The Secret Life of Pot Plants

Photo by Justin Cannabis

Knowing the ins and outs of cannabis communication can produce better buds. 

The Secret Soul of Pot Plants

It was one of the world’s greatest thinkers, Aristotle, who reasoned that, as living entities, plants possessed a “soul,” specifically a “nutritive soul”—not as a spiritual state, but rather the quality that makes the plant “alive.”  

As the centuries have passed, gardeners and botanists alike have come to realize a plant’s soul, what constitutes its essence, is more complex than being limited to experiencing growth, nutrition and reproduction. The plant itself can undergo and register stress and relaxation, communicate and perceive stimuli ranging from the human voice to music—and plants can even learn and remember. Such sophistication cannot necessarily be explained by mere genetic or biochemical mechanisms, as posited by an associated field of study dubbed “plant neurobiology” (more on that subject to follow).

Circle of Life, Cannabis Style 

As outlined by Honest Marijuana, there are seven stages to a pot plant’s life cycle, some of which will be referred to in this article, so’s here a quick run-through refresher course:

1. It all begins with the seed, which consists of the cannabis plant in embryonic form contained within a protective husk.

2. When the seed is placed in soil, it enters the germination stage.

3. Cannabis reaches seedling status when initially, two rather generic, un-pot like leaves emerge to begin the process of absorbing sunlight to allow the still embryonic plant to break free of its casing buried beneath dirt. Those more ordinary appearing leaves are soon joined by a pair that resemble the traditional marijuana leaf, with its often pronounced serrated edges.

4. Stem thickness with new nodes for increased leaves, and eventually, branches (why do you think we call them “trees”?), marks the vegetation stage. It’s here where the cannabis cultivator can determine the sex of the plant. For example, more complex branching can indicate that you’ve got a female, while a male will sexually mature faster as its purpose is to produce pollen needed to fertilize the female and produce seeds—if that is the gardener’s desired goal. Otherwise, the female is left celibate in order to achieve her own purpose of producing flowers.

5. Once it’s approximately 42 days old, pre-flowering is when the plant begins to show off its individual characteristics and peculiarities, as cannabis can take anywhere from one to five months to enter pre-flowering, which is quite a disparity. Here is when the female plant focuses her energies and resources on entering the critical stage of…

6. Flowering, in which the plant fulfills its dank destiny, the reason it was put here on this planet, to fully flourish with juicy, sticky, tasty buds.

7. Harvesting is when the cannabis plant meets its final destiny, as it’s transformed from living entity to a collection of resources, some intended for human consumption—to feed, intoxicate and medicate, with other parts of the plant intended for resources and energy. It’s also the point where the gardener with good intentions is filled with appreciation at this miracle marijuana for providing such a bounty.

And any seeds that were produced in a given pot plant’s life start the cycles running anew.

The Intelligent Life of Pot Plants 

As documented in a TEDTalks video, Stefano Mancuso, founder of the aforementioned plant neurobiology, discussed his field of study, the purpose of which is to analyze how plants perceive and respond to their environment in an integrated manner.

Plants don’t merely sense and respond to light and water but also temperatures, toxins, soil levels, nutrients, threatening herbivores—and even chemical signals from other plants.  And the flowering herb we happen to call marijuana processes information, raw data, just as other plants do. Again, cannabis and other forms of floral life communicate and even possess a kind of memory. 

These and similar issues were also detailed in a 2013 New Yorker article entitled “The Intelligent Plant,” which featured highly intriguing arguments that can certainly be explored in the context of cannabis. This piece was written by Michael Pollan, who correctly notes that Stefano’s “neurobiology” is a misnomer due to the fact plants don’t actually possess neurons, let alone brain tissue. However, that does not diminish the worthiness of investigation of that particular field.

As profiled in 2013 by Quanta Magazine, University of California-Davis’ Dr. Richard Karban studied plant communication and at that point tabulated 40 out of 48 studies had substantiated that plants detecting airborne signals emitted by damaging herbivores responded in kind by producing chemical deterrents.That same year, Professor Ted Farmer of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland conducted research that reported plants emit pulses with voltage-based signaling that parallels the animal nervous system.  Farmer has advocated communication between plants on subjects like combating predators since 1990, as noted by Wired.

Even more intriguing, neurotransmitters, such as those that play a fundamental role in human intoxication, like dopamine, are also found in plants. While the specifics of that have not been fully determined, a 2013 study published in Plant Signaling & Behavior found a correlation between dopamine and root length and dry weight of soybeans.

Per National Geographic, research from the University of Western Australia demonstrated evidence that a plant not only “remembered,” but it retained that “memory” for a month.  The unorthodox testing was conducted with the “sensitive plant,” the Mimosa pudica, which recoils in a defensive position when its leaves are even slightly brushed against.

Led by associate professor Monica Gagliano, the study had the Mimosa plants in pots being dropped on a sliding rail to “scare” them, but without causing damage. After dropping them 60 times, the plants no longer recoiled because they “remembered” there was nothing to fear and that they wouldn’t actually be hurt when dropped.

Communicating with Cannabis 

With this section, we’ve arrived at the central premise of the piece—whether human interaction, particularly of a positive bent, through stimuli such as speech and music, can influence the growth of plants, and in this context, increasing the yield and/or quality of the flowers of a cannabis plant.

