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Do we still need master growers now that there’s more research on cannabis?

In this article for PharmaSeeds, Ben Taub speaks to expert growers about the art versus the science of cannabis cultivation.



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Home » News » Do we still need master growers now that there’s more research on cannabis?

The legalisation of cannabis has enticed large numbers of new players into the marketplace, many of whom lack the know-how that grey-market artisan growers have spent decades acquiring. 

To fill that knowledge gap, an explosion of scientific research is beginning to demystify the cultivation process, giving new entrants the confidence to proceed without the input of a seasoned cannabis expert.

However, as any experienced grower will tell you, cannabis cultivation is as much an art as it is a science. That being the case, can anyone other than a master grower truly understand the plant’s many nuances and idiosyncrasies.

Flushing out the truth

The fascinating dichotomy between the solidity of the scientist and the finesse of the master grower is perfectly encapsulated by the current debate around the practise of “flushing”. This involves withholding nutrients during the final week or two of flowering, and while most artisan growers insist that this results in a better-tasting product, a small number of recent studies have suggested that flushing does not bring any objective advantages.

As a master grower with no PhD in plant biology but years of service in the cannabis industry, UK-based cultivation expert Toby Shillito concedes that these findings can’t be ignored. However, he maintains that “practical hands-on experience tells you that when you get to the final product, flushing gives you a smoother, cleaner taste. That’s not something that can be easily quantified scientifically, but any experienced consumer can discern whether cannabis has been flushed or not.”

Read more from PharmaSeeds: Improving cannabis yield 

Still, studies negating the need for a flush should not be dismissed. By Shillito’s own admission, such research is extremely useful as it challenges certain elements of conventional cannabis wisdom. However, an experienced cultivator also understands that any published findings will have been generated under specific growing conditions and may not be reproducible when these parameters are altered.

Indeed, different master growers specialise in different cultivation systems, and what applies to one may not apply to another. Horticulturalist Stewart Maxwell, for instance, has designed numerous commercial grow facilities using organic cultivation methods that don’t involve the use of nutrient salts, and therefore preclude the need for flushing. “I’ve definitely tried conventionally grown cannabis that was not a great experience, though I don’t know if that’s because it wasn’t flushed,” he says. “it’s not necessary for me to flush, but in some systems it may provide a benefit.”

At the end of the day, a grower needs to know their plants and their cultivation system inside out before they can establish whether flushing is necessary. Undoubtedly, new science is contributing valuable new insights on this topic, but the truth remains that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to flushing or cannabis growing in general, and there’s no substitute for experience.

Finding the cure

Another limitation of many scientific studies is that they zoom in on specific aspects of cultivation, yet don’t look at the process holistically. As with all methods and techniques, flushing can’t be fully appreciated when viewed in isolation, as it is one of many complementary processes that collectively determine the quality of a final product.

“People often assume that if the ash is dark and the taste is harsh then the product wasn’t flushed, but I believe that’s a general misconception about cannabis,” says Portuguese biologist and cannabis expert Miguel Pereira. “I think clear ash [and smooth taste] is actually a sign of good drying and curing. It comes down to the relative humidity inside the bud.”

Read more from PharmaSeeds: The parallels between biology and cannabis production

Post-harvest processes like drying and curing are of paramount importance to the quality of a final product, and there’s little point studying the effects of flushing if these vital steps are not performed correctly. “It’s very well established that proper curing leads to a better product,” says Maxwell. “You can absolutely ruin a very nice product with an improper or quick cure. And that’s the mistake that I most commonly see cultivators still making in Canada.”

A discerning customer will always appreciate well cured cannabis, and while some newer licensed cultivators seek to speed up this process using technological approaches like irradiation, most master growers warn against such practices. Pereira, for instance, says that he has seen companies mechanically dry their cannabis in just a few short days. While this may sound efficient and cost-effective, a true cannabis connoisseur understands that “a product that’s dried that quickly is not going to be a good quality product especially for smoking.”

According to Shillito, post-harvest artistry is what currently separates most master growers from the more data-driven novices within the cannabis market. Highlighting the importance of this phase of the production cycle, he compares the process to wine-making: “If you’ve got bad grapes you can never make good wine, but if you’ve got good grapes you can only ever ruin them – you can’t make them any better. So you need to put as much care into what you do in the cellar as what you do in the vineyard.”

Sadly, however, many commercial cannabis operations seem to be lacking in post-harvest elegance. “I don’t think I’ve seen any facility where they haven’t had really rough, untrained people doing the drying, curing and packing,” says Shillito. “Because of this, companies are regularly losing up to two or three per cent of their THC by rough handling in the post-harvest area.”

