Drying and Curing Cannabis: The Art of Enhancing Effect and Flavor
By my friend, the late and great strain hunter Franco Loja.
Every cannabis gardener begins a new crop hoping to nurture healthy plants that deliver fat, tasty buds. Every crop involves months of hard work, from selecting varieties to vegetative growth, flowering, ripening, and harvesting. After all the effort, commitment, and waiting, the final stage arrives. It’s too late to correct mistakes made during flowering, but it is never too late to improve the flavor and the high of your buds by implementing a controlled drying and curing process.
Drying for Success
Drying is as important as growing, and a bad drying process can ruin even the best buds. Drying marijuana means reducing the water content of the buds to 10-15%, depending on the desired crispiness of the final product. Most commercial growers do not cure their crop; they just dry it and sell it. Curing is a long but necessary step toward the highest possible quality of the smoke. For the real connoisseur, curing is the essence of it all, the culminating moment towards the perfect result.
There are many ways to cure and dry, but the method I like best is to use a climate-controlled room. The room should be lit using special green fluorescents or LEDs, because the green spectrum does not affect the plant material. The temperature and the humidity must be constantly controlled and adjusted, and the air exchange needs to be calibrated exactly to the desired volume.
In an ideal situation, most of the moisture should evaporate from the bud during the first three days, and then the drying process should be slowed. To achieve this rate of evaporation in the first three days, a temperature of 68° F (20° C) and a relative humidity of 55% will ensure that the buds get to roughly 30-40% water content. From this moment on, the temperature should be dropped a few degrees down to 64° F (18° C) to slow the drying process. This allows the chlorophyll to decompose and the starches to be used up. If it dries too quickly more the chlorophyll will remain, and the smoke will be bitter and have a green aftertaste. The humidity of the air is also critical: If it drops below 50%, the buds will dry too fast. A timer and heater/air conditioner system with humidity control will regulate air. In total, the drying process takes around 10 to 14 days for a perfect taste.
Taste is not the only variable affected by the drying process; the high is also affected. The longer the buds are dried, the more THC will degrade into CBN and other cannabinoids. Therefore even in the same strain, the effect will slightly change from higher to more stoned, from uplifting to more physical. The difference between drying 10 days and 14 days is not very evident to the novice, but creates a world of difference to the connoisseur.
After drying, gardeners package the crop. Commercial producers usually dry the buds to 15% water content; this results in a heavier product. (More water equals more money.) Connoisseurs like to use bud that has 8% water content because the flavor improves and the weed burns better. If the buds are to be smoked with tobacco, higher water content is preferable, up to 10-12% for good burning. When the weed is intended for vaporizing, it is best to leave even higher water content, 12 to 15%. This prevents easy combustion of smaller particles at vaporization temperature.
The Curing Process
After the drying is finished, the connoisseur will still dedicate a month or two to curing. Curing weed corresponds to aging a good wine. If the weed quality is average, it is not worth the effort and time necessary to cure it. On the other hand, if the buds are high grade, it is well worth waiting a little longer to get the best out of it.
I cure cannabis by packaging it in a wooden or card- board box and pressing it slightly so that some of the trichomes break. Their oils and terpenes spread over the surface of the buds. After packaging, I leave the buds in an environment of 64° F (18° C), 50% relative humidity, and total darkness for a period of 1 to 2 months. Checking regularly ensures correct conditions. Make sure the humidity stays at 45-50% to prevent fungus and mold formation. If the buds smell moldy or like ammonia, the containers should be opened immediately, allowing the bud to dry in a warmer environment for a few hours before continuing the curing process. It is the result of curing undried plants.
Curing is an art and should be tried with small batches first. It increases the intensity of the flavor and will slowly but steadily lower THC in favor of CBN, which is much less potent than THC. The high of cured weed is always deeper and more introspective, often becoming a meditation and inner-vision tool. The flavor becomes much more complex and refined, gaining in depth as well as in variation of bouquet.
Cured buds that were started a little moist look slightly brownish and have a typical deep smell, one that real smokers love from the bottom of their souls. Buds cured when they were dryer retain more THC, chlorophyll, and a fresher bouquet. Like very good aged wine, there is something unique about a well-cured crop that any aspiring connoisseur should experience at least once.
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