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The medicinal use of marijuana is legal in a growing number of U.S. states, and other states might eventually join this list.1 Some patients, however, might be unable to smoke medical marijuana because of their illness, disease, symptoms, treatments and/or other factors. This article explores the alternatives to smoking marijuana that might prove healthier or more viable for patients who’ve received a prescription for medical marijuana.
Marijuana Use for Medicinal Purposes
Requiring a doctor’s “recommendation” or referral and secured from legal vendors, medical marijuana can help relieve numerous symptoms, such as pain, glaucoma, migraine headaches,2 nausea, and weight loss.
While there are various pros and cons of using medical marijuana, it’s important to understand that the use of marijuana is not without potential side effects. For example, conventional or “street” marijuana might contain harmful fungus and/or pesticides,3 which can prove especially dangerous for patients with a compromised immune system.
Moreover, the fact that marijuana is usually smoked—either in cigarette form or through the use of tobacco or water pipes—introduces additional concerns. Patients who have never smoked before, or those receiving other treatments that can interfere with their ability to smoke, might find smoking marijuana difficult or simply impossible.
I found that to be a case with a patient with lung cancer and COPD. He suffered from chronic bone pain, nausea, and severe weight loss. He asked his doctor about medical marijuana and received the necessary prescription. When I came to see him, he held a joint but didn’t know how to use it. It was immediately clear that because of his inexperience and because he was using oxygen and was already suffering from a forceful cough, smoking a marijuana cigarette would not be the best method for him.
It’s important to again stress that medical marijuana is a physician-referred treatment and should only be used according to a doctor’s instructions. If you or someone you care for receives a prescription for medical marijuana use but cannot smoke marijuana, non-smoking options might include:
Edible Marijuana: Medical cannabis can be heated and made into oils, butters, and tinctures. Many “cannabis clubs” sell pre-made cookies, brownies, lollipops, and teas. Savvy patients—those willing to take the time to empower themselves through research and knowledge—can also find recipes to make their own marijuana tincture, oil, or butter.
Eating or drinking marijuana’s main or active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is certainly preferable for many patients rather than smoking it, but these alternative methods can also create problems. When consumed via food or drink, THC does not absorb into the bloodstream as quickly as when it is smoked.4 This can make it more difficult to control the effectiveness of the drug or how much is consumed. In addition, patients who suffer from decreased appetite or nausea might not tolerate eating or drinking marijuana.
Vaporizers: Another option is to inhale marijuana using a vaporizer. This method involves heating the marijuana to a high enough temperature to vaporize the THC but not burn the plant. Patients can then breathe in the vapor from a bag without inhaling the harsh and potentially toxic smoke.
Vaping as it is commonly known, can cause serious lung injury. In 2019, a series of outbreaks across the country of what is called product use associated lung injury (EVALI), have resulted in over 2,291 hospitalizations and caused a reported 48 deaths (as of December 3, 2019).5 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting studies to analyze the components of the TCH from the vaping products. They recommend that people do not use THC vaporizers and to watch carefully for any symptoms if they continue to vape.5
Finding the Solution That Works for You
Ultimately, it is possible to find healthier or more suitable alternatives to smoking marijuana, as my aforementioned patient did. He experimented with edible marijuana and found that he enjoyed the marijuana brownies he was able to get at a cannabis club, but as his appetite waned, he found it difficult to stomach the rich chocolate taste. He didn’t want to invest in a vaporizer because his life expectancy was short. However, through the people he met at the cannabis club, he was able to strike a deal with another medical marijuana patient and split the cost of a vaporizer—with the agreement that the other patient would inherit the device after his death. It was an unusual arrangement, to be sure, but it allowed him to continue using medical marijuana for several more weeks.
Ever wonder why the same strain of cannabis can be slightly different, depending on which store you get it at? A gram of OG Kush from one grower who sells to a particular dispensary will be slightly different from another grower’s OG Kush at the dispensary across town. Although they are the same strain, these are different phenotypes (or “phenos”)—different expressions of the same genetic material.
When a grower decides to produce a particular strain, they typically get a packet of seeds from a breeder, each one a different phenotype of that strain. After growing each seed, the grower will pick the best one because of its characteristics, picking for yield, bud density, smell, flavor, potency, color, and many more attributes, and discard the others.
This narrowing process usually takes a few generations of selection, and months, sometimes years, but in the end, the best pick will be mass produced for sale, and that’s the cannabis you buy off the shelf at the dispensary.
