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Cannabis & the Climate: How Is Climate Change Affecting Cannabis?

What effects could the climate have on cannabis?

Can cannabis help offset climate change?

Article By
Daily CBD , last updated on November 25, 2021

Climate change is a very real thing, and we’re soon to be in a global crisis. The effect humans have had on this planet through farming, fossil fuels, and plastic pollution is becoming more apparent by the day. The global temperature is increasing, soil depleting, and natural flora & fauna are reducing at phenomenal rates.

One thing’s for sure; we will suffer from our selfish greed and “power” over the planet’s resources. Climate change will affect many things, including the way we eat, live, and farm.

Climate change will affect cannabis but will it be for better or for worse? Will it encourage stronger buds? Will it put an end to the cannabis plant? And, could cannabis and hemp be a solution to controlling this encroaching crisis? 

In this article, we’ll be attempting to answer these questions.

How is Climate Change Affecting the Planet?

The effects of climate change can already be seen across the globe, and, unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse unless humans as a species make some drastic changes. Loss of sea ice and glaciers, shorter winters, longer summers, and changing migration patterns are just a few of the worrying signs of climate change.

Climate change (global warming) is next to habitat destruction as a leading cause of species extinction. Scientists estimate that a 1.5℃ average temperature increase will put 20 to 30% of natural flora and fauna at risk of extinction. If the global temperature increases by more than 2℃, we can expect a rapid biodiversity decline in most ecosystems. 

Of course, climate change is a natural occurrence. Historically, Earth has gone through climate shifts that affect the species that inhabit it. However, we are affecting the climate at such a fast rate that the species here cannot adapt or evolve to suit the conditions in time.

If we keep going at the rate we are and don’t take drastic action to resolve our mistakes, the damage we’re causing to the planet could be irreversible in as little as 12 years.

10% of our planet is covered with ice — but we’ve already lost more than 28 trillion tons of it since 1994 alone. 

There are three types of ice — sea ice, land ice (glaciers), and permafrost (ice-locked in the soil). All are important for our global ecosystem.

Sea ice supports the whole of the arctic and antarctic environments, and glaciers lock up over 6 million cubic miles of water — keeping sea levels constant and protecting our coastlines from flooding.

Sea ice and glaciers protect our globe from overheating because the icy caps reflect sunlight away from the surface rather than absorbing it. 

As the ice melts due to climate change, it creates a follow-on effect. As more ice melts, less heat is reflected, thus speeding up the warming of the planet. 

The third type of ice melt is arguably the most worrying — permafrost thaw. Permafrost is ice that’s locked in the soil of our northern regions. Permafrost stores twice the amount of carbon that’s in the atmosphere, and it’s melting rapidly. As the permafrost melts, it releases that locked carbon into the atmosphere. 

This effect could kick climate change into hyperdrive, causing the caps to melt faster and temperatures to rise dramatically. 

Unless we make changes now, the follow-on effect from sea ice, land ice, and permafrost thaw will be unstoppable. 

Every plant, human, and animal will be affected by climate change. 

So, how will cannabis be affected by this global catastrophe, and could it possibly help us get out of this crisis?

What Affects Could a Warming Climate Have on Cannabis?

Climate change could have both positive and negative effects on the world of cannabis. On the one hand, we could expect higher quality cannabis due to optimized conditions through global warming. On the other hand, we could see the beloved plant suffer from the negative effects of climate change. 

We can only guess what effects a changing climate will have on cannabis, but by looking at how the plant reacts in different environments, we can paint a relatively accurate picture. 

1. Climate Change Could Lead to More Potent Buds

The trichomes of the cannabis plant (the resinous glands that give the flower its sparkling glow) help protect the plant from several environmental threats. Trichomes are produced as a deterrent to animals, bugs, and some forms of fungus. They also help protect the flowers from overexposure to UV from the sun’s rays.

So, what does this mean in terms of potency?

Trichomes are the main source of resin in the cannabis plant. Products such as hash and concentrates are made using the trichomes of the flower (or buds). This is because the trichomes hold the highest percentage of cannabinoids such as delta 9 THC and CBD.

Environmental threats (within reason) can cause the plant to overproduce these trichomes in an attempt to deter pests, fungus, and changes in light and temperature. The more resin a bud produces, the higher the concentration of cannabinoids — especially THC. 

As the climate warms, cannabis grown outside will be exposed to more UV and heat from the sun. This will undoubtedly cause the plant to overproduce trichomes rich in THC. This may lead to cannabis flower that has a higher concentration of THC or, put simply, more potent buds.

Climate change will certainly stress plants of all shapes and sizes. In terms of cannabis, this could be beneficial to the consumer that desires ever-stronger weed.

There is some research that’s looked into the effects of extended sunlight and drought on cannabis [2]. The results proved that extended drought and sun exposure (within reason) increased the concentration of THC by 50% and CBD yields by 67%. The size of the buds also increased during the study.

These are promising results for the worrying times ahead, but it won’t be all sunshine and 10/10 buds…

2. Climate Change Could Stunt Plant Growth

Climate change will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the flora and fauna that occupy the globe. Plants (flora) will suffer from increased light and heat exposure. Although cannabis is an extremely resilient and adaptable plant, we could see some negative effects as time goes on.

