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Cannabis Pesticides

Last Updated: May 11, 2023By Yesenia Roman
spraying pesticides on a cannabis plant with a pump sprayer

Growing Cannabis and Pest Management



 

When it comes to growing vegetation of any kinds, there is no word that is more controversial than pesticides. Sometimes garnering even more hate than the pest itself. But the hate is not unfounded, pesticides are known to be hazardous to human health. Posing the question of is it even worth using them?

The truth is, growing cannabis crops successfully doesn't actually require the use of synthetic pesticide products. That is a controversial statement, especially as more states legalize recreational use, calling for a bigger demand of cannabis production. With more demand, comes a need to get product out faster, sometimes at the risk of contamination and pathogen problems like pythium species, fusarium, powdery mildew, spider mites, thrips, botrytis, crown rot, white flies, leaf miners, caterpillars... the list goes on as to why agricultural employers may be hesitant to go pesticide free. Many weed growers continue to hold on to pesticide containers because it is cheaper and easier than more holistic methods. And unlike anyone else in the agriculture, cannabis farmers do not have protections if their grow fails due to diseased plants and they go bankrupt. 

So, what does this mean for consumers? Well, because ganja isn't yet legal under federal law, there's no EPA regulation and each state  has their own list of approved pesticides allowed in marijuana production. It is up to the individual stoner to know the ins and outs of what their state's department of agriculture has deemed okay in terms of agricultural use requirements. If you really want to avoid nasty chemicals in your buds, the safe and easy solution is to grow your own weed at home!

a reason for cannabis pesticides: caterpillar on weed leaf inching towards trichome covered homegrown outdoor cannabis flower

What's The Big Deal With Using Pesticides?

Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are substances used to destroy bugs, weeds, and fungi that harms agricultural cultivations. Humans have been applying pesticides since the beginning of agriculture, but synthetic pesticide use came on the scene in the 1930s and began being regulated in the 1970s.

A number of herbicides have terrible side effects, to the crops themselves and to the people who come in contact with them, including elevated cancer risks and cell death. Yet, there are a large number of cultivators that use them in their hydroponic systems or think that they don't have any other options.

Thankfully, there are replacement pest control tactics beyond toxic chemicals like integrated pest management or IPM programs, including companion planting, KNF methods, or even yellow sticky traps. Sometimes butterfly nets are useful if caterpillars are an issue with outdoor grows. Using seeds instead of cloned rooted cuttings is also a good idea for stronger, healthier plants. The idea is to create a cohesive, healthy environment before planting to mitigate potential future problems, naturally deter pests, and attract beneficial insects.

an alternative to marijuana pesticides: budding indoor weed plant in a grow tent with a yellow sticky trap hanging in the background

It’s Not Called 'Weed' For Nothing

When it comes to growing weed, many responsible farmers will tell you that there is no big need to apply pesticides in cannabis production. In fact, “ weed” is resilient and able to grow in a number of environments. Focus instead on growing healthy plants from strong genetics, providing nutrients, lighting, and air conditions that grows the strongest flowers.

The Most Commonly Used Pesticides

Despite the negative dialogue surrounding pesticide applications, they are commonly used in our food production. Organophosphates is the most common class of insecticides. This group of chemicals are human made and created to poison insects and mammals. Glyphosate, a herbicide with a slew of serious side effects, can be purchased at any store in the form of Roundup® and other major 'weedkillers'. There are other herbicides that are commonly used, including pyrethroids (not to be confused with naturally derived pyrethrin*) and carbamates. The toxicity effects of these vary, and can affect respiratory and nervous systems.

When it comes to cannabis crops, there is no standardization due to the lack of federal legalization. In cases where marijuana is being tested, insecticides, acaricides, and fungicides are the most common classes.

*Pyrethrins are insecticides from pythrum that is harvested from cyrsanthmum flowers. While naturally derived, applicators need to take care as they are highly toxic to other animals too like bees, cats, and fish, and in large amounts can cause nasty side effects in the nervous system of humans. 

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The Fear of Using Pesticides

The biggest fear associated with using chemicals is the effects that it could have on the people it comes in contact with. The horror stories are never ending, and include even the organic pesticides that are supposed to be safe for humans. Always do your research, follow label directions, and be careful when using them, especially at home where your pets or children could be near.

And keep in mind that while the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was established by the US government to prevent, “unreasonable adverse effects,” many of the pesticides deemed safe for agricultural use have not been tested for combustion. Believe it or not, even safe-ish chemicals can be very dangerous when burned. And when it comes to medical marijuana, you want to make sure that your medicine is not going to make you more ill. 

Really the best way assuage your fears and ensure you are smoking clean cannabis is to grow it yourself!

 spraying organic pesticides to a homegrown weed plant

Regular vs. Organic Pesticides

Organic pesticides is a more recent buzz word, stemming from the rebuttal that synthetic one faces. They also aren’t void of harm or danger. The main difference is that regular herbicides are formulated while organic insecticides are made from a natural ingredient, whether it’s a plant, mineral, or microorganism. They are often accepted as “safer” but these organic deterrents aren’t without their own warning labels.

