Hot hemp, or hemp that tests too high in THC, has burned a lot of hemp growers over the past few years — and it’s probably going to burn many more.
But you don’t have to be one of them.
You just need to be aware when exactly your plants are spiking and have a plan in place to act fast
The U.S. government has defined hot hemp as plants that test over the legal maximum of 0.3 percent THC. Hemp that’s above that level of THC content is officially no longer classified as hemp and cannot be sold. It is also required to be disposed of, or in some areas destroyed.
Not knowing when your plants are running too hot can mean all of your hard work for the year going down in flames.
When your hemp begins to head to hot — reaching a crucial threshold — you should already have a plan in place to cut plants.
Much of your pain can be avoided with some prudent planning and careful monitoring.
With THC, Testing is Everything
The key is to know when you are approaching that at-risk, upper limit — and harvesting in time to not crest over the maximum.
Cut too early and you’ll likely sacrifice higher yields and richer cannabinoid content. But cut too late and you’ll risk a 100 percent loss for the year.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Protecting against exceeding that federally mandated max of 0.3 percent is going to be one of the greater challenges you face as a hemp grower.
Add to that the issue of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continuing to delay enforcement of certain requirements — among them testing of hemp and disposing of non-compliant plants — until October 31, 2021, or publication of their final rule1.
While it feels like we are flying blind at the moment, it highlights the importance of a laser focus on knowing when THC percentages are inching up.
There’s only one way to know that: testing.
Because there’s no way to physically look at a hemp plant and know its percentage of THC, you’ll need to rely on hard numbers.
Starting with your first signs of flowering, you should be testing often — ideally once per week.
Because THC percentages can fluctuate for a variety of reasons throughout the growth cycle — weather, genetics, and feeding routines being a few contributing factors — it can be tough to nail down exactly when you are approaching a critical percentage point.
Testing will tell you where you are at.
There were some hemp growers in 2019 who were not meticulous about their testing schedules. They bought genetics that were marketed as having a reduced chance of producing high THC and thought they were safe to only test later in the flowering period.
Those farmers had a rude awakening.
Because you must also note…
The Full Story Behind Low-THC Hemp Strains
Seed sellers who tout plants as low-THC hemp strains are not telling the whole story. It might mean that certain strains have a tendency toward lower THC. But it does not mean that plants will absolutely test within the acceptable range to be called hemp.
A few of those growers were chapped that seed sellers promised them low THC but didn’t deliver. As with nearly all farming practices, there are very seldom 100 percent guarantees — particularly so when talking about outcomes like THC levels in hemp.
Beware the seed breeder who promises you low THC guarantees. All hemp varieties have the ability to spike into the danger zone.
Testing weekly is of major importance.
External Factors Can Spark THC in Hemp Plants
High THC content can occur for a variety of reasons. Often it comes down to factors that are not so easy to manage.
Forces outside your control, like geography and weather, can affect certain cannabinoid levels in hemp. Just as CBD and CBN can be enhanced using certain growing methods, such as nutrient feedings, THC can unintentionally spike due to certain pressures.
A number of stress factors have been known to contribute to elevated THC numbers. Large swings in temperature, drought, flooding, extreme nutrient feedings, and even high altitude are a few of the common culprits.
Plants exposed to those conditions can react with a sudden leap in THC.
Still, you do have some level of control over catching numbers before they turn devastating. It just takes close monitoring.
Test, test, test. That is the rule of thumb.
It’s essential to also note that tests should be performed in a way that mimics your state’s regulations.
The USDA’s testing methods currently consider what’s called “total THC.” That’s a result derived from the sum of delta-9 THC and delta-9 THC-A found through decarboxylation2.
Which is s a fancy way of saying samples are dried and then ignited to get their true THC quantity.
Harvest Hemp at This Crucial THC Threshold
There is also an important milestone that will alert you that your hemp is close to finished. That is the 0.2% THC threshold. Consider it a warning zone that sends you a clear signal well before you reach the 0.3 percent level that puts you off a cliff.
Around that 0.2% THC threshold is where you need to make your decision to harvest. Push beyond that limit and you risk suddenly spiking to a point of no return.
While testing is by no means an absolute guarantee that your plants will not run over 0.3 percent, it will provide you with information that you can act on. This information is power.
Learning when plants are spiking in THC is the only surefire way to begin to protect yourself against the government calling your crop a total loss.
The winds of federal regulations are shifting and will continue to be moving through the years, meaning some uncertainty going forward. But at the very least you can feel good that hard numbers through testing will put you on a solid footing and give you the best possible chance at keeping your hemp legal.