One study found that extreme temperatures could have a negative effect on photosynthesis in cannabis plants [3]. The study looked at the rate of water use and photosynthesis in Cannabis sativa.

The researchers found that water and photosynthesis rates increased as the temperature did — good news for improved growth. However, once the temperature exceeded 30 degrees Celsius, photosynthesis and water usage dropped off significantly, causing stunted growth.

The study also looked into the effects of increased CO2 (carbon dioxide) on Cannabis sativa. CO2 is one of the leading causes of climate change, but it’s also a key ingredient in plant photosynthesis. Plants need CO2 in order to grow, and the process of photosynthesis converts this CO2 into the byproduct oxygen (good news for us).

This aspect of the study was far more positive, showing that as CO2 levels in the controlled atmosphere rose, so did the rate of photosynthesis. This concluded that the plants were absorbing more CO2 with a positive photosynthesis increase of 50%. However, water consumption from the plants also increased dramatically — by 191%.

This could mean that as the concentration of CO2 rises in our atmosphere, cannabis growth will rise also. This may help rid the air of some of this gas and replace it with the far more palatable O2 (oxygen). But, without H2O (water), the increased CO2 could cause the plants to wilt and suffer as the need for water increases.

This study is definitely contradictory when hypothesizing about the effects of climate change on cannabis but we can assume that it won’t all be positive. 

As the temperature, light, and CO2 levels rise, we can expect the growth and potency of cannabis to rise with it. However, if the temperature increases too much or we see a large reduction in rainfall, we will undoubtedly see the plant suffer. 

As with any plant, cannabis needs ideal growing conditions. The range of environments and conditions is relatively wide for cannabis, and the plant can put up with a lot. However, there comes a point where even the hardiest of plants will decline. 

There is some hope, though; cannabis could help reduce CO2 levels and potentially cool the climate if more people grew it as nature intended — outside under natural light.

3. Climate Change Could Encourage More Outdoor Grows

As the temperature starts to increase and the conditions become more suited to growing high-quality cannabis, we could see an increase in the number of outdoor grows. This could improve the quality of cannabis flower as well as help the environment in several ways.

As we mentioned in the last section, as the temperature, light, and concentration of CO2 increases, so will the quality and growth rates of cannabis to an extent. If climate change produces ideal growing conditions for cannabis, we could see outdoor-grown weed overtake indoor-grown weed in both quality and quantity.

This is good for a number of reasons. For one, cannabis grown under natural light is arguably cleaner and potentially more potent. Several farmers have found that outdoor buds have a richer cannabinoid profile compared to indoor buds. This could be down to environmental factors that aren’t present inside climate-controlled grow operations.

The myth that outdoor-grown weed is less potent than indoor-grown weed is exactly that — a myth. However, in certain climates where cannabis is starved of light, heat, or water, indoor grows will obviously exceed the results from outdoors. 

Growing outside if the conditions are perfect may create more potent buds with richer cannabinoid and terpene profiles. As climate change expands opportunities for outdoor growing, we could see a shift in how our buds are grown. This will, without a doubt, improve the cannabis industry tremendously.

The carbon footprint of cannabis is currently extremely high. Think about how cannabis is grown indoors for a second, and you’ll realize how damaging it is to the environment. How much power is consumed by running lights for 18 hours a day? How much power is consumed running ventilation, extraction, and circulation fans? 

A lot…

So, how can we reduce the carbon footprint of cannabis? Grow it outside, of course.

Not only will growing cannabis outside improve the quality of the buds and reduce the carbon footprint of the cannabis industry, but it could also potentially help improve this climate disaster. 

There are several ways cannabis can help in this climate crisis. Outdoor-grown cannabis could help reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, and at the same time, the organic materials that aren’t used for medicinal and recreational purposes could be used in environmentally friendly ways.

Plastics, textiles, biofuels, and building materials are just a few of the uses the stems and leaves of hemp and cannabis have. So, how exactly can cannabis help with climate change?

Can Cannabis Help With Climate Change?

Unfortunately, unless people take drastic action, climate change is something that we’re all going to have to deal with. Collectively, we need to get together to make a change to the environment and start looking after our planet. 

Now, there’s no one way to do this, and cannabis alone is definitely not the answer. However, it could be a major factor in reducing greenhouse gasses, natural resource depletion, and improving biodiversity.

The cannabis plant isn’t just a useful substance for recreational and medical use. Yes, the buds of the plant hold great potential for the treatment of certain ailments, but arguably, the rest of the plant is far more beneficial to humankind. 

The leaves and stems of weed may not get us “high” or help with chronic pain, but they could help save our planet and improve our way of life. The fibrous nature of the cannabis plant makes it perfect for use in a number of high-demand products that have a negative effect on the climate due to habitat destruction.

1. Hemp Could Reduce Climate Impact from Textile Production

Items such as clothing, paper, rope, and insulation can be made from hemp. Using this agricultural crop over cotton, trees, and synthetic fibers will reduce the strain on the environment and help combat harmful greenhouse gasses. 

