I spent $30 getting burned again last week. I knew there was going to be an issue the minute the budtender handed me my bag. Inside were these weird, balloon-like packages that turned out to be my medicine. For some reason the place was packaging their flower in sealed bags that had been puffed up with air. I'm not entirely sure about the reasoning behind this move, but it's absolutely detrimental to the medicine. One of the most damaging elements to marijuana is oxygen. For this reason, producers will often vacuum seal their product to protect it from degradation. Deciding to trap air in the bag on purpose is usually just a bad idea (depending on what you plan to use it for—as will become clear in a moment).
When I got home, I already knew what to expect: dry, crunchy buds that turned to powder as I broke them up. I wasn't sure how long they'd been in the weird, oxygen-filled bag, but even a few hours is enough to suck the moisture from your flower. Dry cannabis is harsh to smoke, burns faster and tastes bad. But that's only the aesthetic problems. By the time you smoke dried out bud, chemical changes have occurred that will have rendered all previous tests inaccurate and might cause the cannabis to produce vastly different effects from what was in the literature.
Here's what happens when cannabis is subjected to air: When THC is exposed to oxygen for a period of time, it converts into cannabinol (CBN)—a lesser known cannabinoid that is only mildly psychoactive (or maybe not at all) and known for its powerful sedative effects. According to Potbotics, 5mg of CBN is more effective as a sleep aid than 10mg of Valium, a claim repeated all over the internet that I've yet to corroborate. Nevertheless, people are comfortable making it because anecdotal evidence is strong as hell, and anyone who's smoked a crusty lump of forgotten, sock drawer bud is already familiar with its ability to knock you flat in minutes.
CBN has some other claims to fame, too. This underappreciated cannabinoid was found to affect a type of lung tumor called Lewis carcinoma in a 2006 study by researchers from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Salerno in Italy. Alchimia claims it promotes bone growth, decreases intra-ocular pressure and works as an anticonvulsant.
Yes. Sorry. I think CBN should be the object of the next cannabinoid craze, and I can get a bit lost in my own preachiness. The point is: CBN is not THC, and (despite my affection for the little tyke) most people are buying cannabis expecting the latter. Patients currently care so little about CBN that it's rarely mentioned on the testing sticker.
Which might be why budtenders all over town are unfamiliar with it and aren't aware of just how important it is to keep your stash protected from oxygen. I'm specifically thinking about the common practice seen at some of the dispensaries in Albuquerque who keep giant display jars filled with buds that are being exposed to air every time someone buys a gram.
And speaking of those big, beautiful jars full of sparkling buds that we love to see behind display cases at dispensaries—an even worse destroyer of THC than air is at work on all that flower every minute of the day: light.
A 1999 study published on the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime's Bulletin on Narcotics found that THC degraded into CBN when it was exposed to UV rays. According to the findings, after a year of exposure, the concentration of THC decreased by around 16.6 percent. This is because UV radiation breaks down organic matter, and most light sources emit at least some UV. The matter is worsened by the fact that THC is a fairly unstable compound that just can't seem to wait for its chance to freak out.
I suspect stores with high sales numbers suffer less from the issue, since they probably sell their product too fast to ever see it degrade. But I've bumped into too much dry flower over the last year, and I know some places out there are not practicing proper maintenance. Those big cool mason jars are beautiful and really exciting to see, but it's just not worth the loss of quality. Smaller batches and opaque containers need to become the standard.
As a patient, be aware of how your dispensary stores its product. It's not rude or weird to ask for details about procedure from your budtender. You should be grilling them as often as possible, to be honest. Proper storage also needs to continue even after purchase. Make sure to keep your meds in an airtight, opaque container at room temperature or cooler. Freezing and vacuum sealing is ideal but not necessary unless you're storing it for a long period of time.