As the cannabis industry matures, growers are looking for new ways to increase yields and maximize efficiency. Plenty of progress has been made since states first began legalizing cannabis, but an even bigger change may be on the horizon: triploid cannabis.
Seeds, Pollen, and Lost Crops
To understand why triploid cannabis could be a game-changer for the cannabis industry, you first need to grasp the problem with cannabis seeds.
Cannabis seeds are problematic in that no one wants cannabis seeds mixed up in the flower they’re trying to roll. They can also get in the way of manufacturing other cannabis products. Because seeds are such a problem, cannabis farmers try their hardest to prevent their plants from producing seeds. A crop that produces too many is often considered unusable.
Cannabis growers are careful to remove any male plants from their crops to prevent pollination. Female plants alone can’t produce seeds unless they are pollinated. Even this isn’t a perfect solution, though, because pollen can travel for miles on the wind and ultimately reach female plants. To make matters worse, female plants can actually produce male flowers in the absence of male plants. These male flowers will produce pollen and, ultimately, seeds.
What is a Triploid?
Humans have two sets of chromosomes, one from each parent. Scientifically speaking, this makes humans diploid organisms. Cannabis plants are usually diploid organisms too, but like other plants, it’s possible for cannabis plants to receive multiple sets of chromosomes. A plant with three sets of chromosomes is a triploid plant.
How Triploid Cannabis Can Help
Generally, triploid plants are infertile. Seedless grapes and seedless watermelons are common examples of triploid plants. They don’t produce seeds. Triploid cannabis is no different. Female triploid cannabis plants do not produce seeds, even if fertilized with pollen, thereby eliminating the problem of pollen contamination and male flowers.
The process of creating triploid plants isn’t that complicated. While triploid plants may occur in nature, they’re rare. That means cannabis producers need to create the right set of circumstances to make it happen regularly (see our featured article by Dark Heart Nursery for a deeper dive).
The process involves taking diploid female plants, creating tetraploid female plants using the alkaloid colchicine, using a chemical to make them produce male flowers (e.g., gibberellic acid, silver nitrate, silver thiosulfate), and fertilizing one set of female plants with the flowers from the other. [1,2] When a female plant fertilizes another female plant, the resulting seeds are “feminized,” meaning that they only have female DNA, and the resulting plants will be female.
In theory, if the cannabis industry adopts farming of triploid female plants, it can eliminate the problems caused by seeds, produce much greater yields, and reduce waste.
Resources Crawford S, Rojas BM, Crawford E, et al. Characteristics of the diploid, triploid, and tetraploid versions of a cannabigerol-dominant F1 hybrid industrial hemp cultivar, Cannabis sativa ‘Stem Cell CBG’. Genes (Basel). 2021;12(6):923. [journal impact factor = 3.688; times cited = 2]
 Kurtz LE, Brand MH, & Lubell-Brand JD. Production of tetraploid and triploid hemp. HortScience. 2020; 55(10):1703-1707. [journal impact factor = 1.455; times cited = 4]