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Are Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs) in Cannabis Cultivation Harmful?

Sunday February 16, 2020

Few people buying cannabis at a dispensary put much thought into the plant growth regulators that may be present in their product. While growers and producers are intimately acquainted with them, there aren’t many on the consumer end that even know what a plant growth regulator (PGR) is, or their role in a flower’s growth cycle. However, a basic knowledge of PGRs is important for anyone who enjoys weed, as there may be potential health risks involved in consuming PGRs in marijuana.

What Are Plant Growth Regulators?

Plant growth regulators are naturally occurring, hormone-like chemicals specific to plants. The function of PGRs is to mimic or inhibit the expression of a plant’s normal growth hormones during its lifecycle. This includes when the plant begins to germinate, when its fruits ripen and drop, as well as the length, width, and shape of the plant’s roots, leaves, and stems.

PGRs have been used in agriculture and landscaping for nearly a century. Depending on the PGR, their use ranges from increasing the number of apples in an orchard to slowing the growth of grass in a golf course so that can be mowed less often.

Plant Growth Regulators come in two types. Naturally derived PGRs include kelp, chitosan, and trichontanol. Chemically derived, synthetic PGRs include Daminozide (Alar), Uniconazole. These PGRs are sprayed on plants or added into fertilizer to help plants grow more uniformly or to manipulate certain attributes.

How Are PGRs Used in Cannabis Cultivation?

For marijuana, PGRs are mostly used to alter the appearance of the buds, increase yields, or make the plant size more uniform for indoor growing. Some growers also claim that PGRs add to the overall health of the plant, making it stronger and more resistant to disease. However, much of the problems with PGRs, especially synthetic ones, come from less than honest growers looking to increase profitability at the expense of quality and consumer health. This is especially noticeable with how PGR manipulated buds appear after curing.

Much like the fashion industry, the cannabis industry has helped to set an unrealistic standard of beauty on their flowers. Dense, tightly packed buds look much more appealing in the package than fluffier, leafy ones. Consumers may also believe that a luxurious coat of orange hairs means a stronger strain overall. Adding PGRs to a plant can also increase the weight of the end product.

Of course, what determines quality in a bud is the levels of terpenes and cannabinoids contained in the plant’s trichomes, not the shape of the bud. Synthetic PGRs also have a large impact on trichome functions as well.

What Are Some Synthetic PGRs?

Besides being potentially dangerous for human consumption, synthetic plant growth regulators also affect the quality of the plant being grown. Some of the most common synthetic PGRs and their effects are listed below.

Paclobutrazol

This PGR retards a plant cell’s ability to elongate. When used on cannabis, this means that the cells pack much tighter and denser on the flower. While this bud may look like a higher value product, Paclobutrazol actually hinders the development of key terpenes in the cannabis plant. This has a much greater effect on quality than just how the flower tastes and smells.

By hindering the creation of terpenes, it affects how well the cannabis functions on a psychoactive level with the user. THC and other cannabinoids bind much less effectively in their neurotransmitters without those key terpenes due to the entourage effect. Of even greater note, Paclobutrazol also kneecaps the plant’s ability to create the compound THC, which most in the weed community would rank as #1 in importance.

Daminozide

Also known as Alar, Daminozide is used by growers to maximize bud yields. It does this by minimizing the growth of stems and leaves so that the plant can put more resources into flowering. However, like Paclobutrazol, this PGR decreases the production of terpenes, as well as cannabinoids like CBD, CBN, and THC. Basically, it severely restricts resin production in the plant overall, meaning fewer trichomes.

Again, the appearance of a denser nug on a dispensary’s shelf comes at the expense of flavor, potency, and, in the case of PGRs, potentially the consumer’s health.

Chlormequat Chloride

Chlormequat Chloride actually slows down plant growth in certain areas, which in turn helps to encourage flowering. Adding it to plant also can make their size much shorter and more uniform, which makes growing plants indoors a lot easier.

Are Synthetic Plant Growth Regulators Bad for Your Health?

Long story short: yes. Exposure to high doses of synthetic PGRs can be very dangerous to people’s health in both the short and long term. In the late 1980’s, the EPA issued a recall of Alar (Daminozide) for food uses as testing found that it could be classified as a carcinogen in high doses. It’s been banned from human consumption since 1989 and has led to several agricultural recalls. Many synthetic PGRs have been similarly banned as further tests have been done.

The EPA also has concerns that Paclobutrazol might cause liver damage, and may also affect fertility in both men and women. While Chlormequat Chloride has not yet been shown to be hazardous to people’s health, testing is still being done.

Unfortunately, the fertilizers and PGRs used by growers in the cannabis industry are not as tightly regulated as in agriculture. Without a regulatory body overseeing the industry’s standards, unscrupulous growers can use PGRs to improve the appearance of their yields.

Still, even if you’re a heavy weed smoker, you don’t need to run to your doctor for a battery of tests right away. While you should undoubtedly try to avoid ingesting synthetic PGRs, the effects of short term of exposure are not fatal and the amounts in your cannabis are small. You’re at about as much risk from eating an apple with PGRs as you are from the flower you’re smoking through it. But with any potential carcinogen, it’s better to play it safe and avoid it. Over long periods of time, the damage can add up.

How Do I Avoid PGRs in My Marijuana?

The best way to avoid synthetic plant growth regulators is to ask your friendly neighborhood budtender. They should have some idea of their grower’s reputation. You can also call the producers themselves and request information.

