When it comes to the cannabis you ingest, you want to be sure you’re getting a high-quality product. A lot of that quality comes from the way the cannabis plant is grown—organic and pesticide free. But another factor in quality control is how the buds are preserved.
After all, cannabis, like anything grown for consumption, is a perishable item. So, while you might be buying cannabis for the weekend and don’t care about what’s been done by producers to ensure that you have the freshest product available, producers do care, particularly as repeat customers are the key to their businesses growing. Considering quality for the longer term means that preservation is as important as the quality of the plants being produced.
Industry standards are changing but there are some key questions that are producers are asking, and that trend is fanning out to include what consumers are looking for:
- What is perishability when it comes to cannabis?
- Why should the issue of perishability be important to cannabis consumers, particularly those who smoke it?
- Why does preservation have a big impact on cannabis quality?
What is perishability when it comes to cannabis?
First off, cannabis is a plant, and like all other plants, it is perishable. It, like tomatoes on the vine or the lettuce in the produce aisle at the grocery store, can go bad quickly if preservatives aren’t used. Over time, unpreserved cannabis will lose some of the properties that make it interesting to the consumer. Like fruits and vegetables lose their vitamins and minerals, and an open pop bottle will lose its fizz, cannabis that isn’t properly preserved will lose some of why people buy it in the first place.
Would you drink the pop that has lost its fizz? Maybe, but the experience and part of the reason you enjoy it won’t be the same. It’s the same with cannabis. It won’t have gone bad in the sense that it’s unsafe to smoke it, but the point of smoking is to get high and those properties—and the resulting experience—are seriously diminished when flower sits around too long and isn’t preserved.
So, what can cause cannabis to go bad?
- Light — Whether from direct sunlight or from bulbs, light is great for growing plants. But when it comes to cultivated buds, the radiation that light emits can affect the end product in several ways. For one, light raises the temperature of a product. With that increase comes other processes that break down plant-based elements, like oxidation and discoloration. Ultimately and over time, light will affect a product by breaking it down chemically. For cannabis, that means the breaking down of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or cannabidiol, which help make cannabis what it is.
- Oxygen — Another important piece in growing cannabis can be a problem post-cultivation. Exposing the buds to too much air can enhance perishability by allowing the growth of enzymes and microorganisms which will affect flavor and aroma. Air also affects the plant chemically by breaking down fatty acids contained in it; acids which help to maintain both flavor and aroma. 
- Humidity — Humidity is, at a basic level, water in the air. When plants of any kind are exposed to too much water, they rot. Humidity in the air creates the conditions for bacteria like yeast or mold to grow and thrive in/on the plant. Too much moisture will also create chemical reactions that deactivate or reduce the potency of the chemicals that cannabis is famous for. Without them, your favorite smokable that has been exposed to moisture might suddenly not have as much kick as a fresh batch might.
- Temperature — As described with light exposure, which can raise the temperature of the buds, any heat will impact the shelf life of cannabis. Heat increases natural chemical enzyme reactions and promotes the breakdown of plants. If you combine heat with moisture, then the plant is affected at all levels, including its color, flavor, and even odor.
Why should the issue of perishability be important to cannabis consumers, particularly those who smoke it?
So, with all the above in mind, it’s clear that if cannabis is improperly stored, the quality suffers. For the end consumer, the overall experience will decrease in potency and enjoyability. One way for producers to avoid issues of perishability is to leverage the entourage effect.
Entourage or Ensemble Effects
The entourage effect is defined as the interaction of cannabis compounds with each other, thereby potentiating the efficacy of individual molecules like delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD).  Thus, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The ‘entourage effect’ matters because certain physical effects that a consumer might be looking for in their consumption of cannabis won’t occur without it.
