Cannabis Cultivation: The Light Spectrum and Ways to Raise THC Levels
Creating an ideal environment for cannabis plants is only achievable by understanding the principles of nature - the light spectrum is a factor that cannot be ignored.
Most cannabis growers have multiple objectives in mind when planning an indoor grow. Drafting scenarios to achieve higher yields, increase THC levels, or simply to improve the overall health of a plant is an integral part of their hobby. This element of strategic planning involves the challenge to link knowledge of different scientific fields and to match those findings to a technical solution that helps to achieve predefined goals. Besides dedication and passion, it is the willingness to learn that differentiates good growers from future experts – so let us try to grow the royal way and learn what it takes to cultivate cannabis of exceptional quality. Today, we are looking at fundamentals of physics, and learn how the light spectrum affects the growth of a cannabis plant.
WHAT IS THE LIGHT SPECTRUM?
The sun emits energy in the form of solar radiation including gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light, and even radio waves. Life on Earth is only possible because the ozone layer blocks this radiation, and reflects most of it back into space. This filtering process only allows wave lengths between 300nm and 1100nm to reach our plants and an even smaller portion of this light is visible to us. It is often referred to as the light spectrum, color spectrum or visible spectrum, and ranges from 380nm to about 750nm.
180-280nm - UVC: Extremely harmful and luckily almost completely absorbed by the ozone layer
280-315nm – UVB: Cause of sunburn and suspected to increase THC levels (!)
315-400nm – UVA: Not absorbed by the atmosphere, commonly known as black light
380-750nm – The visible light spectrum: Bands of wave lengths represent visible colours
700nm-1mm – Infrared light: Not visible above 750nm but noticeable as heat on our skin
HOW THE LIGHT SPECTRUM AFFECTS GROWTH
Every organism living on Earth needs information what is going on around them to react to environmental changes, and ideally, get a slight advantage over other members of their species regarding natural selection and evolution. Interestingly, cannabis plants receive a lot of their information from the light they’re exposed to, and almost instantly react to different bands of wave lengths - a complex topic to fill books with, but let us focus on the basics first.
1. Vegetative Stage – “Blue” light for healthy leaves (range: 400-500nm; ideal: 460nm)
During the vegetative stage it is recommended to aim for as many leaves as possible, and to make sure plants stay rather compact, don’t stretch too much, and develop strong stems. Indoor growers tend to use metal halide bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFL’s), or T5/T8 lighting fixtures with a blue band of light for the first few weeks to achieve these goals. When cannabis grows in nature, the high angle of the sun in spring and summer allows more “blue” wave lengths to penetrate through the atmosphere, a signal for cannabis plants to grow strong, large and healthy leaves.
2. Flowering Period – “Red” light for giant buds (range: 620-780nm; ideal: 660nm)
When cannabis plants enter the flowering period, highest yields can be achieved by exposing them to a light spectrum that contains lots of “red” wave lengths to promote budding. The rate of photosynthesis peaks when plants are subjected to “red” wave lengths of 660nm although latest NASA findings suggest that even “green” wave lengths, which are not associated as a major factor in photosynthesis, can also have an impact on how plants grow. Seeing a cannabis plant as simple photosynthesis factory is consequently a little hasty. But for now, choosing a lighting solution with a high degree of “red” in its spectrum remains the best way for growers to imitate the shallow angle of the sun in late summer and autumn.
INCREASING THC LEVELS WITH UVB LIGHT – MYTH OR REALITY?
Have you ever wondered why potent cannabis strains often originate from landraces that naturally grow in high altitude regions? There are experts who suspect ultraviolet light, especially a high exposure to UVB wave lengths (280-315nm), to be responsible for an increased THC production. The theory is based on the fact that a high elevation means lesser atmosphere between cannabis plants and the sun, leading to a higher exposure to UV rays. These ultraviolet wave lenghts knowingly damage our skin, and the human body reacts by producing melanin as protection – a cannabis plant assumingly does something similar – it produces more resin and THC as a form of natural sunscreen. It is too early to say if we are dealing with a theory or a cost-effective method to grow better cannabis but the concept seems plausible enough for hands-on experiments. UVB bulbs for reptiles only cost a few bucks; perhaps we should give it a try.