemp tends to grow well in warmer soil, with warmer air and with less rain than Indica and Sativa and the same may be true for high CBD strains. Therefore, when growing these strains indoors, make sure your grow room is warm enough (but not too warm) and that you don’t overwater your plants.
Growing marijuana indoors is one of the best ways to ensure you have an ample supply of natural relief. Not only is it sometimes fun, but it also isn’t impossible. With some preparation and time, you can grow high-quality cannabis that is specifically chosen for your medicinal needs. When you grow indoors, the results are up to you, because you’re in control.