Hi, I’m an indoor grown cannabis bud. While it may have been true in the past when cannabis was illegal that I tended to be more potent, this is no longer the case. Studies show that at best, I may have stronger flavor notes but lack both the richness/complexity in flavor along with the cannabinoids levels (CBD, THC, etc.) of my outdoor grown counterpart.
In fact, when it comes to contaminates like heavy metals, pesticides, fungicides, and mold, I actually tend to be more contaminated. This is due to the chemical, versus natural, composition of the nutrients I’m fed along with the regular spraying of pesticides and fungicides I receive in many indoor grows. Lacking in exposure to full spectrum sunlight, I’m particularly delicate and consequently need extra chemical protection from harmful pests and molds. Indoors, pests and molds are much more of an issue in part because they are not kept in check by beneficial outdoor competitors.
When you purchase me over my outdoor grown counterpart, you may be getting tighter/denser bud, but you’re also supporting indoor growing with its massive carbon footprint and consumption of large quantities of the planet’s resources. These resources are used to construct buildings, lighting systems, ventilation and filtration systems, chemical fertilizer feeding systems, along with temperature and humidity systems that I need to keep me healthy. Unlike organic outdoor growing methods that work to nurture and rebuild our soils, being grown indoors is detrimental to our soils – in the form of buildings, parking lots, and various forms of wastes indoor growing produces. To give you a point of reference, the electricity to power just the lighting we indoor nuggets need consumes enough energy to power 2 million average U.S.A. homes!
Given these facts, how pretty do I look to you now?
An Ounce of Flower is an Ounce of Flower
As small-scale hemp growers, we “wear alot of hats” around here. One of our jobs is sending out samples to CBD dispensaries within the state. Not surprisingly, many dispensaries already have suppliers they’re working with but we have managed to “get our foot into the door” with some of them. We’re always keen to hear what others think, and are always thankful for the positive reviews and encouragement. It really “makes our day”.
Having said this, one of the “comments” that came back was that the bud wasn’t as dense as others. We appreciate everyone’s views and hearing this we wondered what this was all about. The dispensary owner that made this comment suggested that our lighter bud was likely due to the fact that the flower was sun-grown, grown outdoors.
Searching on DuckDuckGo, a privacy minded search engine, resulted in a slew of similar articles which basically repeated the same points related to indoor versus sun-grown cannabis. After reading these articles and many more, our take-away was that the dispensary owner was right; our bud was lighter due to being outdoor grown – indoor lighting in close proximity to flower tends to make it denser. However, he missed the mark when it came to equating density with potency or quality.
Before beginning to explain why this is the case, please understand that 18% CBD by weight is 18% CBD by weight. What I mean is that when we mail out an ounce of our flower with 18% CBD, it has the exact same amount of cannabinoids as a denser bud with 18% CBD. The only difference is that our flower takes up a bit more space in the package. On top of this, most people grind their bud prior to smoking, vaping, or extracting in order to get the most out of it. In the end, what’s the difference? A ground up ounce is a ground up ounce regardless of size/density.
So admittedly, indoor bud tends to be denser and there are some that still consider to be better looking. However, the reality is that denser really doesn’t equate to much of anything nowadays and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Here at Organic Entourage, our outdoor bud looks beautiful to us for all the reasons to be discussed in this article series. Briefly, these reasons include fewer or no chemicals, fewer or no contaminates, way smaller carbon footprint, and so on. Note: Of course, there are exceptional indoor grows and certainly there is a need for indoor grows for growing seed stock, clones, and very specialized product. However, even when natural controls and fertilizer are used, the fact of the matter is that indoor grown cannabis consumes a lot of this planet’s resources.
An In-Depth Look at Outdoor vs. Indoor Grows
In general, we all know that looking pretty and having substance are two completely different qualities. For us as outdoor growers, we were really interested in trying to understand if pampered indoor flowers were actually better. Were they more potent? Did they have higher levels of cannabinoids or terpenes? Was the flavor somehow better? What are the environmental costs related to each? What were the pros and cons of growing indoors versus outdoors?
After a lot of research, I started writing what I’d planned on being a single article that actually turned into a series of articles on the topic. I knew from that start that I didn’t want to write yet another article listing, in bullet-point fashion, the relatively trivial and obvious differences between indoor and outdoor grown cannabis. These are differences such as indoor grows can produce 3-4 crops per year, outdoor grows require fewer inputs but are subject to weather, and so on. A simple search will give you a long list of these types of points.
Instead, I decided to approach this from the perspective of a small grower whose focus is on growing outstanding product and nurturing the land. For us, making lots of money is not how we think about growing. For us, if we can’t grow quality product in a way that benefits the land, then it doesn’t matter how much money we do, or don’t, make. We simply won’t continue to be growers. As you’ll see, this is not the case for many others and plays a major role in this discussion.
Sharks in the Water
So before I get into any details, let’s get an overview of this industry. One of the points that really struck me in researching for this article is that there is big money to be made in the cannabis industry – wherein cannabis refers to both marijuana and hemp. And I mean big money. Rolling Stone predicts that the “CBD Market Will Hit $22 Billion by 2022“. With that kind of money, it’s bound to draw in all sorts of players.
And I mean “players” in the pejorative sense, as in shady businesses that put up a good front in order to empty your pockets while lining their own. Seriously, we don’t have to look hard to see this. A quick glance over the list of articles describing either adulterated or diluted product on our CBD Resources page proves this out.
