Indoor Vs. Outdoor Cannabis: Which Method Wins?

By Tricia Cleppe | July 16, 2017

There are two main camps when it comes to growing cannabis: indoor and outdoor. You can’t discuss indoor vs. outdoor weed without ruffling some feathers, so this article aims to be as neutral as possible while providing relevant facts and studies.

Growing Indoor Cannabis

Growing cannabis indoors began in the 1980s, when Reagan’s War On Drugs began helicopter surveillance for outdoor grows. Since then, a cottage industry has exploded resulting in crazy new technologies for lighting and nutrients, to robots that track the needs of indoor cannabis plants 24 hours a day.

Controlled Environments Result In Great Bud & Year Long Harvests


With these new innovations comes the ability to grow super-human buds that consumers have come to expect and are willing to pay a premium to smoke. Growing indoors means having complete control over the plant’s environment, from air flow, to nutrients, to 24 hour lighting cycles and can be grow with an emphasis on a specific characteristic.

Indoor grows can be harvested all year long, in areas that would not be ideal for growing cannabis outside.

Intense Energy Consumption Needed For Growing Indoors


Complete control of the indoor environment can be a double edged sword. Cannabis becomes a more delicate plant when grown indoors, more susceptible to pests, mold and mildew when in a controlled environment. That means indoor cultivation operations must be under strict, nearly 24-hour monitoring to make sure their crops stay healthy. Indoor cannabis is more likely to be sprayed with pesticides that could be harmful to humans when heat is applied.

All of this monitoring and lighting results in a more expensive end product and also a pretty serious environmental footprint.

According to a study by Evan Mills, published in Energy Policy, cannabis is one of the most energy intensive crops on the planet. In 2011 when the study was done, indoor cannabis growing used 1% of the nation’s total energy supply. That’s equal to the energy consumption of two million average households, or three million additional cars on the road. It should be noted this study was done before many of the new technologies for indoor growing were created, and new technologies could have an impact on energy consumption.

In summary, indoor cannabis means a consistent and aesthetically pleasing product that can be harvested all year long, with emphasis on specific characteristics of the plant that consumers may value enough to pay a premium to consume. With that comes a pretty hefty environmental footprint, from pesticides to energy consumption.

Growing Outdoor Cannabis

Outdoor cannabis production took an obvious hit during the War On Drugs, but has since made a comeback as some states legalize outdoor production. Some argue that outdoor cannabis is the natural and superior way to grow the plant, giving credence to its history and using more environmentally-friendly techniques.

Using A Plant’s Natural Environment Results In A Robust Terpene Profile


Environments like Hawaii or Northern California are optimal for cannabis growth because of rich, carbon-filled soil. In these environments, a truly excellent product can be grown that gives indoor cannabis a serious run for its money. According to a study done by a testing lab analyzing 2,700 plants showed outdoor plants had at least 1% higher THC levels, and more robust terpene profiles that give cannabis its flavor and smell.

Why do outdoor cannabis plants produce more robust terpene profiles? Many master growers believe it is related to “terroir”, a term mostly used in relation to wine grapes, but can be applied to any plant. Terroir is defined as “the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics.” Growing cannabis outdoors allows its entire unique ecosystem to play a part in the end result of the plant.

Outdoor Cannabis Is More Resilient & Environmentally Friendly


Using natural sunlight and moonlight to grow plants instead of artificial lighting is more environmentally friendly. But, outdoor growing is also more environmentally friendly when it comes to harsh pesticides. When grown outdoors, cannabis is a much more resilient plant.

Outdoor cannabis adapts to its surroundings, able to fend off pests, mold and mildew much more effectively and naturally than plants grown in a controlled environment. Outdoor farmers can introduce companion planting and other farming techniques to encourage an ecosystem that keeps their plants healthy without using so many potentially harmful pesticides.

In summary, while outdoor cannabis cannot be harvested all year long and may not have the same visual aesthetics as indoor, outdoor cannabis is more environmentally friendly and has a robust terpene profile and slightly higher THC percentage on average.



Tricia Cleppe

Tricia is the Sr. Manager of Marketing at New Frontier Data and has previously worked with cannabis non-profit organizations, including Spark The Conversation.

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