Ole Miss Farm, Mississippi. Cannabis Cultivated for Research… a Limited Supply It may be news to you that the federal government of the United States has a marijuana farm. That’s right. A portion of your tax dollars goes to fund the cultivation, harvest, storage and distribution of cannabis at the University of Mississippi, affectionately known as Ole Miss. The University has grown marijuana to supply researchers since 1968. Surprised? Well, I find it far more shocking that this is the one and only federally supported marijuana farm, and thus the only legal source for research cannabis. All of the research done on cannabis since the late ’60’s has been based on bud grown at a single farm, cultivated by researchers who have never so much as smoked a joint.So here’s how it works: the research lab headed by Dr. Mahmoud A. ElSohly produces and harvests several different strains of marijuana. Dr. ElSohly has never smoked marijuana, and is shocked by the fact that several states have legalized a substance he considers a very dangerous drug.Researchers at universities and laboratories across the country can apply for samples of Dr. ElSohly’s cannabis for use in research studies. The application process is lengthy, requiring approval by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) amongst others. Researchers may receive cured bud, extracts or even machine rolled joints for their studies.Yes, research is being done. But anyone with experience designing even the most basic of lab experiments for a high school or college biology course knows how critical the details are for accurate results. Likewise, even the beginner cannabis grower knows how many factors can affect the quality of the final product. Let’s consider a few of these:1. Strain of Cannabis This is perhaps the most obvious factor. Starting with a general frame of reference most commonly smoked strains fit one of three categories:Sativa:These heat loving plants developed from Mexican, Colombian, Thai and other tropical landrace strains have a classic Christmas tree shape and develop long, feathered buds over many weeks of flowering. While generally considered high in THC and low in CBD, many Sativa dominant strains have high levels of other medicinally valuable cannabinoids. For example, Silver Pearl is high in CBC, a pain and anxiety relieving cannabinoid. These strains are valuable medicinally because they tend to leave the user more functional, energetic and motivated than Indica strains. They are often used to relieve depression, anxiety, malaise and symptoms of epilepsy.Indica:With Afghan and Hindu Kush roots, these plants are shorter, bushier and tougher than their Sativa sisters. They tolerate fluctuating temperatures and varying grow conditions gracefully and produce heavy, resinous kolas quickly. They are powerful painkillers and are often used for their narcotic and sedative effects. Indica dominant strains like White Rhino are high in terpenes like Myrcene, which have anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant effects.Hybrid:The majority of commonly smoked strains these days are a blend of Sativa and Indica. These hybrids come in all ratios. Some of the most common strains used to create quality hybrids include:Haze: Strains with Haze parents have a strong Sativa They are often high in terpenes like bronchodilating pinene, anti-carcinogenic limonene and anti-inflammatory caryophyllene;Northern Lights: A classic set of strains, Northern Lights Indica genetics are found in most classic hybrids. They bring strong pain relieving and sedative properties to the strains they parent;White Widow: A famous and potent hybrid, White Widow is known for its potent effects. White Widow offspring will ease muscle tension, melt pain and relieve insomnia;AK 47: These strains have a diverse terpene profile and, if smoked in moderation, provide an energetic, creative high that offers pain relief without inducing sleep:Jack Herer: A Sativa dominant strain used in many breeding programs, Jack Herer brings high levels of THCV, a cannabinoid which suppresses appetite, as well as offering the anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects of numerous terpenes;Diesel: With its powerful odor you just know Diesel strains are full of good stuff. Diesel descendants abound with terpenes and often have high levels of THCV and CBC. For more information about cannabinoids, terpenes and the strains that are high in each individual molecule, check out our article here.Strains Grown at the Ole Miss Farm… Which strains are being grown in the University gardens? The photo above shows what appear to be several different strains growing together in a field. The lab states that they grow several varieties of marijuana, but they do not disclose which strains are grown, nor do they release the origins of their original seeds or clones. In 2014 they stated they had up till that date been using a very small number of strains, and were planning to diversify their options to include high CBD strains.2. Male Plants Everyone has encountered a bag full of seeds before. While this is great if you like the bud you’re smoking and are trying to start cultivating your own plants, the presence of seeds means the weed is not as strong as it could be. When a cannabis flower is fertilized it directs energy into seed making instead of THC development. The result is less potent bud. Early sexing and removal of male plants and the use of feminized seeds significantly decrease the risk of fertilization. The effects of fertilization on CBD and other cannabinoids has not been well studied yet.At the Ole Miss Farm… We don’t know to what extent the University of Mississippi is breeding cannabis. For many years they were using a narrow range of strains with high THC and low CBD levels. In 2014 they said they had a strain with balanced THC and CBD levels that they imagined would soon be in high demand by researchers.3. Nutrients It is important to supply cannabis plants with the proper nutrients during growth to promote the highest levels of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. Yes, marijuana is a weed and thrives in many environments, but the quality of the bud produced varies greatly based on the nutrition the plant receives.When growing indoors, as