For example, THC is a great treatment for appetite loss while CBD helps to lessen anxiety. [3,4] Each influences the physical body that is unique to it. However, if you put THC and CBD together, you now have various effects that come into play and, from a treatment point of view, can be very beneficial. From depression to pain to cancer [5-7], the combination of THC, CBD, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds creates a tangible result through a process known as synergy.
It’s also important to remember that there is not just one version of cannabis. Thousands of different cannabis cultivars are available, and each has a unique chemical profile that creates its own effects. For consumers, it’s important to try different ones to get the effects you are looking for since one plant can make you feel serene while another can make you feel nervous. The entourage effect plays an important part in the experience you ultimately have.
To come full circle on this discussion, it’s clear that cannabis is perishable. It can “go bad” if exposed to too much light, oxygen, humidity, and temperature fluctuation. In this chemical breakdown process, the entourage effect is impacted if one element breaks down faster or sooner than another, disturbing the balance that otherwise makes a given plant potent or effective.
This matters to consumers for a simple reason: your experience immediately after buying a cannabis cultivar may be completely different later because of the breakdown of the plant matter. This is why preservation is vital to sustain quality and maintain the entourage effect.
Why does preservation have a big impact on cannabis quality?
Proper storage is essential to maintain the plant and it goes far beyond where you store your cannabis after you get home from the store. Preservation is a factor that producers need to consider throughout the production process, from initial soil growth, to harvesting, and ultimately, packaging and shipping.
A high-quality producer will work hard to ensure high standards are maintained throughout the growing process, such as via organic soils and fertilizers; specific regulation of light, oxygen, humidity, and temperature; and storage options for the end product designed to maintain that hard-earned quality level.
Packaging and storage matters
While chemical breakdown of plant-based products is a natural occurrence and can’t be fully prevented, the right packaging and storage can slow down perishability. Like the synergy between the cannabis elements themselves, the same goes for preservation and storage. Effective methods to package and store cannabis will extend its shelf life.
From a producer point of view, reclosable metal cans have proven to be the strongest and most effective packaging method available, while at the same time being environmentally friendly. With metal cans and the right packaging techniques—such as flushing the package with nitrogen prior to applying the lid to create a hermetic seal—the buds are safe from oxygen, light, and humidity. Unlike plastics, there are no chemicals that can leach into the buds when there are fluctuating temperatures, all of which contribute to a preservation and storage method which can keep flowers fresh for a long time. The added advantage to the closable containers is that the consumer can maintain their cannabis in the cans to get optimal results even days or weeks post-purchase.
For regular consumers of cannabis, the quality and longevity of the product is important. Quality matters when you’re putting something into your body and knowing how a producer assures the quality of their product matters too.
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 Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364. [journal impact factor = 7.73; cited by 694]
 Berry EM, Mechoulam R. Tetrahydrocannabinol and endocannabinoids in feeding and appetite. Pharmacol Ther. 2002;95(2):185-190. [journal impact factor = 10.557; cited by 171]
 Bergamaschi MM, Queiroz RH, Chagas MH, et al. Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011;36(6):1219-1226. [journal impact factor = 6.751; cited by 384]
 Marcu, J. et al. Cannabidiol enhances the inhibitory effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol on human glioblastoma cell proliferation and survival. Mol Cancer Ther. 2010;9(1):180–189. [journal impact factor = 5.523; cited by 99]
 Russo E, Guy GW. A tale of two cannabinoids: the therapeutic rationale for combining tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol. Med Hypotheses. 2006;66(2):234-246. [journal impact factor = 1.375; cited by 406]
 Ferber SG, Namdar D, Hen-Shoval D, et al. The “entourage effect”: Terpenes coupled with cannabinoids for the treatment of mood disorders and anxiety disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2020;18(2):87-96. [journal impact factor = 4.758; cited by 14]
Anthony Franciosi also known as Ant, is an honest to goodness farmer whose fingers are as green as the organic cannabis he grows. He is the proud founder of Honest Marijuana Company – an all-natural, completely organic cannabis growery in Colorado.