Unfortunately, the majority of the nation’s cannabis consumers must engage in black market bingo, a game of chance involving shady dealers, back alley handoffs, and often plenty of anxiety. Along with it, they must endure pot from unknown and unreliable sources that typically lacks a good cure. But what is curing and why is it important?
Many consumers aren’t concerned with the nuances of cannabis cultivation. In a culture acclimated to ignorance of the supply chain, concern for quality may be high, but knowledge of how that quality is attained is often lacking. In the case of curing cannabis, however, readers might want to pay extra attention. Why? Simply because the vast majority of cannabis available via the black market is not cured. While one shouldn’t have to cure the herb they purchase — especially at the prices demanded by the black market in prohibitionist states — it’s a sad reality.
While one may not be happy about overpaying for unfinished product, the good news is that anyone, even those with absolutely no green thumb, can easily cure cannabis that they purchase or grow themselves. Those in legal recreational states who are able to shop at dispensaries and retail outlets are almost guaranteed to be obtaining cured cannabis and typically need not worry about improving what they purchase.
Wrote one cultivator:
“Curing is what makes the difference between ‘just okay’ and trophy-worthy buds.”
Curing: Why and What
Curing accomplishes two primary tasks at the molecular level: Reducing the amount of chlorophyll in the buds and also breaking down sugars. Both goals produce a considerably smoother smoke or vape. Reducing the chlorophyll removes the aroma and flavor of freshly cut grass or fresh hay. Herb that confuses smokers for grass clippings simply needs a good cure.
Curing is the process of taking properly dried cannabis flowers and allowing the chlorophyll and sugars within to break down and escape in an effort to improve the aroma, flavor, and potency. The removal of sugars during curing increases the smoothness of cannabis flowers when smoked or vaped. Uncured herb typically produces coughing and may trigger reactions that mimic an allergic reaction. This negative response is literally caused by nothing more than chlorophyll and sugars.
The optimal humidity level for curing is about 45-55 percent — again, depending on the density and nature of the flowers being cured. Temperatures below 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) aren’t recommended because they dramatically slow the drying and curing process. Temps of 65-75 degrees F (18-24 C) are best for curing.
This important last stage of cultivation significantly improves the aroma (terpenes) and flavor of any strain of cannabis. All patients and lifestyle users will be interested in any increase in potency that can be achieved, stretching their supply of valuable medicine. Curing also reduces the chances of developing mold deep within the flowers, especially in dense indica buds. Considering the cost of cannabis medicine, an easy, free way to improve potency is of no trivial consequence to millions of patients and lifestyle users.
Fourth Stage of Cultivation
Cannabis gardening involves four distinct stages: The vegetative stage, flowering, drying stage, and curing. Black market pressures convince many gardeners to ignore the cure and push their product — void of their name, logo, or any real damage to their reputation — to market in an effort to generate quick cash from a customer base that typically can’t provide feedback. However, this is literally selling a wine before its time.
After buds are properly dried, the cure can begin. Determining the proper level of moisture in the flowers can be accomplished using the “snap test” in which stems or branches of buds are bent or broken. If they are dry enough to audibly snap and break, without softly bending, they are typically ready to begin the cure.
Curing doesn’t require special equipment or hours of time. Instead, all that is needed is a standard, air-tight canning jar or similar container that is stored in the dark. The process lasts for between roughly two weeks and two months; different cannabis samples require slightly different environmental conditions and cure periods.
Basically, the longer the cure, the better the aroma and potency of the resulting cannabis. After one’s flowers are stored in an air-tight jar, with a bit of air remaining (do not remove all air), open the jar each day to allow air to circulate among the buds and for it to “breathe.” Perform this task once each day, leaving the jar open and exposed to air for about 15 minutes. This allows the chlorophyll and sugars, which have leached from the bud into the air, to escape the jar and promotes additional degradation of these unwanted chemicals.
Some cultivators recommend opening one’s curing jar(s) every two to three days and leaving them open for one to three hours. Regardless of the exact process and timetable one adopts, what is important is that curing jars are opened on a regular basis and air is allowed to circulate within them for a short period. Smoke testing the bud after a couple of weeks will provide a real-life indication of the progress of the cure and how effectively the chlorophyll has been removed. Involving a more experienced cultivator or smoker in this test is recommended if one is a newbie and curing for the first time.
If, upon the first check of the curing herb, one smells ammonia, it signals that the herb isn’t completely dry. If this occurs, one must first properly dry the herb and begin the cure again. As the cure progresses, the jars can be be opened and checked less often. At the end of the process, if the jar can be kept closed for a period of one to two weeks and, when opened, provides no odor of ammonia or chlorophyll, the core cure may be complete and the herb ready to smoke or vape. Some cultivators have experimented with cure periods lasting as long as two years, claiming it has resulted in extremely smooth smoke that features improved potency and cannabinoid and terpene profiles that offer greater medicinal efficacy or psychoactive effect.
Legalized States Leading the Way
One of the most desirable effects of legalization, such as what is being experienced in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and California, is a cannabis production and distribution network that features professional, at least partially regulated cultivation facilities and dispensaries with a focus on the potency, flavor, and overall quality of the cannabis they grow and sell. The basic dynamic of an open market ensures that businesses will strive to produce cannabis medicine that is higher in quality than their competitors — something that requires a solid cure.
Most Americans, however, reside in prohibitionist states and must shop the black market, typically obtaining cannabis with little or no cure whatsoever. Patients and consumers in such states must either live with harsh, less potent herb or learn to cure it themselves. Hopefully, in the near future, the issue of uncured cannabis will be moot as more states legalize and reputable dispensaries and smoking lounges emerge that sell well-cured flowers — just as a Toyota dealership sells cars with a full tank of gas.
This post was originally published on February 6, 2016, it was updated on October 5, 2017.