Cannabis Technology: The Evolution of an Industry

How marijuana technology has changed the industry from cultivation to consumption.
Last Modified: February 07, 2019

The cannabis industry is on a tremendous upswing, with numbers expected to reach $31.4 billion by the year 2021 (this according to Grand View Research, a cannabis market research firm). One of the factors that is pushing the industry ever upwards is a surge in marijuana technology that’s helping produce better crops, ensure the highest safety standards, connect consumers and cannabis businesses, and provide a variety of new options for consumption.

The world of cannabis technology is fast-paced and ever-changing, but it has left a lasting impact on a few different sectors within the burgeoning market.

Cultivation Technology

As with all the other fields in the agriculture industry, cannabis cultivation has benefitted from the evolution of marijuana technology over the years. Marijuana growers are constantly finding new ways to grow more robust crops in less space and with less labor required. Government regulations can often create a nightmare of paperwork – especially for small businesses – but cannabis tracking software helps eliminate some of the mess in order to allow farmers to focus on what they do best.  Cannabis technology has helped the cultivation sector in the following ways:

Lighting

One of the biggest changes in the cannabis cultivation sector has been in terms of lighting technology. Over the years, many growers have shifted from options such as high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps to LED lights. This is because LEDs direct their light on the plants, rather than wasting energy lighting up the walls or the aisles. While LEDs have a higher up-front cost, cannabis cultivators find that they pay for themselves over time by saving huge amounts of electricity. Cannabis growers say that LEDs allow them to grow high-quality products at a savings – a savings that gets passed along to their customers.

Grow Methods

As cannabis technology has evolved, the look of cultivation spaces has changed, as well. While some cultivators opt for more traditional soil-based growing techniques, others are experimenting with hydroponics, which forgoes soil in favor of a nutrient-rich water solution. Aquaponics takes hydroponics one step further by adding in fish and other aquatic organisms. Their waste products are broken down to create nutrients for the cannabis crops.

These types of growing methods have given rise to space-saving strategies that allow cannabis cultivators to make better use of the room they have to grow. Stacked and vertical farming, for example, allows cannabis farms to cultivate a greater number of plants than using traditional grow strategies.

Automation

Intelligent automation is driving improvement across many different industries – including cannabis cultivation. Automation can be used for everything from creating and controlling the ideal grow environment (lighting, temperature, water, etc.) to trimming the plants. Sensors throughout the environment send reports so that conditions can be adjusted accordingly (and automatically). There are even smart heaters that allow cultivators to bring the soil in a particular plot of land to a specific temperature using their smartphones. This kind of marijuana technology has made cultivation less labor-intensive and allows farmers to get more controlled, consistent results.

Seed-to-Sale Tracking

In places where medical and recreational marijuana is legal, government regulations require products to be tracked and documented as they’re grown, processed, tested, and sold. Seed-to-sale tracking software helps businesses remain compliant, tracking each product from the seed stage through harvest, lab testing, transport to dispensaries, and finally its sale to the patient or customer.


Laboratory Technology

Another growing segment in the world of marijuana technology is laboratory equipment and methodology that offers products that were previously not commercially available, as well as insight into what’s inside cannabis flower sold at dispensaries and even on the black market.

Extraction

Marijuana extracts have been around for a very long time; in the early 1900s, cannabis tinctures were regularly used as medicine, even appearing in the United States Pharmacopoeia until 1942. It’s also rumored that the U.S. government created a sort of THC serum to use in prisoner interrogations during World War II.

Once marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug, most casual consumers smoked flower and hash, with only the more experienced connoisseurs venturing into making butane hash oil (BHO) at home. The techniques used for making BHO were shared in books such as Cannabis Alchemy: The Art of Modern Hashmaking (D. Gold, 1973), Marijuana Chemistry: Genetics Processing and Potency (Michael Starks, 1977), as well as the Erowid online library that appeared in the 90s.

Making BHO at home is dangerous, however, and resulted in many would-be manufacturers sparking fires, explosions, and sustaining severe injuries (and worse). As medical and recreational marijuana legalization has expanded throughout numerous areas – from U.S. states to Canada and beyond – commercial laboratories have begun manufacturing cannabis extracts that are pure, consistent, and most of all – safe. Thanks to this branch of cannabis tech, consumers can now shop for wax, shatter, tinctures, and other concentrates at their local legal dispensaries.

Cannabis Testing

Another type of marijuana technology that’s made consumers infinitely safer is the advent of cannabis testing. In the days when people were limited to purchasing black market marijuana, there was no way to find out anything about the product other than trusting what the seller said about it, looking at it, smelling it, and smoking it.

All of this began to change as medical marijuana became more widely legalized, as medical cannabis patients require a product that’s pure, clean, and grown to exacting standards.