As far back as the 1950s, the Botany Department at India’s Annamalai University held research that discovered a 20 percent increase in height and a massive 72 percent gain in biomass from plants who were treated to tunes. A decade later, Canadian scientist Eugene Canby saw plants up their production by as much as 66 percent when serenaded by the timeless music of Bach. 

As reported by Westword, accomplished cannabis gardener Elias Tempton, who cultivates for Sticky Buds dispensary in Denver, plays classical music 24-hours-a-day for his cannabis plants. Legendary Polish composer Chopin dominates the playlist, providing aural vibrations to the plants eight to 10 hours every day. Interestingly, Tempton, who obviously has thought carefully on the subject, does not believe it is the music itself that the plants are responding to, but rather the calming emotional state experienced by the grower listening to the classical music.

Though, as he noted during an interview with FOX 31, his plants exposed to music experienced increases in strength and the flowers had “surprisingly high” percentages of THC.

That theory certainly seems plausible to professional cannabis cultivator David Bonvillain, founder of Colorado’s Loveland Molecular Labs, who disclosed to High Times during an interview for an article on an entirely different subject that he, himself, plays Mozart in stereo in the hydro grow-rooms for his cannabis crops. Bonvillain believes there is science behind plants being able to experience, communicate and connect with human beings.

However, it could be the actual vibrations created by sound that the weed is responding to, as a 2014 study conducted at the University of Missouri reported. Per the Washington Post, plants were played the sounds of a caterpillar chewing leaves, and as the sound waves vibrated the leaves, the plants responded by producing chemicals to ward off the predators (despite facing no actual danger). This readying process is known as “priming” and is not unlike how our own human immune system functions. While the precise mechanism by which plants perceive the sounds has yet to be determined, this is still an intriguing find in this field of study nonetheless.

Exposing cannabis to music can begin as early as the germination stage, as noted by Cannabis Info. In fact, the TV program Myth Busters exposed growing green bean plants to a diverse selection of audio stimuli, endlessly looped on stereos, ranging from heavy metal and classical music. The result? All the grow-rooms that were filled with audio produced better results than the control group with no audio.

You might (not) be surprised to find out that pot likes to rock—plants responded most positively when played death metal of all things, with classical music also performing better than other types of music and speech.

Of course, there is also the physical benefit of “talking” to your plants, providing them with the growth-boosting, enriching CO2 you exhale with each breath, as the plant likewise provides us with oxygen; so there is demonstrably a symbiotic connection there.

Pot Plant Success Can Depend on Stress 

Plants, much like we humans do, also get stressed out on a daily basis, but that stress experienced by marijuana can be manipulated in a beneficial way by the adept ganja gardener. As well established by now, cannabis is a complex, sensitive living entity that can thrive given the proper conditions and treatment, which includes the level of stress the plants are exposed to and, as mentioned, how the grower manages those stressors; reducing negative stress while enhancing the positive. 

Yes, when it comes to producing pot plants, there is positive stress.

Per My Hydro Life, there are stress-related tips and techniques growers can use in order to bring out the best in the pot plant, so she fulfills that aforementioned destiny of providing full flowers.  Avoiding bad stressors is key, such as light cycle interruptions, when even illumination, as subtle as a red light indicator on a machine, can theoretically trigger a plant into a hermaphroditic state. 

Therefore, use low intensity green lights for security cameras and other purposes, so as to not mess with the pot plant’s “photo-periodism”—its developmental response to corresponding intervals of light and dark. 

Temperature is another stressor that plants must overcome. The damages wrought by temps too low are quite obvious; however, it’s the indoor setting in which excessive heat causes the problems, by altering growth patterns and by forcing the cannabis to expend too much energy into growing more plant stem—an unwanted commodity for flower seekers.

But when a plant is young and still developing, including its stem, growers can utilize good stress practices, including manipulating air circulation—by forcing a continuous flow of air on young plants that produces stress on the developing stem, forcing it to grow thicker and stronger more quickly in response than it would without the forced air.

This technique relates to the even more intriguing practice of “plant training,” in which deliberately applied stresses are utilized to direct plant shape and size. Such methods range from low-stress training, which can open up lower nodes to increased light, and super-cropping, which actually breaks the plant growing too tall for a cultivator’s preference. This technique can increase yield, if done correctly.

The Shared Life of a Pot Plant

This article barely scratches the surface of the subject, but even in this brief space we have seen that the life of a cannabis plant may have more in common with the human experience than we’re willing to acknowledge at first glance. Especially when you move past the superficial view that plants are one-dimensional things stuck in the dirt, compared to a complex, free-moving animal or free-thinking person. 

This cannabis connection is most strongly exemplified in the human endocannabinoid system that responds to the cannabis plant’s phytocannabinoids, like THC and CBD which intoxicate and heal.

Science likes to explain everything in purely scientific terms—and that’s the way it should be within that context—but that does not mean that science is the be-all, end-all of the discussion, or at least the sciences that we’re most familiar with.

Per Marijuana Games, an essay entitled “The Co-Evolution of Man and Mary Jane” argued that the cannabis plant and homo sapiens evolved together based on mutual co-dependence and benefits. For example, humans benefit by getting high and medicated, while plants in exchange receive proliferation (once silly prohibition laws are lifted), specific species cultivation and protection from predators and extinction.

Finally, there is that incredible spiritual state often experienced  by the user from a great high off a ganja flower, which seems to suggest the connection between the soul, or life essence, of a cannabis plant and that of the human spirit may run far deeper than any theory has yet to explore. But there is something there…

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