Hemp textiles are usually far superior to their traditional counterparts providing higher R-values (insulative qualities), a denser thread count, and better durability — it’s a no-brainer, right?

So, how can hemp/cannabis do this, you ask?

For a start, hemp is a less demanding crop than typical textile crops such as cotton. Unlike cotton, hemp doesn’t deplete the soil as quickly, requires fewer fertilizers, and is far more resistant to fungal and pest infection. Hemp can also be grown in a wider range of environments, reducing the need for fuel-consuming worldwide transportation. 

Additionally, hemp is far more productive than textile crops such as cotton. One acre of hemp has the potential to produce the same amount of textile as two acres of cotton. That could cut the arable land space needed for textiles in half, allowing the other unused half to be restored to natural fauna — a key step in improving this environmental disaster we’re in.

2. Hemp Could Replace the Need for Fossil Fuels

Hemp can be used in the creation of biofuels. Bioethanol and biodiesel (both of which can be made from hemp) can be used to power vehicles and powerplants. These fuels tend to burn far cleaner, don’t require invasive extraction techniques, and reduce the demand for irreplaceable natural resources. 

Fossil fuels, alongside traditional agricultural practices and plastic pollution, are the primary environmental concerns worldwide. Burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide and a plethora of other harmful gasses that are detrimental to our atmosphere. 

Although hemp-based biofuels still release air pollutants, they do burn far cleaner than unsustainable alternatives. Growing hemp is also an excellent tool for absorbing existing CO2. One hectare of hemp can absorb around 20 tonnes of CO2, making it an extremely valuable CO2 to Biomass conversion tool, this is thanks to the fast-growing nature of the plant.

This rapid growth also allows farmers in certain climates the ability to grow two harvests in one year — effectively doubling CO2 absorption. 

Hemp-based biofuels may not be the answer to replacing fossil fuels in vehicles and machinery, but they can certainly be used as a form of renewable energy. Biofuels could be used to replace fossil fuels in order to create other sustainable forms of transport such as electric vehicles and energy productions such as wind and solar. 

3. Hemp is Undoubtedly a Better Alternative to Synthetic Plastics

Another environmental disaster we’re currently experiencing is plastic pollution. Synthetic plastics can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to decompose. These plastics are making their way into the waterways and oceans across the globe causing mass devastation to the biodiversity of our aquatic environments.

Plastic pollution is a pandemic, and it’s killing our planet. Most plastics are created from crude oil through polymerization. This makes even the simplest of single-use plastics extremely detrimental to the environment — both in the production aspect and the waste aspect.

There is one simple alternative to synthetic plastics, and yes, you guessed it — it’s cannabis. 

Hemp can be used to make plastic that’s stronger than petroleum-based plastics. Hemp plastics are five times stiffer and 3.5% stronger than polypropylene plastics made from crude oil. This makes it far more durable than traditional plastics and completely sustainable because it’s made without using irreplaceable natural resources. 

So, what about the non-biodegradable plastic issue? Does hemp plastic take as long as petroleum-based plastic to degrade?

No. If you drop a bottle made from hemp plastics on the ground it will fully degrade within six months. Don’t worry, though; you won’t open your cupboard to find all your hemp Tupperware has decomposed back to nature. As long as hemp plastics are kept clean and dry, they’ll last as normal until you throw them in the compost heap. 

Cannabis & Climate Change: Could Weed Be the Answer?

The effects that the climate will have on cannabis are difficult to predict. We can assume that as the environmental conditions move toward a warmer globe, cannabis quality will improve. However, as you now know, the progression of climate change could dramatically impact the plant for the worse.

We don’t know the answer to fixing the mess we as a species have created, and cannabis isn’t the only answer to solving these problems, but it could be a step in the right direction if we go about it correctly.

More outdoor grows and utilizing the entire cannabis crop could help us reduce the carbon footprint of cannabis, improve CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and give us a solution to the problem of crude oil-based products such as plastic, gasoline, and heating oils. 

If we are to get ourselves out of this climate crisis, we all need to work together and do our bit. That goes for the food producers, agricultural farmers, fuel giants, plastic manufacturers, and us in the cannabis industry. 

The things we can do to help are simple — grow more outdoors, use less power, and make the most of what this beautiful plant has to offer.


References

  1. Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Jacob, D., Bindi, M., Brown, S., Camilloni, I., Diedhiou, A., … & Zougmoré, R. B. (2018). Impacts of 1.5 C global warming on natural and human systems. Global warming of 1.5 C. An IPCC Special Report.
  2. Caplan, D., Dixon, M., & Zheng, Y. (2019). Increasing inflorescence dry weight and cannabinoid content in medical cannabis using controlled drought stress. HortScience, 54(5), 964-969.
  3. Chandra, S., Lata, H., Khan, I. A., & Elsohly, M. A. (2008). Photosynthetic response of Cannabis sativa L. to variations in photosynthetic photon flux densities, temperature, and CO 2 conditions. Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants, 14(4), 299-306.

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