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The Definitive Guide to Growing High CBD Marijuana Strains

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is typically the second most abundant ingredient in marijuana behind THC. While THC is renowned for providing users with a psychoactive high, CBD is non-intoxicating and could enjoy a more lenient legal status should the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 get passed into law.

Research into CBD is still ongoing, though scientists have identified at least 60 different molecular pathways through which it operates. It acts via various receptor-independent channels and binds to different receptors in the brain such as serotonin 5HT1A and TRPV1. More importantly, CBD is believed to be a powerful anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory agent.

In a World Health Organization (WHO) report*, published in November 2017, there is a litany of research studies which seem to prove CBD’s therapeutic effects. Unlike THC, CBD does not seem to act directly on CB1 or CB2 receptors although it does act as an agonist with CB1 receptors.

Although CBD reduces heart rate and blood pressure when used on animals, tests have shown no such impact on humans under normal conditions. As it seems to be non-intoxicating, it has been approved for medical use on children , especially those with epilepsy and conditions such as Dravet Syndrome (Epidiolex is a recent FDA-approved CBD-medication to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures).

While it is already a burgeoning market, if the Hemp Farming Act is passed into law, one can expect the CBD market to explode. Given its purported medical benefits, coupled with the increased amount of information available on growing marijuana, it is not a surprise to learn that patients and commercial growers all over the country are trying to cultivate genetically bred high-CBD strains.

When you get it right, you can potentially save a small fortune by eliminating the need to buy expensive CBD oils and extracts. In this guide, we outline how to grow high CBD marijuana strains for personal use.

How to Grow High CBD Marijuana: It’s All About Genetics

There is no way to enable your cannabis plants to produce more CBD than is genetically possible. For example, there is nothing you can do to transform a high-THC strain such as Strawberry Cough into something like ACDC which has a 20:1 CBD to THC ratio.

In cannabis reproduction, weed grown from seed can express an array of different phenotypes unless it is a clone. In other words, two offspring from the same marijuana plant can have very different genetic features.

A prime example is if you try to grow a high-CBD plant from seed using Cannatonic, a strain with up to 12% CBD. Typically, your chance of successfully growing the high-CBD plant from a Cannatonic seed is below 75%.

United Seed Banks suggests that only 50% of Cannatonic plants grown from seed will contain its renowned 1:1 CBD to THC ratio. Approximately 25% will be high-THC plants, while the remaining 25% could have a CBD to THC ratio of anywhere from 2:1 to 20:1.

Aside from using clones from plants that have produced high-CBD strains, your other possible step is to talk to breeders about the phenotypes that could develop from their strains. It is beyond frustrating to sink weeks or even months into a crop of potential CBD-rich plants, only to discover that they are primarily THC-laden .

Growing High CBD Marijuana Requires Early Testing

If you elect to play the genetic lottery by growing high CBD marijuana from seed, make sure you get samples tested by a reputable lab while the plants are still young. Most experts agree that you should perform testing 3-4 weeks after the seedlings emerge from the soil. By doing this, you can identify CBD-rich plants long before they start to flower.

To perform this test, take a few of the plant’s top nodes as a sample. Make sure they are dried before submitting them to the lab. Through this process, you can identify CBD-rich plants and take cuttings from them for immediate growth to full-maturity.

If you’re unable to get your samples tested , you’ll have to wait until the flowering stage. At that point, your only real option is to consume some to determine whether it offers a psychoactive high or not. If you feel noticeably stoned, then the plants contain too much THC.

How the Growing Process Affects High CBD Marijuana Strains

While you can’t force a plant to produce more CBD than it is genetically capable of, you can coax it into producing the maximum possible amount.

In a 2011 study* by Sikora, Berenji, and Latkovic, researchers looked at six years’ worth of data on the growth of industrial hemp. They found that there were specific growing conditions associated with CBD-rich plants (though it is important to note that while the study was both lengthy and detailed, it only tested 20 samples).

Assuming you choose seeds with the right genetics, your next step is to ensure your plants are in soil that is warm approximately 5 cm down. Also, the more precipitation the hemp was exposed to in the 2011 study, the lower the CBD content. Overall, make sure your growing room temperature is between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and when it comes to watering, err on the side of caution.

3 of the Best High CBD Strains to Grow Indoors

The main reason to focus on CBD-rich strains is for medicinal purposes. Also, be advised that you need to check your state’s laws before proceeding with any form of cultivation, as growing is still not permitted in all medically-legal states.

Also, although your electricity bill is likely to increase, the added expense is more than offset by what you’ll save by not having to purchase marijuana from a dispensary.