The Importance of Labeling
Selecting phenos is a meticulous process. Organization and keeping track of things through the long growing process is imperative. You’ll be taking clones of each phenotype and keeping some while discarding others, so it’s important to label clones according to their originals phenos and to not mix up any.
To start, plant all of your seeds and label each one with a separate tag. So if you’re growing 10 phenos of OG Kush, you would assign them “OGK 1,” “OGK 2,” etc., up to “OGK 10.” The order of the numbering doesn’t matter, but make sure that a number always stays with the pheno you assign it to.
Grow out each seed until they are 6-12” tall, or big enough to clone. This will probably take about 3-6 weeks.
If you’re starting out with ten seeds, you should now have 20 plants: 10 seedlings and 10 clones.
Clone, Flower, Discard
After you have taken clones, grow them separately in a vegetative state. When the original phenos are big enough, after at least 2 months in the vegetative state, put them on a flowering light cycle (12 hours of dark, 12 of light).
After about 8-10 weeks of flowering, these original phenos will be ready to harvest for buds. Some phenotypes might finish sooner than others and each will probably be slightly different. Now you will discard some of the phenos based on their poor quality and keep the ones that have good qualities.
A lot of seeds come pre-feminized, but if you are starting out with male and female seeds, you will need to determine the sex of the plants first and discard all of the males, because only females produce buds. Reproductive organs appear a couple weeks into the flowering cycle, and if you have any males, discard them and their corresponding clones and keep flowering the females.
When harvesting each phenotype, take meticulous notes of each pheno’s bud structure, yield, smell, density, and overall appearance. Some phenos can be discarded right away, as it will be easy to tell that they won’t produce quality buds. Whenever you discard a pheno, discard its corresponding clone that’s in the vegetative state.
You can still use the harvested buds from discarded phenos. This product may not be as desirable because it’s from the phenos that didn’t make the cut, but a lot of growers will sell this for pre-rolls or extracts, just usually not quality flower.
Repeat the Process
The process is repeated. If you started with 10 phenos and discarded six after the first round of flowering, you’ll be left with four. Take a set of clones off of these four—a second generation of clones, or clones from clones. Keep this new second generation in the vegetative phase separately, and flip the first generation of clones into flower.
This first generation should be big enough to flip into flower now because they were growing vegetatively while the original phenos were flowering. But you can always grow these out more vegetatively if you want bigger plants.
After flowering these four remaining phenos, harvest them and take more notes. Discard the ones with poor qualities and their corresponding clones and keep the ones with good qualities.
Continue this process until you’re down to one pheno. That is your winner!
You don’t want to discard a pheno with possible good qualities, but keep in mind that the less you discard, the more rounds of cloning, flowering, and discarding you’ll have to do.
Often, commercial growers will go through at least three rounds of generations of this selection process to get the final pheno, sometimes even more.
You can see how this is a time-consuming process. Three generations of flowering phenotypes, if each round takes about 8-10 weeks, is 24-30 weeks alone. Add on top of that another month or so for the seeds to germinate and get to an initial size in which to clone off of at the beginning of the process, plus time to harvest, dry, and cure buds at the end.
So before that OG Kush from your favorite grower hits the shelves for the first time, they have been growing and narrowing it down for 7-9 months at least, to get you the best version of that OG Kush. That phenotype is now their “cut” of that strain.
As the CBD industry continues to surge, that market becomes more independent from the traditional (THC) cannabis industry. Companies are constantly looking for ways to bridge the gap between the classic consumer and the future way of weed.
When the legal cannabis industry was first born in 2014, the market was all about THC products and seeking the most powerful high possible. That’s why there was so much emphasis on THC percentage, because consumers believed the higher that number, the better the high, though that is not necessarily true. Cannabis producers placed little-to-no focus on breeding, growing, or even researching CBD strains and genetics.
This has changed over time as the industry expands. Nowadays, the CBD market is such an unstoppable force that companies who reigned supreme in the THC game are looking for ways to convert.
Enter: THC-turned-CBD strains.
THC vs. CBD
By now you should know the difference between THC and CBD: THC will get you high, CBD will not. THC is viewed as the recreational weed and CBD is viewed as the medical weed, though both compounds certainly provide their own respective wellness benefits. With CBD, many people believe it to be the best treatment for various psychological and physical ailments.
Types of CBD cannabis strains
CBD cannabis comes in two forms: CBD-dominant and balanced. CBD-dominant strains contain CBD:THC ratios of 5:1 or more. With these, out of all the plant’s cannabinoids, CBD is the most pronounced, meaning effects will be more influenced by CBD than the other cannabinoids. ACDC, with its 14:1 CBD:THC ratio, is an example of a CBD-dominant cannabis strain.