Details like this are yet to be appreciated by academic researchers, and while it’s certainly possible to quantify and measure many aspects of cultivation, no grow will ever achieve its full potential without a little artistry.

Art vs science

Thanks to a century-long moratorium on research, cannabis science remains frustratingly incomplete, and the bulk of understanding resides with non-academic investigators and craft cultivators. The biotic function of phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD, for example, has never been definitively ascertained, although a great deal of knowledge can be gleaned from the experiments conducted by master growers.

For example, some growers have noticed that cannabis plants increase their production of certain cannabinoids when exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, suggesting that these compounds may act as a kind of natural sunscreen. Many cultivators therefore expose their plants to this type of radiation in order to boost cannabinoid yields, despite a lack of conclusive studies on whether or not this actually works.

Read more from PharmaSeeds: Is shaping the plants, shaping the industry?

“I’ve experimented with this quite a lot and I’m certain you get a slightly nicer product when you use some supplementary UV lights – even though there’s no real scientific evidence to prove it,” says Shillito. “It’s in the artistic rather than the scientific expression in the market that they’ve found that there is a benefit to UVB.”

Discoveries like this not only act as testament to the invaluable work of artisan growers, but also serve to expose the current state of play of cannabis science, which is yet to unlock the plant’s most sought-after secrets. By playing the role of both artist and scientist, however, many master growers have developed an intimate relationship with the species, resulting in a more nuanced understanding of cannabis biology.

This sentiment is echoed by Pereira, who says that licensed cultivators who place all of their trust in scientific data while overlooking the wisdom of master growers are destined to fail. “I think we’re reaching what I call the ‘great filter’ in the cannabis industry, because many companies work with scientific officers that try to back everything up with studies. But I think a lot of these organisations are lacking the real experience and knowledge of the plant,” he says.

Such a notion is crystallised by the debates around the function of phytocannabinoids, which Maxwell believes are the plant’s own evolutionary response to human subjectivity. “The evidence is very clear that the primary function of THC in the plant is that we like it,” he says. “We’ve selected plants for their THC content for 5,000 years, so we’re essentially human pollinators.”

“Cannabis has leveraged our desire to propagate itself all over the world,” he says, summing up the importance of our tastes and predilections to the survival of the species. In other words, cannabis has evolved with our ability to experience pleasure, and if there’s one more thing that the cannabis industry can learn from wine, it’s that pleasure is as much an art as it is a science.

Looking ahead, it seems inevitable that science will eventually unearth more pieces of the cannabis puzzle, yet only time will tell if data can ever replace the need for master growers.

Ben Taub


Charlotte’s Web full spectrum CBD passes novel foods validation

Charlotte’s Web is now the only vertically integrated US company with a full-spectrum hemp extract to have passed the UK novel foods validation phase.



Charlotte's Web Novel Foods

Charlotte’s Web has passed validation in its FSA Novel Food applications for its original formula full-spectrum hemp extract product.

This marks a milestone for Charlotte’s Web, as it becomes the only vertically integrated US company with a full-spectrum hemp extract to have passed the UK novel foods validation phase. The product will now advance to the safety assessment phase. Charlotte’s Web said the approval uniquely positions the company in the growing UK CBD market.

Charlotte’s Web products are distributed in the UK by Savage Cabbage Ltd. Under the new Novel Foods regulatory framework, Savage Cabbage said it will leverage its extensive distribution network in the UK to expand the presence of Charlotte’s Web in retail distribution channels and on the high street. The company said that it is now preparing to expand distribution in the UK, EU and countries worldwide.

Charlotte’s Web understands that product quality, safety, and brand values matter to global health seekers who are demanding premium full-spectrum products,” said Jacques Tortoroli, CEO of Charlotte’s Web, “It’s critical to scaffold these emerging markets with the high bar set by our proprietary hemp genetics, scientific rigour and innovation practices.

“International audiences are only now learning the difference between full-spectrum and isolate CBD products, which provides a great opportunity for education, product differentiation and consumer adoption as they begin to understand the health advantages inherent in full-spectrum products.”

Novel Foods are ingredients which have not been widely consumed by people in the UK or EU before May 1997. This includes cannabidiol (CBD) and other consumable derivatives of the hemp plant, including whole-plant hemp extract. Novel Foods needs to be authorised by the FSA before they can be included on the list of novel foods and marketed for sale.

In addition to its Novel Foods application, Charlotte’s Web is collaborating with The European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) which is part of the Secretariat Advisory Board (SAB), a European consortium of the UK’s and Europe’s leading CBD and hemp trade bodies and groups. The SAB is focused on encouraging the development of clear UK regulation for CBD that reflects evidence-based policy to safely serve the public and wider national interests engaged in public wellness.