The amount of CBD produced by a plant ultimately varies according to the strain, lighting, and other factors. However, for argument’s sake, it is likely that you’ll grow a gram of usable weed per watt of light used. If you use a 400W HPS lamp, for example, you can produce up to 400 grams of usable marijuana, which equates to 14 ounces.

By way of example, if you live in Edgewater, Colorado, the cheapest ounce of Cannatonic you’re likely to get is $165. When you grow 14 ounces, you’ll have $2,310 worth of weed — and we guarantee that it costs you a LOT less to cultivate it!

In any case, here are three high-CBD marijuana strains that are ideal for home growers:

1 – CBD Blue Shark

This is a relatively mild strain which normally contains a 1:1 THC to CBD ratio and seldom has more than 7% of either cannabinoid. It is an indica-dominant hybrid (70%) that makes you feel mellow and is used by arthritis , fibromyalgia and Crohn’s disease patients. Its short flowering time of 65 days is great for indoor growers, and it produces up to 550 grams per square meter of flowers.

2 – CBD Critical Cure

This is another mellow high-CBD strain with a THC content of 7-11%, and an average CBD content of 7%. It is another indica-dominant hybrid (70%), and it offers a sleepy effect that helps numb physical pain . It is regularly used by patients for inflammation, chronic pain, and depression, and it can flower in as little as 55 days and yields up to 600 grams per square meter.

3 – CBD Kush

This is an evenly balanced hybrid which can have a 1:1 ratio, although some strains have just 1% THC against 7% CBD. It is popular with muscle spasms, chronic anxiety , and stress patients. It is ideal for a small setup as it only grows to around 60 cm in height. It takes approximately 70-75 days to flower and produces 400 grams per square meter.

Final Thoughts on Growing High-CBD Marijuana Strains at Home

The key to growing high-CBD marijuana strains at home is to identify a strain that’s likely to produce cannabidiol in larger (or equal) amounts as THC. Once you have been successful and identified a strain with appropriate genetics, make sure you use clones instead of seeds to avoid any guesswork in the future.

After choosing the right clones, grow the plants in a room with a relatively high temperature and resist the urge to overwater them. Ultimately, you will be able to grow high-quality medicinal marijuana and save a fortune compared to what you would pay for high-CBD marijuana or edibles from a local dispensary.

Unfortunately, it is surprisingly hard to find high-CBD cannabis strains. To grow them is even harder. Here are a few quick tips to get you started.

How to Grow Hemp for CBD

The federal legalization of hemp via the 2018 Farm Bill was a pivotal moment in cannabis history — it was, however, underrated by the cannabis community at large. This mainly has to do with the fact that cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC will not get you high but also a mistaken belief that “hemp” is not considered cannabis. Hemp is cannabis, and cannabis with less than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC is now legal in the U.S.

Perhaps the biggest revelation is that some U.S. farmers, who may have never considered growing cannabis, will now start learning to become cannabis farmers. Growing cannabis outdoors for high concentration of Cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) is similar to growing cannabis outdoors for high concentration of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa). With that said, cannabis cultivated for CBD-rich flower or biomass is generally more difficult to plant, upkeep, and harvest than cannabis varieties traditionally grown for grain and fiber. For this reason, this planting guide focuses on hemp produced for Cannabidiol (CBD). We hope this guide will be helpful to beginning farmers looking to grow hemp for CBD purposes.

View the PDF version of the Hemp CBD Planting Guide.

Hemp 101

Varieties

Cannabis producers will need to decide on varieties based on the desired end product: fiber, grain, grain/fiber, or cannabinoids. Every cannabis variety will have its own unique set of characteristics: short or tall, small or large seed, higher or lower cannabinoid content, different flowering times, and different nutrient requirements.

    CBD-rich Variety
    This includes cannabis varieties bred to exhibit high concentration of CBDa. Only female hemp plants will produce flowers with high contents of cannabinoids.

Grain Variety
Grain varieties are bred to produce high yields of seeds that are food grade quality. Both male and female plants are needed to produce a grain crop.

Fiber Variety
Planted in high density, this cannabis variety is bred as a bast fiber crop. Fiber varieties are typically taller, and fibers are removed from the stalks after retting or softening of the fiber.

Grain/Fiber Variety
Cannabis can also be bred as monoecious (hermaphrodite) for dual purpose use. Dual purpose varieties are bred to produce both grain and fiber.