most amateur and commercial cultivators do, the grower has the option of using a hydroponic system. This gives you the ability to control everything that the plant consumes. Growing in soil indoors still offers a lot of control, as you can choose the potting mix and compost blend you choose to grow in. Outdoor grows are the least predictable. Growers can also choose to use organic or chemical fertilizers throughout the grow cycle.For more information about choosing the right nutrients for your plants, check out our page here.Nutrients at the Ole Miss Farm… Plants at Ole Miss are started indoors and then moved out to a large field. They recently increased their capacity to grow up to 30,000 plants. The program doesn’t share its fertilizing program. We do know that every research lab studying marijuana in a federally approved study is using bud grown from Ole Miss. That means that is impossible for any of these studies to examine the influence of nutrients. As individual states legalize home and commercial growing, research into the effects of different chemical and organic nutrients on cannabinoid content and effects would be valuable to amateur and professional growers alike.4. Harvest and Curing How the marijuana is handled during and after the harvest can greatly affect the qualities of the bud.Flushing before HarvestFlushing your plants involves feeding them only water during the last week before harvest. This helps clear any stored nutrients in the buds and prevents a harsh, chemical flavor to the smoke.Time of HarvestIt is critical to time the harvest to maximize THC and other cannabinoid levels. Many people harvest their buds too early and miss out on high potency cannabis. To learn more about timing your harvest click here.Drying and CuringCannabis must be dried and then cured to mature to its maximum potency. Improperly cured bud loses its smell, flavor and effects, both psychedelic and medicinal.Harvest at the Ole Miss Farm… Once again, the exact details of this process are not disclosed. Does Dr. ElSohly check the THC crystals on his buds to carefully calculate the time of harvest? Does he base harvest time on a set flowering schedule? How does the lab handle drying and curing large amounts of bud?5. Storage and Distribution Once properly cured, buds can be stored in airtight containers for some time. However cannabis is not a nice, heavy red wine that gets better with age. The cannabinoids and terpenes that give marijuana both its psychedelic and medicinal effects degrade over time. Here are two reasons not to smoke old weed:1. THC breaks down into CBN.CBN is not nearly as fun as THC. It has a powerful sedative effect that is often described as a sensation of being drugged. This is a heavy, sleepy, lethargic stone. There is some interest medically in isolating CBN for use as a sedative.2. Terpenes and flavonoids lose potency over time.Have you ever opened a bag of bud that didn’t have much smell? The molecules that give cannabis its rich array of odors are terpenes and flavonoids, chemicals which offer a wide range of anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-viral and other medicinal effects. They break down over time, taking both their pleasing odor and their medicinal value with them.At the Ole Miss Farm… At the University cannabis is grown and harvested based on predicted demand by research labs and universities. When demand is low, Ole Miss often skips a year, or even two of growing in order to use up old stores of cannabis. Anybody want to light up this 3 year old joint with me?One thing we do know, the pre-rolled joints distributed by Ole Miss often contain not only sugar leaves but ground up stems as well. How can this diluted and harsh smoking sample be compared to the neatly trimmed buds smoked across the country? Is this an accurate sample for researching the beneficial or harmful effects of cannabis consumption?An Incomplete Picture The University of Mississippi and researchers using their cannabis have been doing marijuana research for over 50 years. It is undeniable that they have learned a lot about this complex plant. Yet their research is based on cannabis from a single source, with some questionable and many unverifiable practices.Even in states where cannabis has been legalized, it is still illegal for researchers to study it without approval from the federal government. This means that no one can legally study cannabis unless they get it from the University of Mississippi farm. It is apparent that the cannabis coming from this source is potentially very different from that grown and smoked by users around the nation. For an accurate understanding of the psychoactive, medicinal and side-effects of cannabis, shouldn’t researchers be studying the stuff that people are actually growing, smoking and consuming?The Future of Cannabis Research… In 2014 there was a decision to spend more federal money on cannabis production and research. Bids were solicited from facilities, mostly universities, which wanted to receive the government contract to produce research cannabis. We know that several bids were submitted, though the number of bids and identity of the bidders remain undisclosed. Yet the bid was granted exclusively to the University of Mississippi, leaving control of marijuana research in the hands of Dr. ElSohly’s lab and farm.Conclusion There is so much still to learn about this complicated plant. It is bursting with terpenes, cannabinoids and flavonoids, many of which have medicinal applications either alone or used in conjunction with one another. As it becomes legalized in states across the country, new insights into growing techniques which maximize certain qualities are as valuable as research into cannabinoid and terpene effects. Yet at the moment no one can legally grow marijuana in a research setting, outside of the Ole Miss farm.A quality research study must account for all the factors affecting or possibly affecting its outcomes. How can this be done when all the studies are using marijuana grown by someone who doesn’t disclose this information? If we are going to insist on evidence of marijuana’s positive and negative effects, shouldn’t we know what exactly we are studying? It is time for greater transparency in the world of cannabis research.