Factors Influencing THC Production
Many factors influence the production of THC. In general, the older a plant, the greater its potential to produce THC. This is true, however, only if the plant remains healthy and vigorous, THC production requires the proper quantity and quality of light. It seems that none of the biosynthetic processes operate efficiently when low light conditions prevent proper photosynthesis. Research has shown (Valle et al. 1978) that twice as much THC is produced under a 12-hour photoperiod than under a 10-hour photoperiod. Warm temperatures are known to promote metabolic activity and the production of THC. Heat also promotes resin secretion, possibly in response to the threat of floral desiccation by the hot sun, Resin collects in the heads of glandular trichomes and does not directly seal the pores of the calyx to prevent desiccation. Resin heads may serve to break up the rays of the sun so that fewer of them strike the leaf surface and raise the temperature. However, light and heat also destroy THC. In a drug strain, a bio-synthetic rate must be maintained such that substantially more THC is produced than is broken down. Humidity is an interesting parameter of THC production and one of the least understood. Most high-quality drug Cannabis grows in areas that are dry much of the time at least during the maturation period. It follows that increased resin produc. tion in response to arid conditions might account for increased THC production. High-THC strains, however, also grow in very humid conditions (greenhouses and equatorial zones) and produce copious quantities of resin. Cannabis seems not to produce more resins in response to dry soil, as it does to a dry atmosphere. Drying out plants by with-holding water for the last weeks of flowering does not stimulate THC production, although an arid atmosphere may do so. A Cannabis plant in flower requires water, so that nutrients are available. for operating the various bio-synthetic pathways.
There is really no confirmed method of forcing increased THC production. Many techniques have developed through misinterpretations of ancient tradition. In Colombia, farmers girdle the stalk of the main stem, which cuts off the flow of water and nutrients between the roots and the shoots. This technique may not raise the final THC level, but it does cause rapid maturation and yellow gold coloration in the floral cluster (Partridge 1973). Impaling with nails, pine splinters, balls of opium, and stones are clandestine folk methods of promoting flowering, taste and THC production. However none of these have any valid documentation from the original culture or scientific basis. Symbiotic relationships between herbs in companion plantings are known to influence the production of essential oils. Experiments might be carried out with different herbs, such as stinging nettles, as companion plants for Cannabis, in an effort to stimulate resin production. In the future, agricultural techniques may be discovered which specifically promote THC biosynthesis.
In general, it is considered most important that the plant be healthy for it to produce high THC levels. The genotype of the plant, a result of seed selection, is the primary factor which determines the THC levels. After that, the provision of adequate organic nutrients, water, sunlight, fresh air, growing space, and time for maturation seems to be the key to producing high-THC Cannabis in all circumstances. Stress resulting from inadequacies in the environment limits the true expression of phenotype and cannabinoid potential. Cannabis finds a normal adaptive defense in the production of THC laden resins, and it seems logical that a healthy plant is best able to raise this defense. Forcing plants to produce is a perverse ideal and alien to the principles of organic agriculture. Plants are not machines that can be worked faster and harder to produce more. The life processes of the plant rely on delicate natural balances aimed at the ultimate survival of the plant until it reproduces. The most a Cannabis cultivator or researcher can expect to do is provide all the requisites for healthy growth and guide the plant until it matures.