If your budtender is uncertain or the producer uncommunicative, there are certain things to watch out for when buying your flower. The first is incredibly dense buds. Of course, dense buds can also be a mark of a master grower, which is why you should make sure they’re also dusted with trichomes.

Synthetic PGRs tend to decrease resin production. This means a less sugary bud overall, which also means a less potent one, since it’ll be lacking those necessary cannabinoids and terpenes. The bud may also be spongy and more brownish but lacking a strong smell. Luckily, with a little knowledge and these helpful tips, it can be easy to avoid buying weed grown with synthetic PGRs. Being a conscious consumer in this regard can go a long way – happy consuming!

What are your thoughts on the use of plant growth regulators in marijuana cultivation? Share them in the comments below.

Cannabis growers are always looking to cultivate the best crops. However, some growers and dispensaries are using plant growth regulators (PGRs) to bring out certain traits in their marijuana flower. Learn more about PGRs, synthetic PGRs, and if they are harmful for humans to ingest.

How Does Cannabis Use Affect Glands and Hormone Production?

Cannabis is a plant, that is used for a variety of anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving purposes. However, very little is known about how cannabis interacts with the endocrine system. While some research shows that THC suppresses hormone secretion from the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, not many definitive conclusions can be drawn.

Human research is difficult to navigate because each patient will have a different reaction depending on many varying factors including diet, chemical exposure, endocannabinoid system (ECS), and general health. In addition to affecting vital sex hormones, evidence suggests that chronic cannabis use may also affect the adrenal, prolactin, thyroid, and growth hormones.

What is the Endocrine System?

The endocrine system is the communication department of your body. It’s made up of the pancreas, sex organs, hypothalamus, as well as pineal, thyroid, and adrenal glands, which communicate to other parts of the body by making hormones, the messengers of the endocrine system. These hormones regulate immunity, influence mood, proliferate growth, adjust metabolism, and even assist fertility. Some of the hormones you’ve probably heard of are fertility hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, prolactin), thyroid, cortisol, and insulin.

The ECS has an integrated role within the endocrine system. Endocannabinoids influence mood, hunger, and energy , among other things, by interacting with hormones. Cannabis can influence the ECS by enhancing or altering its receptors, commonly known as CB1 and CB2 , that can bind to hormones but are also an essential regulator of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis . The HPA axis is one of the main endocrine system conductors that sends critical messages, by the use of hormones, to the body . These different processes of cannabis, found both in rat and human studies, affect the body by suppressing or engaging with hormones or the glands that secrete them and, ultimately, the multifaceted endocrine system.

Adrenal Hormones

The adrenal hormones are the main puppeteers of stress, energy, adrenaline, and blood pressure. They are a topic of interest in a healthy body, especially when they can be influenced by endocannabinoids found in cannabis. The adrenal glands also secrete a small amount of sex hormones, but not nearly enough to rival those produced in the reproductive organs. Cannabis suppresses adrenal activity , according to the 2009 study in the German journal Psychopharmacology study on the effects of cannabinoids on humans.

The suppression of the adrenal glands lowers blood sugar, which may raise cortisol in the short-term . Ongoing adrenal suppression can interfere with blood sugar regulation, raising cholesterol , and suppressing the immune system.

Prolactin

Prolactin is the hormone most people know as the breast-milk-producing hormone, though it has many other functions in the body, especially related to fertility. Prolactin increases with stress and age and affects most tissues in the body, such as skin and hair. High amounts of prolactin contribute to infertility and lowered sexual desire. If in fact, THC has been recorded to suppress pituitary hormones, one of which is prolactin.

High prolactin levels enhance stress in women as well as estrogen dominance, aggression, anxiety, depression, infertility, and osteoporosis, according to studies in the American Journal of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics . While lowered prolactin reduces the risk of breast and testicular cancer . In addition to reducing stress, less prolactin allows for more dopamine , which provides for feelings of elation and happiness. Though keeping prolactin low seems desirable, suppressing pituitary hormones such as prolactin and other reproductive hormones can negatively affect fertility and postpartum.

Thyroid

It is unclear exactly how cannabis affects the thyroid . Research shows that cannabinoids can have beneficial effects for those with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s disease but can also lower thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which regulates thyroid function. The thyroid is a very sensitive yet powerful gland that controls hormones that regulates mood, digestion, metabolism, and brain function. Cannabis suppresses pituitary hormones, which could cause changes in thyroid function, the consequences of which have yet to be determined by researchers.

Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

The human growth hormone (HGH) is one of the many hormones released via the pituitary gland, which is heavily influenced by the endocannabinoid system and CB1 receptors, those which are affected by THC consumption. The suppression of HGH is beneficial to suppress growth proliferation of a cancerous cell . This is one reason why cannabis is a wonderful prescription for cancer patients. On the other hand, they are crucial for female fertility and the support of the delicate female cycle. Also, as their name suggests, they’re very important for growth and development both physically and mentally. For underdeveloped children, suppressing these hormones is not a wise decision.

Endocannabinoids play a crucial role in the endocrine system between hormone-producing organs and glands to the hormones themselves. Because the endocrine system is so complex and not enough controlled human research has been conducted, it’s still not fully understood how cannabis exactly affects hormones and its impact on health.

How Does Cannabis Use Affect Glands and Hormone Production? Cannabis is a plant, that is used for a variety of anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving purposes. However, very little is known about how