Image courtesy of BigMike and Advanced Nutrients
The role of soil and fertilizers in cannabis cultivation is a particularly opaque facet of the industry for consumers. However, it's important to remember that what the plant eats, you consume as well. The nutrients used when growing are as important, and potentially dangerous, as the presence of pesticides and pollutants in the flower itself.
Cannabis is a specifically complex plant prone to a litany of pests and molds. Growing medical grade bud requires additional nutrients in the soil. Unfortunately, many cultivators use cheap, and even toxic, nutrients that contain heavy metals, detrimental to the environment and consumer alike. While there is currently little regulation on nutrients, that will change on Jan. 1st when cannabis becomes legal in California, and a slew of regulations will alter the world of weed as we know it.
Advanced Nutrients is the leading brand in cannabis nutrients, with a dedication to using ingredients that are not only beneficial to plant, but patient and planet as well. We sat down with BigMike, Advanced Nutrients' founder, famous for leading a Dan Bilzerian-esque lifestyle that's garnered him 1.3 million Instagram followers, to talk about the current state of nutrient use, regulations, and what's next for his corner of the industry. Unlike Bilzerian, who seems like sort of a clueless doof, BigMike is more serious about canna-business than his freewheeling Instagram persona lets on.
MERRY JANE: How important is soil when it comes to growing good marijuana, and what's the difference between the product of organic fertilizer vs. inorganic?
BigMike: Organic soil is good, but we've found through extensive cannabis plant testing that the best results in terms of yield, potency and consistency are achieved when growers start with soilless mediums—such as coco coir or Sunshine Mix #4—along with our plant-specific nutrient line. That's because our nutrients have the specific ratios and exact amounts of all the macro and micro nutrients that cannabis needs. If you're using a growing medium that's loaded with cheap and generic nutrients, then it could prevent the plant from uptaking the high-end, specialized nutrition you feed them. Generally a soil company will produce a medium that is good for most any plant you want to put in it and still be cheap to produce and sell. This is not enough for today's competitive cannabis market. In order to create and sell a top-notch, high-yielding product, you need a diet that is specialized for that species, not just whatever nutrients are cheap to add to soil and have the basic building blocks to support life for most any plant.
What are the environmental implications of some of these sketchy nutrients?
Heavy metal marijuana toxicity is a major danger that not enough growers or consumers are aware of. We've done a lot of research on this and offer a free white paper by Julian Karadjov, Ph.D. of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. You can get it at AdvancedNutrients.com/HeavyMetal. In short, a lot of nutrients used to grow cannabis are contaminated with heavy metals—and even things like paclobutrazol—and can actually be toxic to consumers who ingest the crops grown with these nutrients. Given that many cannabis users are using it as medicine, it's a serious issue to be sure. We have scientific testing to prove that Advanced Nutrients products are safer in respect to heavy metals than pure drinking water is.
Are outdoor growers more prone to be exposed to pesticides, and is there anything they can do to avoid contamination?
The best way to avoid contamination from pesticides is to not use pesticides. And the best way to achieve this—indoors or outdoors—is to start with a healthy genetic plant and keep it that way. To guarantee you're starting with a healthy genetic strain, there's no better way than to grow from seeds. Also using nutrients specifically designed for cannabis plants will keep them healthy, give them resistance to environmental stress, and enhance their natural internal pest-fighting defenses.
Advanced Nutriants product line, courtesy of BigMike and Advanced Nutrients
Are there any current regulations in place regarding soil and fertilizer?
The regulations vary state by state, so there's no real uniform answer. It's a sad fact that the cannabis nutrients we produce at Advanced Nutrients fall under the regulations established for big agricultural farms in the 1930s, before anyone had ever heard of hydroponics or the cannabis-growing technology we have today. In other words, these regulations were created by state regulators and Big Ag more than 80 years ago for corn, soybeans and wheat crops—not cannabis.
How will this change on January 1?
Nobody knows for sure because the laws aren't final yet. California already has its own set of regulations regarding fertilizers—for example, the Organic Input Material, or OIM Program, which is the most stringent standard for organic products in the world.
Can you talk a little bit about how the incoming regulations of January 1 will affect the cannabis industry across the board?
Even though the cannabis industry has already seen skyrocketing growth, after January 1 it's just going to go up and up. California will become the largest legal marijuana market in world. When Nevada made recreational cannabis legal a short time ago, it declared a state of emergency in just two weeks because they ran out of marijuana to sell. California is the sixth largest economy in the world. So to me, the biggest change across the entire cannabis industry is just the incredible growth we're going to see in legal cannabis sales over the next few years. The new jobs that will be created, tax revenues that will be collected, and wealth that will be made is mind-boggling.
Are there any incoming regulations you feel are unnecessarily stringent?
Thus far, from what I've seen, I'm very optimistic about the new regulations. It's impossible to predict at this time anyways, because nothing is final yet. I think when any regulatory framework is introduced there are unforeseen problems, but overall I think the positives of the huge new legal cannabis market opening up will greatly outweigh the negatives.
Tell us about Advanced Nutrients' newest product, Organic OIM.
For a while now, growers have been asking us for an expanded organics line. And frankly, I held off releasing these products until I knew we could release the very best organic products and ensure they met the highest standards available. California has provided that opportunity with its Organic Input Material Program.
The bottom line is, California is the number one state in the entire country for organic farming and sales and it only allows products registered with the OIM Program to carry the label "organic." And because all other states also accept the OIM seal for organic products, we chose to embrace the OIM label so we could provide Advanced Nutrients products in all states.
In short, no matter what state you live in or even what country you live in anywhere in the world, when you see the OIM label, you can be sure you're benefitting from the absolute highest, most stringent standards in the world in organic certification.
As the cannabis industry moves into full legality, what's next for Advanced Nutrients?
We'll continue being the No. 1 brand in cannabis nutrients now and into the future. But I'm also passionate about sharing my message of "making cannabis an acceptable and everyday part of healing humanity" through multiple avenues. Another thing I'm very passionate about is Advanced Nutrients continuing to be a socially responsible company with our charities, such as Holiday Heroes.
The need for lab testing to detect the presence of pollutants and pesticides in products has emerged as a huge conversation in the cannabis community. Can you talk a little about the need for independent lab testing in the realm of fertilizer and soil?
Yes, this is important because of two things. One, because cannabis is an accumulator plant. It absorbs everything in its environment—fertilizers, soil, air, water—both good and bad. And a lot of what it absorbs makes it into the final product. Two, because a substantial amount of cannabis is combusted when ingested, these potential contaminants are immediately delivered to your bloodstream. In short, independent lab testing of fertilizers and soil is important for our industry to embrace and continue to grow and ensure a safe product for consumers.
Has the OIM product been approved by an independent testing agency?
Instead of relying on third-party certifiers like the nonprofit Organic Materials Review Institute, California developed its own certification through the California Department of Food and Agriculture [CDFA]—the Organic Input Material program—to determine which products sold in California meet the standards of the USDA National Organic Program. In short, getting certified by the CDFA's OIM program requires exceeding the standards of all other third-party independent testing agencies, so we're focused on that exclusively now for our organic line.