According to the Brightfield Group, the UK CBD market has grown rapidly in recent years. The number of CBD consumers virtually doubling in 2019 to reach over 7 per cent of the adult population in 2020, representing sales of more than US$250m in 2020, growing to an estimated US $1.3b by 2025.

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JM Wholesale sees 750 products included on FSA CBD list

The CBD stockist has described the development as a milestone for the company.



JM Wholesale sees 750 products included on FSA CBD list
Home » News » Do we still need master growers now that there’s more research on cannabis?

Following a partnership with the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) and active participation with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), JM Wholesale has had more than 750 items included on the public CBD list.

Earlier this year the FSA published its list of CBD products linked to what it deems as credible Novel Food applications. Products included on the list will be advancing through the final stages towards authorisation, expected by 2023. 

More than 900 applications for thousands of UK products have been submitted for approval, with the majority being rejected for lacking basic information such as toxicity levels.

JM Wholesale has announced that it has now had 750 of its products included on the public list.

Read more: FSA CBD list now closed for applications

Thomas Lowe, operations director at the Leicester-based company, said that, after 200 per cent business growth in the past 18 months and a resulting move to major new premises, JM Wholesale is now perfectly placed to consolidate its position as the UK’s premier CBD wholesaler.

Lowe commented: “We have a larger range of approved CBD products than any other distributor and this moment is another milestone for our company.

“We’ve worked hard to ensure that our customers and our business are protected, by getting rid of any products not published on the FSA’s website, regardless of how big those brands are.

“In fact we’ve always loved finding unique products, including those where the CBD can be absorbed in different ways. That way, more people from different walks of life can enjoy CBD no matter how they prefer to access it.

“From our distribution centre we now provide the largest range of isolate and full spectrum CBD products in the UK, all of which are 100 per cent accepted by the FSA.

“We are the first distributor to add the relevant Novel Food classification numbers to all of our relevant listed products.

“The past few months have been extremely challenging for our industry but we have made efforts to take an active role in the novel food submission process. We anticipated regulation of this industry, we were determined not to let it stand in the way of the growth of our business, and we’ve participated accordingly.

“All in all, this is excellent news for our customers and partners.”

The company has stated that it has experienced rapid growth off the back of increased awareness of the health benefits of CBD products in the UK, and that, alongside its consumer business, it also exports to suppliers in the UK and in 170 countries worldwide.

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Halo Collective announces new chief executive officer

Current CEO Kiran Sidhu has resigned as the result of a mutual agreement between Mr Sidhu and the board of Halo.



Halo collective Kathryn Field

Halo Collective Inc has promoted its president Katharyn Field to the position of chief executive officer.

Kathryn Field has been appointed chief executive officer of Halo replacing current CEO Kiran Sidhu. Ms Field takes the helm at Halo with nearly a decade of direct cannabis experience, including strategy, retail, corporate development, legal & regulatory and investor relations.

She first entered the cannabis industry in 2014 at Costa Farms, where she led the procurement, build-out and sale of one of five original vertically integrated companies in Florida.

She subsequently operated a strategy consulting practise focused on cannabis and also worked at MariMed as EVP of Corporate Development. She joined the Halo executive team in April 2019, serving initially as chief strategy officer, before moving onto the role of president in February 2020. She became a board member in July 2021.

“Halo is very well-positioned in the US West Coast cannabis space with a strong consumer brand portfolio and a loyal customer base. In particular, we have developed a valuable portfolio of California assets including wholesale and white label manufacturing as well as retail assets in Los Angeles,” said Ms Field.

“My initial focus will be on streamlining the organisation to establish a rationalised, focused business comprised of assets that create the most value and hold the most promise. While sales are down in California year over year, our business is up. Furthermore, our manufacturing business is profitable and the Budega stores are trending well.

“I’m confident that by prioritising near-term profitability and bolstering our growing retail presence, Halo will be able to scale from a position of strength, which is the best path to generate shareholder value.”

Mr. Sidhu’s departure was the result of a mutual agreement between the board of Halo and Mr Sidhu, and “reflected the board’s view that the company and Akanda – of which Halo owns approximately 40 percent – need to prioritise near-term profitability”. Mr Sidhu will provide consulting services to the company for six months to facilitate a smooth leadership transition.

“The Board believes the time is right for not only a change in leadership, but a change in strategy, and Katie has the right experience and capabilities to leverage the company’s valuable assets to create tangible and sustainable shareholder value,” commented Ryan Kunkel, Chair of the Board.

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