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The Chemistry of Cannabis: A Cure to Die For

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Growing marijuana to maturity is only half the process. The secret to taste, aroma and potency is the “cure,” which is part of the drying process after harvest. Nobody wants to end up with farmer’s hay after all that work of tending and growing. The good news is that it’s easy to avoid that notorious “homegrown” taste. A few simple suggestions can produce dope to die for.

Cure starts with trichome hairs

Now that you have lovingly and legally grown some nice dank cannabis of your favorite varieties, comes the harvest and cure. The first thing every novice marijuana grower wants to know is “when is it ready to pick?”

The answer to that starts with your seeds. It’s fairly straightforward with most varieties, though for “autoflowering” strains, picking the best time for harvest works a little differently.

Traditional strains give off signs of maturity including curling and yellowing of the leaves, which start to drop off. Buds will slowly become “plump and developed.” They’ll get to a point where they stop growing larger.

As the buds swell, the branches will start to hang down. You can’t always go by the calendar to know when is the best time to harvest and cure. A much better indicator are the trichomes.

Trichomes are those knobby fine hairs coating buds and some leaves like fur. That’s where all the magic is. You want to watch them closely. With a magnifying glass. When they sprout, they’re crystal clear. As they develop the raw THC they become cloudy. Eventually they turn to an amber hue. Even before you get to the dry and cure stage, picking the peak of readiness by the trichomes is crucial. The best bet is to wait until the very first sign of amber appears in the trichomes. If they’re too clear, they give a light, airy buzz. Too much amber and they Velcro your bottom to the chair.

While that may not sound like a bad thing, it is. If you want that effect, select it in the strain, then harvest it at the first show of amber. With autoflowering, it’s basically guesswork. They take forever to go amber and will still have big patches of clear trichomes when perfectly ready. On those you watch for most of the trichomes to go cloudy and keep your fingers crossed.

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Hang and dry

How much time you spend trimming your buds at harvest is a user preference but it’s best to trim off the big “fan leaves” with precision snippers at the very least. Most growers prefer leaving it at that until things dry out some. You can also harvest your plant in sections, working top down over a few days. Trimming is tedious and time consuming. Once you give your plant a quick trim, hang the branches and stalks upside down.

You don’t want to rush the dry and cure process. It degrades the THC and affects the terpenes, flavonoids, and other psychoactive components. Hang the plants for 5-7 days depending on climate and location. Every strain is a little different.

All through the dry and cure process, the humidity needs to be watched closely and the cannabis should be kept in the dark as much as possible. Light breaks down THC molecules. A fan to improve air flow is recommended, especially in humid climates. The idea is to create a breeze blowing by but not directly on the buds.

At this stage, you want to maintain about 45-55% moisture in the room air. You can get a tool to monitor it at the cigar store, or just fly by the seat of your pants. If your humidity is lower than that, keep the fan on low or skip it. A temperature around 70°F is ideal, but anywhere between 60-80°F works. Higher than that drys the bud too fast.

You’ll want to break the branches up and separate them as space allows for hanging. Once you think they’re dry enough for the next stage, you can check by bending a medium-small size twig to see if it snaps.

As a test, you can throw a few buds in a jar, along with the hygrometer, seal it for 24 hours, then check the reading. The goal at this point is just under 70% humidity in the buds themselves. Higher than that invites mold. Now the cure part begins.

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A cure to die for

Once you get below 70%, it’s time to put your buds in jars to cure. Gallon or half-gallon size work great. The idea is to place the buds in loosely to allow air flow. Keeping the monitor in a jar is recommended. If the humidity creeps back up, keep the jars open longer, even consider removing the buds and putting them on a tray if needed for a while.

Moisture is crucial to the process of making terpenes but too much causes mold. Without a monitor, you can sniff your jars for the scent of ammonia. At the first hint, dry your buds some. If it gets too strong it could ruin the batch.

The idea is to “burp” all your jars at least once a day during the entire 6-8 week cure process. More often in the beginning. You want to do this every day for at least a month, then every other day for another month.

Without a monitor, you can feel a bud and the surface should be a little dry or crunchy while the stems remain moist. If it gets too dry, you can add special moisture packs or dampen a small piece of paper towel and tuck it into the jar for a few hours.

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According to Homestead and Chill, a proper cure “stops the degradation process before volatile compounds like terpenes and cannabinoids evaporate or transform into less favorable compounds.”

Additionally, “cannabinoid synthesis (the process of creating those valuable chemicals) continues to take place even after harvest!” When burping the jars, the reason is to introduce oxygen. You don’t simply pop the lid and put it back on. Leave the lid off entirely for a good 10-15 minutes. That allows the buds to “release moisture or other off-gassing substances.”

What do you think?

Written by Mark Megahan

Mark Megahan is a resident of Morristown, Arizona and aficionado of the finer things in life.

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