Conditions

The optimal temperature for cannabis seed germination is 65-70°F. Lower temperatures will delay emergence. It’s best to plant after potential risk of late frost (e.g., mid-May or early June). Seed is best planted at a depth of 0.75-1 inch. For direct seeding, acceptable soil temperature at that depth for germination is 50°F.

Cannabis grows best on loose, well-drained, well-aerated soil with a pH of 6.0-7.0. Consistency in pH level will allow the plant to better absorb nutrients. If pH becomes too alkaline (above 7.5) or too acidic (below 5.5), it will cause deficiencies of nutrients. Cannabis does not do well in heavy clay soils due to higher calcium levels and greater water retention/saturation.

Cannabis generally prefers semi-humid conditions with temperatures between 60- 80°F. Cannabis does not react well to over watering but requires ample moisture during early stages. Excess rainfall will stunt growth and lead to smaller yields. During the plant’s life-cycle 10-14 inches of rainfall is optimal, but larger plants will require more water. Irrigation may be necessary depending on size and geographic location.

Germination

Cannabis germinates best in a firm bed but is sensitive to soil compaction and soil crusting. Good soil moisture is necessary for seed germination. Cracked or dull-looking cannabis seeds are not likely to germinate.

Soaking: One method to encourage germination is to soften the seeds by soaking them in distilled water overnight (8-12 hours) at 65-70° F. After soaking, transfer seeds to a small 4”x4” pot or seedling tray. This method assumes transplanting after 2-3 weeks versus direct seeding outside.

Nutrients (CBD)

Cannabis has different nutritional needs based on the stage of its life cycle. Nitrogen is recommended during vegetative stage (e.g., NPK ratio of 3:1:2), while phosphorus and potassium are recommended for the flowering stage (e.g., NPK ratio of 1:3:4 then tapering off to 0:3:4).

Life Cycle

Cannabis is an annual plant belonging to the small family of flowering plants called Cannabaceae. The lifespan of cannabis grown outdoors is about 120 days: 30-60 days for vegetative growth and approximately 60 days for flowering time, varying by genetics.

Although cannabis will grow well in Midwest soil, it’s important to note that cannabis is not a native plant to the region or to the United States; it is indigenous to central Asia and the East Indies. Cannabis has been cultivated mainly for fiber production in China, Russia, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, and more.

While Cannabis sativa is an important source of durable fibers, nutritious seeds, and medical extracts, the plant is poorly understood genetically. Unfortunately, due to past U.S. prohibition of the cannabis plant almost no U.S.-based agronomic research existed until 2015.

With that said, the planting calendar and nutrient recommendations below are for educational purposes only. Further fertility research will need to be completed to determine best practices.

Nitrogen and potassium uptake are greatest during the first two months of growth. Higher rates of potassium and phosphorus are needed during the flowering stage. Sources of micronutrients include dead plant tissues, compost, and manure. The breakdown of organic matter (i.e. roots and leaves) will add nutrients back into the soil. No-till and holistic soil building practices are encouraged for creating fertile soil.

Male vs. Female

Contrary to popular belief, hemp plants are NOT male “marijuana” plants. Only female hemp plants will produce flowers rich in CBDa. Cannabis pistils, which are often referred to as “hairs” of the cannabis bud, can help identify female plants early on. Female cannabis plants will continue to flower, forming fragrant buds until they are pollinated or harvested.

Cannabis grown for grain and stalks produces very little cannabinoid content— close to 0% THCa and 0% CBDa. However, the government classifies “hemp” as any cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% delta-9 THC. Therefore, breeders have been able to develop high-CBD, low-THC cannabis plants while falling under the legal classification, and social construct, of hemp.

The hemp plants, from which most CBD is extracted, is not your typical industrial cannabis grown for fiber or grain; genetically, they are different. Genes of the cannabis plant fight to convert the precursor cannabinoid CBGa to either THCa or CBDa, and plants can be bred to exhibit dominance in either cannabinoid.

Know the difference.

Male (Grain & Fiber)

Fiber and grain varieties will be grown from regular seeds, resulting in both male and female plants. While both male and female structures are needed to produce grain, a higher ratio of female plants is desirable to maximize the yield per acre. Only female plants live to mature seed stage.

There is no apparent difference in the fiber from male or female plants, but male plants will mature faster than female plants. Producers looking to grow cannabinoid-rich flowers should beware of males from neighboring grain or fiber crop. Pollen can potentially travel miles, seeding female plants close by.

