When you take a step back for a minute, you realize that the cannabis industry’s legalization in many states has changed its impact on the economy. Many voters thought that legalization would give them more freedom to use the plant for various purposes, but they might not have considered its potential impact on the planet. You might want to learn more about where your cannabis comes from. So, we pose this question: Is cannabis cultivation using too much energy? Because the answer is shocking, we suggest you sit down. The idea that you were keeping to a green lifestyle by purchasing cannabis products isn’t always correct, especially if you decided to purchase from a licensed producer. Here’s why:
The Ecological Footprint Isn’t Good
Two metrics about the cannabis industry might give you pause. One independent study by Evan Mills, a senior scientist for California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, found that indoor cannabis growers aggregated a minimum of $6 billion in energy costs in 2012, which was $5 billion more than the pharmaceutical companies’ combined use in that same year. Another comparison is more staggering. When you combine the energy use of facilities in 23 states with legalized marijuana production, they’re emitting more greenhouse gasses than every home, business, and automobile in the state of New Hampshire. This comes at a time when the United States is trying to meet the terms of the Paris climate accord and the EPA is figuring out how we can limit greenhouse gas emission from coal-burning power plants. We know that these power plants, which provide much-needed electricity, are the single biggest cause of global warming in our country.
The easiest way to understand this problem is that there is not enough standardization for indoor cannabis growers. They need more eco-friendly practices. Many growers use outdated equipment, including light bulbs connected to inefficient electrical systems. They are most likely to waste electricity in older homes and buildings. Their single connection to the electric company can even cause their transformer to blow out due to the overconsumption of their indoor operations. Another way to look at this problem is that many growers still maintain their facilities off the grid. Instead of using electricity from local providers, they will adopt a solution such as a diesel generator, which dumps greenhouse gasses into the air.
The Case of Colorado
Let’s take the state of Colorado as an example. The state legalized marijuana production in 2012. Just two years later, more than 1,234 authorized growers comprised nearly half of the demand for electrical power. Their combined use of power is equivalent to that of 35,000 households.
The Future is Bright
You might not understand why the cannabis industry is using so much power, so as to place a high demand on electricity providers. We read about one operation in a Colorado warehouse where it was necessary for workers to don sunglasses because the bulbs that were providing artificial sunlight to the cannabis plants burn 500 times brighter than one reading light. That’s some powerful sunlight to stimulate growth. Are providers trying to grow super plants? Is the solution to move their operations outside? Honestly, legalized production in 23 states makes it easier to grow outdoors without concern of being caught, but some locations lack enough sunlight throughout the year to support their cannabis operations. It’s not like every state has the natural amount of sunlight that Florida offers to its orange growers.
We’re concerned that the use of energy to grow marijuana indoors is unknown to many consumers, especially if they want a green lifestyle. Cannabis producers can do a little research and then choose to buy from growers with eco-friendly growing practices. We will find more details on this subject and post them in the future.
As cannabis legalization continues, the agricultural needs of cannabis are becoming more apparent.
A new report from the data firm New Frontier studies the long-term implications of energy consumption due to the cultivation of cannabis.
“Marijuana is the most energy-intensive agricultural commodity that we produce, and that’s largely because of the very high energy costs associated with its cultivation and production indoors,”
said John Kagia, director of industry analytics for New Frontier, to the Washington Post.
“We wanted to focus on this issue of energy use in the marijuana industry because we think it is one that is going to have very significant long-term implications.”
The new report suggests that the marijuana industry consumed one percent of the nation’s electricity.
Growing marijuana on an industrial scale requires massive amounts of electricity to control light, heat, humidity and HVAC conditions in indoor growing operations. While there are climates in the United States that can support marijuana growth, local and state laws often restrict outdoor growing operations. “There are some environments, by regulation or because of the environmental conditions, you would not be able to,” said Kaiga. While outdoor conditions might seem ideal, pest control becomes a significant issue, and has already caused product recalls due to the presence of pesticides.
To conserve energy, experts have been recommending legislation and incentives for growers to use clean energy, like solar energy and LED lighting.
