Review points directions to ease impacts of cannabis cultivation on environment

Researchers in Illinois conducted a review of literature regarding the environment impacts of cannabis cultivation.

A review of the effects of cannabis cultivation identified impacts on water, air, and land. Tinnakorn Jorruang/Getty Images


A review of the environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation yields some interesting facts.

For example, did you know that producing one kilogram of processed cannabis indoors leads to 4,600 kilograms of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere?

The review notes that the carbon emission is “equivalent to one passenger vehicle driven for one year or 11,414 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle”.

So what contributes to this volume of emissions for producing a kilogram of cannabis indoors?

The review by researchers from Illinois indicates that lighting accounts for is 1,520 kilograms of carbon emissions (33 percent).

Next are by ventilation and dehumidification (1231 kilograms, 27 percent), and air conditioning (855 kilograms, 19 percent).

The review of current literature was done in a bid to help craft policies and programs that will ease the impact of cannabis cultivation on the environment.

“This improved understanding can benefit communities, including policymakers, cannabis industry stakeholders, agricultural engineers, ecologists, and environmental scientists,” the paper states.

The Journal of Cannabis Research published the paper titled “A narrative review on environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation” on August 6, 2021.

The authors are Zhonghua Zheng of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Kelsey Fiddes and Liangcheng Yang, both with the Illinois State University

One major impact by cannabis cultivation is on water.

Cannabis is a water-intensive crop, and in “in a growing season needs twice as much as the water required by maize, soybean, and wheat”.

On average, the authors noted, a cannabis plant is estimated to consume 22.7 litres (six gallons) of water per day during the growing season, which typically ranges from June to October for about 150 days.

“The great water demand induced by agriculture, amid population growth and climate change, is most likely to exacerbate water scarcity in the foreseeable future,” the researchers wrote.

Another major impact on the environment is air quality.

The review noted that the emission of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) “attracts special attention because of the vital role played by VOCs in ozone and particulate matter formation, as well as VOC’s health impact”.

“In addition to BVOC emissions, like every crop cultivation in water-sensitive zones, the fertilization of cannabis causes deterioration in air quality,” the researchers also wrote.

Another environmental impact is on the use of energy.

“Energy production, especially fossil fuel use, is accountable for the environmental impact,” the authors explained.

They pointed out that cannabis is “one of the most energy-intensive industries” in the U.S.

For example, cannabis cultivation “results in up to $6B in energy costs annually, accounting for at least 1% of the nation’s electricity”.

The electricity consumption for cannabis production increases to three percent in California.

In Denver, the authors also noted, the average electricity use from cannabis cultivation and associated infused product manufacturing increased by 36 percent per year annually between 2012 and 2016.

Another impact is soil erosion and deforestation, which is accounted for by outdoor cannabis cultivation.

“On the other side, cannabis has a strong ability to absorb and store heavy metals in the soil,” the researchers wrote.

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