Flowering in Cannabis may be forced or accelerated by many different techniques. This does not mean that THC production is forced, only that the time before and during flowering is shortened and flowers are produced rapidly. Most techniques involve the deprivation of light during the long days of summer to promote early floral induction and sexual differentiation. This is sometimes done by moving the plants inside a completely dark structure for 12 hours of each 24-hour day until the floral clusters are mature. This stimulates an autumn light cycle and promotes flowering at any time of the year. In the field, covers may be made to block out the sun for a few hours at sunrise or sunset, and these are used to cover small plants. Photoperiod alteration is most easily accomplished in a greenhouse, where blackout curtains are easily rolled over the plants. Drug Cannabis production requires 11-12 hours of continuous darkness to induce flowering and at least 10 hours of light for adequate THC production. In a greenhouse, supplemental lighting need be used only to extend daylength, while the sun supplies the energy needed for growth and THC biosynthesis. It is not known why at least 10 hours (and preferably 12 or 13 hours) of light are needed for high THC production. This is not dependent on accumulated solar energy since light responses can be activated and THC production increased with only a 40-watt bulb. A reasonable theory is that a light-sensitive pigment in the plant (possibly phytochrome) acts as a switch, causing the plant to follow the flowering cycle. THC production is probably associated with the induction of flowering resulting from the photoperiod change.
Cool night temperatures seem to promote flowering in plants that have previously differentiated sexually. Extended cold periods, however, cause metabolic processes to slow and maturation to cease. Most temperate Cannabis strains are sensitive to many of the signs of an approaching fall season and respond by beginning to flower. In contrast, strains from tropical areas, such as Thailand, often seem unresponsive to any signs of fall and never speed up development.
Contrary to popular thought, planting Cannabis strains later in the season in temperate latitudes may actually promote earlier flowering. Most cultivators believe that planting early gives the plant plenty of time to flower and it will finish earlier. This is often not true. Seedlings started in February or March grow for 4-5 months of increasing photoperiod before the days begin to get shorter following the solstice in June. Huge vegetative plants grow and may form floral inhibitors during the months of long photo-period. When the days begin to get shorter, these older plants may be reluctant to flower because of the floral inhibitors formed in the pre-floral leaves. Since floral cluster formation takes 6-10 weeks, the initial delay in flowering could push the harvest date into November or December. Cannabis started during the short days of December or January will often differentiate sex by March or April. Usually these plants form few floral clusters and rejuvenate for the long season ahead. No increased potency has been noticed in old rejuvenated plants. Plants started in late June or early July, after the summer solstice, are exposed only to days of decreasing photoperiod. When old enough they begin flowering immediately, possibly because they haven’t built up as many long-day floral inhibitors. They begin the 6-10 week floral period with plenty of time to finish during the warmer days of October. These later plantings yield smaller plants because they have a shorter vegetative cycle. This may prove an advantage. in greenhouse research, where it is common for plants to grow far too large for easy handling before they begin to flower. Late plantings after the summer solstice receive short inductive photoperiods almost immediately. However, flowering is delayed into September since the plant must grow before it is old enough to flower. Although flowering is delayed, the small plants rapidly produce copious quantities of flowers in a final effort to reproduce.
Extremes in nutrient concentrations are considered influential in both the sex determination and floral development of Cannabis. High nitrogen levels in the soil during the seedling stage seem to favor pistillate plants, but high nitrogen levels during flowering often result in delayed maturation and excessive leafing in the floral clusters. Phosphorus and potassium are both vital to the floral maturation of Cannabis. High-phosphorus fertilizers known as "bloom boosters" are available, and these have been shown to accelerate flowering in some plants. However, Cannabis plants are easily burned with high phosphorus fertilizers since they are usually very acidic. A safer method for the plant is the use of natural phosphorus sources, such as colloidal phosphate, rock phosphate, or bone meal; these tend to cause less shock in the maturing plant. They are a source of phosphorus that is readily available as well as long-term in effect. Chemical fertilizers sometimes produce floral clusters with a metallic, salty flavor. Extremes in nutrient levels usually affect the growth of the entire plant in an adverse way.
Hormones, such as gibberellic acid, ethylene, cytokinins and auxins, are readily available and can produce some strange effects. They can stimulate flowering in some cases, but they also stimulate sex reversal. Plant physiology is not simple, and results are usually unpredictable.
Ignorance of all things is an evil neither terrible nor excessive, nor yet the greatest of all; but great cleverness and much learning, if they be accompanied by a bad training, are a much greater misfortune. Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.