Female (Grain, Fiber, & CBD)

Un-pollinated female flowers will produce higher concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes than pollinated flowers. When starting from regular seeds, male and female plants will occur almost equally but generally a higher ratio of females is desired. To limit the likelihood of producing male plants, CBD-rich varieties may be feminized, meaning the seeds were produced by female plants intentionally pollenated by another female (monoecious) plant.

Feminized seeds are generally more expensive, but they will result in little to no males in a field. Sinsemilla is an unnatural state for cannabis so plants should be monitored closely.

Hermaphrodite (Grain & Fiber)

While cannabis plants are dioecious, having separate sexes, it’s possible for female plants to grow pollen sacs which may then pollinate its own flower. Inducing female plants to grow male sex organs is a common breeding technique to produce feminized seeds.

Monoecious or hermaphrodite plants may be desirable for seed production or dual purpose use. Dual purpose varieties are bred to produce both grain and fiber.

Transplanting & Cloning

If you are anticipating a longer flowering period on a particular variety but have limited time due to seasonal changes, starting from clones can be a good way to get ahead, skipping the germination and seedling phase. Growing from clones can also be a way to catch up if you are starting later in the season (i.e. late June or early July). Cloning can save time but also can ensure that your crop will be genetically identical to the mother plant.

When starting from clones, there will be transplanting involved. Transplanting is also a popular method when starting seedlings indoors earlier in the season when outdoor temperatures are not yet suitable for planting (below 60°F).

Starting from clones can be advantageous when growing CBD-rich varieties. Cloning essentially takes the guess work out of sexing plants and improves the odds of a hemp plant not “going hot”, or exhibiting a concentration of delta-9 THC higher than 0.3 percent.

The difference between hemp and recreational or medical cannabis is distinguishable by two separate genes which are tightly linked and fight to convert the precursor cannabinoid, CBGa, to either THCa or CBDa— the acidic forms of THC and CBD. Consequently, higher levels of CBDa imply higher levels of THCa.

When THC production genes are turned “on” and CBD is turned “off,” plants are THC dominant, psychoactive, and are considered recreational and medical. When both CBD and THC genes are turned “on,” plants are moderately psychoactive (as CBD potentially lessens the psychoactivity of THC) and are considered medical. When CBD production genes are turned “on” and THC is “off,” plants are considered industrial or food product.

Whether cannabis varieties bred to produce high concentration of CBDa and low concentration of THCa will be more or less likely to go “hot” in more fertile soil is yet to be studied. Therefore, clones of mother plants grown in local conditions or perhaps well-adapted to the local environment pose the least risk.

Planting

Outdoor (CBD Biomass)

Opportunities for outdoor cultivation can substantially lower startup costs, but harvesting CBD-rich cannabis is laborsome. Small hemp farms may need extra farmhands to harvest the crop in time. Proper spacing supports efficient harvesting.

Rows are typically 4’ x 4’ with 6-8 feet between rows depending on the variety. Cannabis cultivated outdoors for CBD purposes will mainly be processed into biomass to produce CBD extracts.

Preemptive measures should be taken to reduce the risk of contamination, e.g., pesticide blow over, heavy metal contamination, or microbial contamination.

Outdoor (Grain & Fiber)

Grain and fiber varieties are typically planted in 6-7 inch rows, resulting in about 400,000-600,000 grain plants per acre and 800,000-1,000,000 fiber plants per acre. Fiber varieties should be planted more densely to prevent branching while grain varieties will need more space to produce flowers.

Fiber and grain varieties will both start from regular seeds. Grain varieties will need about 25 pounds of seed per acre (approx. 25,000-27,000 seeds per pound), accounting for 70-80 percent germination rate. Fiber varieties will need up to 100 pounds per acre.

Indoor/Sungrown (CBD Flower)

Indoor cultivation facilities offer more control over the growing environment but can be more capital-intensive when using artificial lighting. However, indoor cultivation also includes sun-grown cannabis in greenhouses or enclosed hoop houses, allowing for the use of light deprivation.

Hemp CBD 101

While many industrial farms are preparing to grow hemp at large scale, there are many advantages to small-scale production. First, failing small is better than failing big. Cannabis cultivated for CBD-rich flower or biomass is generally more difficult to plant, upkeep, and harvest. Growing at large scale while maintaining high-quality will be challenging.

