In Washington we’re very fortunate to be able to walk into a state-licensed retail shop and purchase buds that meet the parameters we set; we can ask for it by strain, by brand, by price point, by grow medium, and so on. Similar to consumer preferences for extracts, an interesting point of contention that we budtenders have noticed over the last couple of years, are strong and varying opinions of outdoor cannabis versus indoor.
Not all customers are familiar with the pros and cons of outdoor weed versus indoor, and when they ask, I usually like to draw a comparison to music; it’s like the difference between a live album and a studio album. While studio albums are the product of a perfectly controlled environment in which any imperfections are reduced or eliminated, a live album is more nuanced, less controlled, and feels more organic. Common perspectives from “indoor only” customers are that outdoor buds are less attractive, less flavorful, and less potent. Consumers who express a preference for outdoor weed are often concerned about the pesticides used on indoor plants, opting for a more natural option that also entails a more affordable price point.
Which customer is right?
With over 1,000 licensed recreational producers in Washington, every grower does things a little differently and we really can’t make blanket statements that all indoor bud is one way or all outdoor bud is another way. There are, however, some consistencies to note and consider as you experiment with both types of weed and form your own preferences.
Growing cannabis indoors enables cultivators to control and fine tune all the growing conditions, ranging from the temperature & humidity of the room, to the amount of time the plants receive light, to the nutrients used. This is obviously in contrast to outdoor grows which are at the mercy of the seasons (rain, clouds, wind, etc). Aside from fully controlling the environment and conceivably being able to grow weed anywhere in the world, the major benefit of indoor bud is “bag appeal;” Four out of five times, indoor weed is a lot more attractive, which entices customers to purchase it over less-attractive buds (the same way we all pick the prettiest produce when we’re at the supermarket).
The other big benefit most touted by indoor fanatics is a cleaner (less “grassy”) flavor attributed to a more sterile environment. This is often true, but it’s not a certainty… we’ve encountered indoor buds that tasted grassy (or had no flavor at all), and we’ve smoked some extremely flavorful outdoor weed too.
Since “pesticide-gate” here in Washington, a number of our customers have been concerned about pesticides used in indoor grows (which may contain harmful chemicals or heavy metals that you probably wouldn't want to smoke). If you can believe it, cannabis grown outdoors actually has less need for pesticides because of beneficial insects in nature that keep spider mites and other pests away (except for deer… those jerks love to gobble up weed plants) but indoor grows either need ladybugs introduced into the room or cultivators must rely on pesticides to prevent an infestation of spider mites.
Another consideration that tends to get overlooked is the growing method’s environmental impact. Plants grown indoors using electricity and climate control use significantly more energy than an outdoor grow does; electricity is expensive, but sunlight is free. According to a report by Department of Energy Senior Scientist Evan Mills, PhD, indoor grows account count for up to 1% of power consumption in the United States. “Vote with your wallet” types in support of sustainable cultivation practices may choose to support outdoor & greenhouse growers instead.
- Beautiful buds
- Available all year round
- Typically less “grassy” flavor
- Pesticides are often necessary
- More expensive (more overhead involved in production: building, electricity, rent)
- Greater environmental impact
In addition to being less expensive to produce than indoor weed, marijuana grown under the sun yields around 4x as much product (which also contributes to the lower price point at a retail shop). Because of the sheer volume, it ends up being more cost effective for the grower to spend less time hand-trimming pounds upon pounds of herb, so they opt to use a trimming machine or simply do a rush job to get the product out on time.
Somewhere down the line, outdoor cannabis got a reputation as being inferior to indoor bud. Lest we forget, marijuana is a plant; Before we started selectively breeding landrace strains into souped-up genetic mutants and building high-tech grow facilities to house them in, cannabis was a hardy weed that grew in the dirt. In fact, cannabis flourished outdoors for most of human history, up until marijuana prohibition began picking up steam in the 1970s and forced black market growers to move their operations indoors and away from prying eyes. Many seasoned cultivators still believe cannabis plants grow best in the environment that Lord Shiva intended for them, though it’s [apparently] human nature to build structures and machines as part of an ongoing attempt to force nature to bend to our will.
Regarding the commonly held consumer belief that outdoor cannabis is less potent than indoor, an Oregon farm called Sunny Ra Acres pioneered an experiment to help disprove this myth: after taking 2 clones from the same mother plant and growing one indoors and the other outdoors, they were able to repeatedly prove that the cannabis grown under the sun consistently has higher cannabinoid & terpene profiles than indoor weed.
- Not always as pretty as indoor bud
- Doesn’t always smell as good as indoor
- Sometimes tastes “grassy" if not cured properly
- Harvested once a year in Washington (it can be dry if the grower didn’t store it well)
But with all we’ve talked about, however, there is a third style of growing that I neglected to mention: sungrown (greenhouse) cultivation enables plants to grow in a semi-controlled environment while still benefitting from natural sunlight. It’s the best of both worlds, and many Central Washington cultivators currently utilize this grow method.
So is indoor weed objectively better than outdoor? In a word: no. Both grow styles have their pros and cons, but as far as potency and price point goes, outdoor (or sungrown) has a leg up on indoor. Per usual, we encourage our customers to experiment on their own and form their own opinions about which types of cannabis best suit their preferences.
Article by Ramsey Doudar; an in-house marketing and social media strategist at Herbn Elements. Ramsey's perspective is influenced by 1.5 years of budtending, 5 years as a cannabis industry marketing professional, and 10+ years of being a super picky medical patient.