Now I’m sure no one is surprised by this fact and came to understanding a long time ago. For myself, my wife drove home this point when it came to the natural products industry. Years ago, I was off-put by the marketing of a natural products business expo. I lamented to her that it seemed to just be all about money. She just shook her head and then set me straight.
As part of her work for some of the largest supplement providers in the country, she sat in on upper level business to business conferences and would occasionally visit the teams she sent to trade shows. Having been in these meetings and shows, she’d relayed how over 90% of supplement providers primary focus was on making money. Whether or not they provided a quality product, a product that could actually benefit the consumer, was a nice little perk but essentially inconsequential.
If there was a market to be exploited, there were always companies ready to pounce. She explained how I was naïve to think that the supplement industry was somehow more conscientious given that the health of others is at stake. They weren’t and sadly, I don’t see that the cannabis industry as being any different. Of course, there are lots of wonderful exceptions but there are lots of sharks too.
Indoor Bud – Not So Pretty After All
So I’m going to concede from the start of this discussion on outdoor versus indoor grows that cannabis grown indoors looks more picturesque by and large. By picturesque, I mean conforms to the general public’s idea of what pretty bud should look like. Additionally, indoor cannabis theoretically can be a cleaner product that may have higher levels of specific terpenes. By cleaner, I mean that the risk of contamination by certain heavy metals, foreign matter like bits of insects, and outdoor air pollutants may be less.
Notice that I said indoor flower had a “theoretical advantage” related to specific terpene levels and cleanliness. As you will see in the following articles, it’s a theoretical advantage only that has virtually no bearing on reality. Indoor growers can talk all the “smack” they want about sun-grown cannabis (as in insulting or casting doubt), but what we learned is that there are a lot of downsides related to indoor grows that easily offset any academic advantages related to terpene levels and cleanliness.
For a case in point, there are huge costs related to indoor grows that are unknowingly being levied on society. This is done in order to line the pockets of aggressive businesses and produce pretty bud. Once you realize the extent of the costs to society, we are hoping you’ll realize that the bulk of indoor grows are essentially synonymous with environmentally damage and shortsightedness. It pains me to say it because of course there are some really wonderful and long-standing indoor growers; it’s just that we’re hoping we can eventually get them to apply their trade in a more sustainable manner.
So I know; these are bold statements. I’m guessing that more than one indoor grower disagrees. Alright, let’s get into it; let’s begin by looking at potency.
Pretty and Dense Bud - Antiquated Markers
Before getting into potency data, it’s worth a few paragraphs to better explain where the notion that good looking bud was of higher quality came from. To understand this means looking back at the illicit cannabis industry. It’s only very recently that hemp became legal in all 50 states with the legalization of marijuana following closely behind. Before then, CBD hemp was grown hidden away.
In terms of outdoor illegal grows, the product was subject not only to the weather but was roughly handled. By this I mean that illegal outdoor flower was harvested sooner, dried quicker, and then jammed into the recesses of vehicles for transport. This all tended to result in less dense and rougher looking bud.
In contrast, those with indoor illicit grows could take their time. High intensity lighting could be placed inches from flower and flower could be harvested at peak. The bud was protected from the elements. Proper drying and curing wasn’t an issue like outdoor grows because indoor bud was hidden away inside clandestine buildings. As a consequence of these factors, illegal indoor bud tended to be denser, look prettier, and smoked better than outdoor weed. It’s no wonder that folks learned to equate tight bud with better quality.
Today, this is no longer the case. Legalized outdoor growers can take their sweet time growing and processing their weed. While the outdated rule-of-thumb claiming more compact indoor bud is more “potent” still persists, the data from legal grows doesn’t support this antiquated marker. Based upon the sources we were able to find, outdoor bud is slightly more potent when it comes to cannabinoid levels and on equal footing when it comes to terpene levels.
Is Indoor Bud More “Potent”?
When cannabis was illegal, indoor bud tended to be more potent. This is no longer the case. In fact, studies done by Sunna Ra Acres found that clones grown outdoors produced more cannabinoids and terpenes, as well as, expressing additional terpenes when compared to equivalent indoor grown clones. Likewise, a study of 2,700 plants at Washington State found that the THC levels were 1% higher and the terpene “response was best” in plants grown outdoors. The chart to the right, The Propagation, Characterization and Optimization of Cannabis Sativa L as a Phyto-Pharmaceutical, found that terpene levels varied somewhat between the different types but essentially outdoor cannabis and cannabis grown in a greenhouse/glasshouse were the same. All of this data suggests that in spite of being exposed to weather, legally grown outdoor bud is slightly more potent when it comes to cannabinoids and on equal footing in terms of terpenes.
Having said this, expert grower Robert Clarke did remark that, “It’s difficult to get true outdoor weed to be as high in the terpene aromas that a lot of the indoor weed does.” As the chart suggests, indoor grows can get higher levels of specific terpenes but the previous data suggests that the overall complexity/richness is less for indoor grows. So and in all fairness, I’m sure that there are indoor growers that are able to produce exceptionally potent bud by tweaking the lighting, pumping up CO2 levels, and force-feeding fertilizers. However, the question arises; are the extra few percentage points above what an average outdoor grow (exceptional outdoor growers can wring out a few more points too) worth the massive carbon footprint and consumption of non-renewable resources? We don’t think so.
Also see: 5 Major Myths About Outdoor Grown Cannabis Plants
Outdoor Versus Indoor Cannabis Series