Uses for CBD -Rich Flower

  • Herb: While most recreational and medical cannabis cultivators focus on high-THC, low-CBD chemovars (strains), hemp can be grown to reach high levels of CBD and low levels of THC. Hemp is a great option for those seeking to benefit from the cannabis plant’s potential medicinal and therapeutic properties without getting high.
  • Crude Oil: Crude oil refers to extract that closely resembles the cannabinoid/terpene profile of the original plant. CBD concentration tends to be between 40-50%. Crude oil is extracted via ethanol or supercritical CO2.
  • Distillate: Distillate with a higher concentration of cannabinoid content is produced using fractional distillation. Most terpenes and minor cannabinoids are lost in the refinement process.
  • Isolate: 98-100% pure CBD. CBD must be isolated from decarboxylated, full spectrum plant material to create THC-free CBD products. CBD isolate is flavorless and water compatible.

Levels of pesticides that we are used to seeing in food, which are considered tolerable, are not likely to be attractive or even acceptable to processors and consumers of hemp CBD products. Soil testing before planting is a great idea.

Depending on the type of extract and level of refinement, you may see low levels of pesticides become concentrated at higher levels no longer suitable for human consumption without proper remediation. Remediation adds more cost to processing. For this reason, cannabis grown in organic soil using holistic management practices will be in higher demand.

Consider the following before planting:

  • Test soil fertility ($30)
  • Test soil for pesticide residue ($300)
  • Test soil for heavy metals ($60)
  • Avoid rotations with corn and soybeans
  • Reduce water saturation with proper runoff
  • Remove weak or diseased plants
  • Use sterile, clean equipment
  • Manage pests before flowering

Pests

Some cannabis producers will focus on producing as much biomass as possible without necessarily thinking about the environmental impact of pesticide, insecticide, and herbicide use. Most industrial farmers are used to spraying crops to prevent pests and disease. However, by using methods such as companion planting, mulching, composting, and Integrated Pest Management, producers of cannabis can help improve biodiversity and soil biology.

Organic standards prohibit the use of most synthetic substances—including most pesticides used in conventional agriculture—for at least three years prior to the harvest of an organic crop. Even so, USDA organic regulations allow residues of prohibited pesticides up to 5 percent of the EPA tolerance.

Pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides used in conventional farming practices will deter beneficial insects and microbes that would otherwise aid in pest and disease control. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices in conjunction with holistic methods that allow beneficial microbes to thrive are recommended when producing cannabis for human consumption.

IPM is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management using proactive methods that support healthy soil.

Integrated Pest Management

  • Ladybugs: Ladybugs are a popular, beneficial insect that mainly prey on aphids and mites. A single ladybug can eat up to 50 aphids per day or 5,000 in its lifespan. It’s important to use the right species of ladybugs. Harmonia axyridis, or the Asian lady beetle, and Coccinella septempunctata, sevenspotted lady beetle, are commonly used for aphid control. Consider planting flowers that ladybugs are attracted to: yarrow, marigold, dill, fennel, and dandelion to name a few.
  • Praying Mantis: Similar to ladybugs, the praying mantis is attracted to fragrant, colorful plants. However, praying mantises will eat both pests and beneficial insects. Other beneficial insects may include predatory mites, wasps, and beetles. Consider planting flowers and culinary herbs like holy basil, thyme, oregano, yarrow, chamomile, calendula, clover, dandelion, aster, nettle, fennel, and marigolds as a cover crop.
  • Green Lacewing: Green lacewings work well as a general predator. Consider planting dill, coriander, fennel, and dandelion to attract lacewings.
  • Predatory Mites: Predatory mites target two-spotted spider mites, broad mites, russet mites, cyclamen mites, and other mite species.

Diseases

Humidity, water saturation, lack of airflow, and excess foliage are likely to cause fungal diseases and microbial contamination. Gray mold and powdery mildew are the most common diseases caused by humid conditions and excess moisture. Cannabis infected by mold, powdery mildew, and other fungi pose a potential threat to cannabis consumers. Mold should not be confused with the plant’s trichomes or the resinous glands that produce cannabinoids and terpenes.

Preventative measures include planting in areas with proper drainage and runoff (i.e. mounded rows), providing ample spacing for plants to grow and to improve air circulation, and proactively pruning plants to remove excess foliage. After harvesting, proper drying and storage of cannabis flowers to control humidity levels is extremely important.

Excess water may also cause root rot. In the Midwest, plasticulture is likely not necessary. With heavy rainfalls, raised beds with plastic ground cover are bound to cause over saturation and lead to beds drying too slowly.

Cannabis cultivated for CBD-rich flower or biomass is generally more difficult to plant, upkeep, and harvest than cannabis varieties traditionally grown for grain and fiber. For this reason, this planting guide focuses on hemp produced for Cannabidiol (CBD). We hope this hemp CBD planting guide will be helpful to beginning farmers looking to grow hemp for CBD purposes.