Balanced cannabis strains hold a CBD:THC ratio between 1:1 and 5:1. This means you may still feel some degree of high as effects will be intensified by THC’s influence, but it should be wayyy less of a powerful high than a THC-dominant strain. Harlequin, with an average CBD:THC ratio of 2:1, is an example of a balanced cannabis strain.
Welcome to the world of legal recreational cultivation, Michigan and Illinois! While all closets might be created the same, outdoor conditions vary greatly by region. Knowing the specifics of your climate will go a long way in your success as a grower.
Know your local homegrow laws
Michigan went legal on December 1, 2019. Michiganders 21 and up can grow 12 plants at their residence—if multiple people live in a house, there can still only be 12 total. Plants have to be out of sight from the public and in an enclosed area that can be locked, even if it’s outside.
On January 1, 2020, cannabis goes legal in Illinois. As the law currently stands, only medical cannabis patients will be allowed to grow at home—and only five plants at a time—so you’ll still need a medical marijuana card to homegrow, even though pot’s legal to buy for folks 21 and up. There will be a civil penalty of $200 for anyone growing up to five plants without a medical card.
Check your frost dates
Weed is a warm-season annual. Frost kills it, making your region’s frost dates—first and last—of utmost importance. You’ll want to pop seeds indoors while it’s still too cold outside and have the seedlings ready to go into the ground once all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed some.
If this sounds daunting, don’t sweat it: The crop that weed most closely lines up with in terms of planting time is tomatoes. When in doubt, consult the Farmer’s Almanac guidelines for sowing tomatoes in your region and use those dates as a guide. In the Midwest, you’re looking at starting seeds indoors sometime in March and getting them into the ground sometime early to mid-May.
Choose seeds and clones suited to a northern climate
Certain cannabis varieties evolved in equatorial climates—typically sativas—meaning they can take an extra long time to finish (before their flowers are ready for harvest). Other varieties hail from harsher, northern climates, and finish before the frost arrives, typically indicas.
While pretty much every cultivar you get your hands on these days is a hybrid of these two, look for any clues in the description that points to “early finishing.” This helps in a climate where eventual frost will happen without a doubt.
Understand the impact of humidity
The Great Lakes and Midwest regions are known for hot, muggy summers. While this is less of an issue during the early part of the growing season, it can be troublesome come flowering time because buds are susceptible to mold.
A few things you can do to mitigate problems include making very certain your plants are sown in a spot in your garden where they’ll get the fullest amount of sun—at least six hours of direct sunlight a day, with plenty of breathing room in between them to allow for air circulation. Also, use drip irrigation instead of overhead watering.
Brace for thunderstorms and wind
Wild storms are a part of life in the Great Lakes and Midwest. To help see your plants through, consider the following tips.
Cage or trellis your plants at planting time. While they seem itty bitty when they go in the ground, those ladies will grow to be large and in charge, not to mention heavy, as they begin to flower. Strong winds have a lot less of a chance to knock them over or break branches if a plant is supported properly.
Also, consider placing a few tall stakes around the perimeter of each plant, so you’re ready to drape a tarp or canvas over them should hail be in the forecast. This security blanket will help prevent damage.
Keep pests—big and small—at bay
While we’re massive fans of gardening outdoors, it’s true that cultivating outside puts you in close contact with other of Mother Nature’s glorious creatures.
If deer are an issue in your locale, grow your crop behind a deer fence. Cats go a long way in deterring gophers and other rodents. If you’ve not got one on hand, consider sinking cannabis plants into gopher cages at planting time.
Handpicking slugs and snails in their shady daytime hideouts is your best bet for squashing them.
Use blasts of water to rid plants of aphids, and be diligent—you might have to do this several times.
Lastly, applications of neem oil help with infestations of spider mites, white flies, and fungus gnats. It’s a great organic option for the garden. But we definitely advocate a less-is-more approach to pest control.
Give your plants optimal conditions from the start—full sun, healthy soil, the right amount of water—and you will be less likely to battle bugs. Remember that anything you put on your plant might make it into your eventual crop, so be careful with any chemicals.
Most cultivars are ready to harvest between September and October. While weed can survive a light freeze (28-32°F for up to three hours) with no trouble, a hard freeze, any lower temps or longer hours, will kill it.
If a hard freeze in the forecast, cut your losses and harvest your crop even if it’s not fully finished. If humidity is nuts when it’s time to harvest, you could get a little crazy and haul box fans powered by extension cords out to your garden and dry things out a bit before you chop. It’s certainly not pretty, but we’ve absolutely seen it done.