Neem oil is an increasingly popular all-natural pest repellent. Neem has gotten a bad rep due to growers using it inappropriately. It has a topical half-life of 1-2.5 days and systemically, it can last up to 22 days.  It should only ever be sprayed on marijuana plants during the vegetative stage, never on buds as it is not something you want to smoke. 

dropping organic pesticide neem oil to a green watering can

One of the biggest examples of organic deterrents are essential oils, like rosemary, peppermint, and citronella, which is used to grow other produce not just marijuana. Other natural pesticides include diatomaceous earth, boric acid, and in a sort of funny cosmic justice, other beneficial, predatory insects like ladybugs.

predatory beneficial insect, ladybug eating cabbage aphids is an organic pesticide management option

Pesticides and THC

Cannabis has actually been used as a natural pesticide. There is some data suggesting that this power lies with cannabinoids like THC. Scientists have shown that CBD has a role as an insecticide in relation to the tobacco hornworm. But still, pesticide use remains an agriculture commodity with regards to cannabis production and we have no idea what these chemicals are doing to the cannabinoids present in the plant.

In 2015 there was a big deal in the legal Colorado cannabis industry as cannabis samples tests showed high amounts of Myclobutanil which is the main active ingredient in the fungicide Eagle 20, commonly used for the treatment of powdery mildew. While is this not approved for those growing and selling to dispensaries who must comply with state regulatory testing, there's a high chance this can still be found in black market buds.

It’s important that consumers are accessing lab reports and results to see what exactly is found in the cannabis they are consuming. Being on top of this can help you opt for biopesticide brands and companies with “clean green”. And don't forget, homegrown is the healthiest!

healthy homegrown indoor cannabis plant next to boxes of beneficial nematodes purchased from the local hardware store

Can You Grow Marijuana Without Pesticides?

Yes, especially when we shift away from expensive hydroponic setups for natural pest management control in living soil systems. This is a more true organic gardening method where there is an ecosystem of companion planting, beneficial bugs like nematodes, ladybugs, and predatory mites that work as biological control measures. This can seem counter-intuitive, adding bugs to fight bugs, but this is how nature handles things! 

 

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FAQs

What are pesticides in weed?

One of the most commonly used pesticides in growing cannabis is neem oil with the active ingredient, azadirachtin. It is a deterrent created from the seeds of the neem tree and works best as a preventative measure on both fungal and insect pests.

We are also seeing an increase of workplace exposure, where cannabis products are contaminated with pesticides from other Big Ag productions and debris found at grow facilities and warehouses. 

Is it safe to use pesticides on weed?

Pesticides are controversial, especially when they are referred to as “safe to use”. What we know is that even that organic options can have serious side effects to both the environment and living things. Read every pesticide label before use.

Is weed killer the same as pesticide?

Yes. Weed killer is a pesticide, technically a herbicide, that kills unwanted vegetation.

What is weed killer called?

Weed killers can also be referred to as herbicides. Most weed killers will be found in the lawn care area of the gardening or hardware store and can be detrimental to the environment.

What makes a weed a pest?

Unwanted vegetation is considered a weed when they compete for nutrients or space with the desired crop. Sometimes, weeds can house pests and fungi, like fusarium and pythium, that can damage crops and even cause root rot.

What is root rot / pythium?

Pythium is the scientific name for root rot and it is any grower's biggest nightmare. Pythium spp. are naturally occuring soil-borne pathogens that make up a genus of parasitic oomycetes (kind of like a fungus) and they flourish when the soil is overwatered, and acts as parasites in the root of plants.

What are the 3 types of pesticides?

Pesticides is the general term for a formula that is used to poison or kill certain pests, usually for the purpose of guarding against an infestation of these pests.

The most common pesticides, usually found in the gardening section, are herbicides, which kill unwanted plants. (Think of RoundUp which kills medicinal dandelions that pop up in monoculture grass lawns.)

Insecticides are used to kill unwanted insects and pests from crops. Just make sure to avoid killing any beneficial insects that you want around your hemp plants.

Another pest control option are fungicides which is used to treat fungi, like fusarium, and their spores.

Is pesticide harmful to humans?

A controversial question, and one without a clear answer, most chemicals can be harmful to humans. Depending on their ingredients, these formulas can prove to be harmful for your respiratory system, for your eyes, and your skin. Which is why it’s important to always read pesticide labels carefully, handle chemicals with care, and be sure to follow proper pesticide storage protocols.

Is there organic weed?

Yes, but to get something labeled as "organic" is actually quite expensive and complicated. Although not currently classified as such, weed would be considered organic if it was cultivated with only natural ingredients and without the use of synthetic pesticides.

What weed spray kills everything?

There are a number of products on the market that will kill all type of vegetations and plants. Sprays like Spectracide will kill all vegetation on contact, from the root to the tip.

Can you use pesticides on cannabis?

Each state has their own safety regulations for pesticide use so check with your state cannabis licensing requirements for further information.

Most home grow or small batch growers won’t see the need for these. Instead, focus is placed on nutrients and minerals for the soil, better quality lighting, and good air flow.

What pesticide is good for cannabis?

Neem oil is the most commonly recommended deterrent in cannabis plants, specifically because it is an organic pesticide. Still, it is not without its faults and it must be used responsibly.

Is cannabis is a natural pesticide?

Yes, due to her natural repellant characteristics and insecticidal traits, cannabis has been used as a pesticide. In fact, hemp was often planted as a companion crop to other crops to deter pests. 

What chemicals are used in cannabis?

Marijuana, historically, has always been looked at as an organic compound. One that replaces many harmful chemicals found in our medicine cabinets today. As cannabis has become commercially grown and regulated, we are seeing an influx of changes and advancements and this includes what we grow cannabis with. Salt-based nutrients are commonly used in cannabis cultivation, but there is a movement to return to using healthy, living soil. 

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