“To date, they have still not been able to surpass the cost performance threshold offered by existing lights, but we are getting there, and we think this innovation that is happening around the lighting sector is one of the ways that this industry will be able to decouple itself from this extremely high energy use,”
In the meantime, Colorado and other states are taxing growers for excessive energy use. Even with the added costs, growers are still able to make a profit. However, that could change as more states legalize marijuana. “Currently, energy accounts for approximately half of the wholesale prices of marijuana, and as those prices fall, the share of energy and the total production cost will continue to increase,” said Kaiga. If falling prices are not an incentive for growers to change their methods, marketing cannabis products made with clean energy could entice consumers who are environmentally conscious, as it has in other industries.
Of the many active ingredients in marijuana, cannabinoids — the miracle molecules that deliver most of the plant’s medical efficacy — are not the whole picture. Some cannabis consumers may be aware of terpenes, the cannabinoid-like chemicals that give herb such a pungent aroma.
What most do not know is that terpenes also deliver therapeutic relief, just like their cousins the cannabinoids.
Terpenes are produced in special secretory cells within the trichomes of the plant, the nearly microscopic resinous stalks that cover the flowers and sometimes leaves. This is also where all cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, are created. About 20,000 terpenes exist in nature; more than 200 have been identified in cannabis (compared to 111 cannabinoids).
Like amino acids (or possibly even nootropics for memory and focus), terpenes are powerful building blocks within the plant’s physiology that aid in the production of vitamins, hormones, pigments, resins, and — yes, that most cherished part of the herb — cannabinoids. Cannabis plants release more terpenes when temperatures are higher.
Beyond odor, terpenes play several roles, including protecting the cannabis plant against predators like insects and animals. These special molecules constitute roughly 10 to 20 percent of the total pre-smoked resin in the trichome. It is estimated that 10 to 30 percent of smoke resin produced by marijuana comes from terpenes.
There are actually two types of pinene, alpha and beta. The alpha variety carries a scent of pine needles or rosemary; the beta type smells like dill, parsley, rosemary, basil, or hops. Like its terpene cousins myrcene and limonene, pinene is found in many non-cannabis plants. In fact, it is the most common terpene found in the plant world.
Pinene’s medical efficacy includes increased mental focus and energy. It also acts as a bronchodilator, making it helpful for people with asthma and other respiratory ailments. In addition, it can be used as a topical antiseptic. Probably the most promising application of this terpene, however, is its power to reduce the size of cancerous tumors.
Pinene’s magical power is derived from its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain, it affects existing neurotransmitters in such a manner that it results in better memory. Pinene has also shown to inhibit the influence of THC, an example of the entourage effect that may result in a decrease in paranoia or adverse psychological reactions from this cannabinoid when consumed in large quantities.
The power of pinene is nothing new. For literally thousands of years, many cultures around the world have used plants containing large quantities of pinene, like rosemary and sage, for the preservation and enhancement of memory. It’s only today that researchers have a minor understanding of how pinene accomplishes this in the brain.
A 2002 study published in the journal Inhalation Toxicology revealed that alpha-pinene is an effective bronchodilator, meaning it opens the airways of the upper respiratory system. This makes strains of cannabis high in pinene valid treatments for diseases like asthma.
A 2011 study conducted by at Northeast Forestry University in China revealed that the anti-microbial qualities of pinene allow it to treat bacterial and viral infections. It concluded that pinene may be a valid treatment for the virus bronchitis, a condition that is much harder to treat than conventional bacterial infections.
A study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2011 and conducted by Ethan Russo found that alpha-pinene has anti-inflammatory properties that may result it efficacy for inflammation-related diseases, including cancer, arthritis, Crohn’s, and multiple sclerosis. The study concluded that alpha-pinene and all terpenes present in cannabis work together synergistically to deliver therapeutic value:
“[Terpenes] display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts…phytocannabinoid-terpenoid interactions…could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, [and] fungal and bacterial infection.”
A 2013 study revealed that pinene reduced cancer tumor size and that it acts as a antioxidative and anti-cancer agent. A 2014 study of alpha-pinene derived from pine needle oil found that it was an effective anti-cancer medication. The study concluded:
“Taken together, these findings indicate that α-pinene may be useful as a potential anti-tumor drug.”
Probably the most significant result of the limited research conducted to date is that pinene — and all terpenes — act in a synergistic manner with other terpenes, as well as cannabinoids like THC, to provide medicinal efficacy for those suffering from a wide range of diseases, especially cancer. Of course, more studies are necessary before doctors and budtenders can begin recommending cannabis strains high in pinene for such ailments.
Strains high in pinene include Bubba Kush (an indica), ChemDawg (a hybrid), and Trainwreck (another hybrid).