Today’s marijuana technology allows laboratory testing for:
  • Microbes: This ensures that cannabis is free of organisms such as E.coli, Salmonella, Aspergillus, Staphylococcus aureus and more.
  • Pesticides: Many consumers want to make sure their flower is pesticide free, and states like Colorado now mandates a marijuana pesticide analysis be done by all of its licensed growers.
  • Solvents: Production of concentrates such as BHO creates the risk that the finished product may contain unsafe levels of solvents such as butane, propane, ethanol, and more. This type of lab testing ensures that products meet the acceptable limits for residual solvents.
  • Cannabinoids: Growers take pride in producing marijuana strains with specific cannabinoid profiles, but lab testing is the only way to know for sure how much THC and CBD a product contains. Cannabis technology has improved so much that in addition to laboratory testing, consumers can take advantage of at-home drug testing kits to learn more about the cannabinoids in products purchased from dispensaries or even from black market sellers.

Online Cannabis Technology

The internet has changed the entire world, but it’s a particularly powerful tool in the marijuana tech industry. Not only does it allow marijuana consumers to share tips, reviews, and insights on the cannabis world; it also provides a platform for businesses to reach out to customers. Here are a few of the ways that the internet has forever changed cannabis technology.

E-Commerce

For many years, cannabis consumers purchased their marijuana from black market connections and all of their pot-related products from local headshops. With expanded marijuana legalization has come an explosion of e-commerce. Sites like Eaze help coordinate marijuana purchases through participating dispensaries who will deliver products right to a customer’s door. Meanwhile, customers can also go online to purchase vaporizers, rolling papers, glass rigs, and more.

Cannabis Apps

Companies like Eaze don’t just operate as internet sites; they’re also smartphone apps that allow customers quick access on the go. Apps provide both entertainment and convenience for cannabis connoisseurs who prefer their smartphones to laptops or home computers.

Among the numerous apps that have appeared in recent years are ones that describe and rate cannabis strains as well as apps that help users find marijuana dispensaries and cannabis-friendly doctors. For those with time to kill, there are cannabis cultivation simulators that allow players to grow their own virtual marijuana crops. For people who have real-life cannabis crops, automation apps offer control of their grow rooms with the touch of a button.

Social Media

Another change in cannabis technology is the emergence of social media. Before the internet and social media came into wide use, people gathered with friends in person to enjoy cannabis, exchange consumption and extraction tips and methods, and discuss marijuana lore. Today, all of this can be done online via channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. In addition to providing a way for cannabis connoisseurs and medical marijuana patients to come together, social media also gives another platform to cannabis-related businesses to market to their audience.


Marijuana Technology for Consumption and Storage

Marijuana consumption is another landscape that’s greatly changed due to technological innovation in the cannabis world. While traditionalists may still prefer the old ritual of pulling a bit of bud out of a baggie or jar, grinding it up, and rolling it into a joint or packing it into a bong or pipe, for those who are willing, there are a variety of new-school options for cannabis consumption and storage.

Storage

Gone are the days of glass jars and plastic baggies. The two main enemies of marijuana are UV light and air, and new storage options ensure that people can protect their flower and concentrates from both. These include food-grade, UV-resistant zip bags, child-proof, nonstick containers for shatter, wax, and other concentrates, as well as a variety of vacuum-sealed jars. Most containers are manufactured to be smell-proof, as well, to make cannabis storage more subtle.

Vaporizers

The invention of the e-cigarette meant that cigarette smokers no longer had to combust tobacco in order to ingest nicotine. Similarly, vaporizers allow cannabis consumers to ingest THC and CBD as well as other cannabinoids and terpenes without having to smoke marijuana flower. They come in a variety of options, from dry herb vaporizers to ones that are designed for dabbing and vaping oil cartridges.

While vaporizers used to be bulky to accommodate the parts necessary to generate enough heat, cannabis technology has improved so much in recent years that consumers can now dab or vape flower in compact pen-sized vapes that fit right in their pocket. Vaporizers can offer more than just a small physical size; some vaporizer models are designed to be an excellent option for consumers who microdose cannabis.

E-Nails

Consuming concentrates via a dab rig traditionally involved the use of a handheld torch to heat up the nail or banger where the BHO would be placed. The hard-drug imagery associated with this style of consumption has always been quite controversial. In addition to this, handling a blowtorch while consuming cannabis can be quite dangerous. The invention of the e-nail, or electronic nail, eliminated many of these concerns. These kinds of devices consist of metal “nails” that attach to electronic heaters. In addition to not requiring the use of an open flame, e-nails also offer more precise temperature control that isn’t available when using a torch.


Marijuana Technology Continues to Fuel Change

While the cannabis market has seen innovative ideas that have changed the way farmers grow their crops as well as how consumers find and consume cannabis products, there has also been a steady stream of ideas that simply didn’t have staying power. For every technological advance that’s caused a seismic shift within the industry, there are hundreds of other apps, businesses, and products that have arisen and disappeared without a trace. While it’s impossible to know what the next big change will be, cannabis technology continues to be a driving force in a market that shows no signs of slowing down in the years to come.


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