Aging weed is becoming a trend, a fact which seems to contradict everything we know about the life cycle of cannabis. Does weed degrade over time (as we’ve always been led to believe)? Or does weed get better with age, much like wine? The answer might actually be “both.”
Some savvy processors have been experimenting with aged cannabis. CannaSol, for example, developed vintages of their Alice in Wonderland strain—aged up to 2 years—to be processed into vape cartridges. The processing was done by Pearl Extracts in Seattle using supercritical CO2 extraction.
Interestingly, lab reports for the Alice in Wonderland vintages indicated that the oldest cannabis actually had the most terpenes. This defies conventional wisdom about cannabis terpenes degrading over time, but it demonstrates how cannabis can transform in unique ways over time depending on the strain, the growing conditions, and other factors. In addition, the aged cannabis had much higher concentrations of cannabinol (CBN), which may be the biggest benefit of aging weed.
It’s important to note that when we talk about aging cannabis, we’re not talking about the curing process, during which fresh cannabis is aged for a brief time to ensure the optimal quality and moisture content. This process definitely results in better cannabis, but it only lasts 2 to 4 weeks—hardly enough to get a good vintage.
There are two primary benefits to aging weed: the changing flavor and aroma profile, and the increased concentration of cannabinol — a minor cannabinoid most commonly found in older cannabis.
The flavor and aroma evolve over time as the terpene profile changes. Sometimes this is a bad thing. For instance, if most of your terpenes degrade, you could lose all flavor and scent. However, if only certain terpenes degrade, or if specific terpenes become dominant over time, the weed can sometimes take on more pleasing tastes and aromas.
For example, consider a strain that contains 50% myrcene and 25% limonene as its most prominent terpenes. Since myrcene dominates, the weed will likely have a musky aroma that can be overwhelming. But if the terpene profile evolves over time and limonene becomes the dominant terpene, you may be left with a more pleasing citrus essence. It doesn’t always work out this way, but it’s a possibility for meticulous cannabis processors who know what they’re doing.
CBN is a byproduct of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that’s created as THC ages. That’s why it appears most commonly in older cannabis. Because cannabinol is estimated to be only about 10% as psychoactive as its parent compound, some users rely on it for therapeutic effects without an intense high. Some studies have even found CBN to be completely non-psychoactive. It does, however, show some promise on the medicinal front:
- Anti-inflammatory effects. Researchers have found that CBN reduces collagen-induced arthritis in rats. This may have implications for human beings as well, though more research is needed.
- Antibacterial effects. Research shows that CBN may be effective against certain strains of bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
- Neuroprotectant effects. CBN may hold promise for addressing neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s Disease. One ALS animal study found that CBN significantly delayed the onset of the disease.
- Appetite stimulation. Studies also reveal that CBN may help stimulate appetite by activating the body’s CB1 cannabinoid receptors.
- Insomnia relief. Some research (and a growing body of anecdotal evidence) suggests that CBN may help to address sleep issues. Many of the CBN products in our Bellevue dispensaries are specifically formulated for sleep support.
Additional studies reveal that CBN may have promise for epilepsy, chronic pain, and more, though more research is needed. Ultimately, this cannabinoid may prove beneficial for people seeking the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without the psychotropic experience, and the best place to find it is in aged cannabis.
Old cannabis is generally safe to consume, as it doesn’t go bad the same way a food would expire. However, it’s important to note that smoking old weed generally won’t give you the pleasing experience of consuming a fine wine.
The best way to enjoy aged cannabis is to process it into concentrates (like the aforementioned vape cartridges) because the extraction process allows product makers to isolate the remaining cannabinoids and terpenes and repurpose them into a more potent and enjoyable product. You don’t have to worry about dried-up plant material burning your throat or a low THC concentration harshing your buzz. With a cannabis concentrate, the ingredients and dosages are tightly controlled.
If we’re strictly talking about smoking old weed that’s been collecting dust in a jar or in your sock drawer, it’s best to just consume it while it’s still fresh.
In most cases, marijuana maintains its peak potency for 6 months to a year. Research shows that, on average:
- Weed loses about 16% of its THC after one year
- Weed loses about 26% of its THC after 2 years
- Weed loses about 34% of its THC after 3 years
- Weed loses about 41% of its THC after 4 years
Remember, much of that THC is replaced with CBN, so if your goal is for a less psychoactive but more therapeutic experience, weed may in fact get better with age.
The biggest threat, though, is the loss of moisture and terpenes which might result to possible dryness and terpene degradation may result in a less enjoyable experience as the taste, smell, and smoothness of the product are all adversely affected. There are ways to keep your weed fresher longer, though.
If you’re not sure whether your weed is still fresh, look for the following qualities:
- Age. Every batch sold should have a harvest date, sell-by date, or date of manufacture. The newer it is, the fresher it is (assuming it’s stored properly).
- Appearance. Fresh pot should be moist, robust, and green. If it appears wilted, or if it’s spongy or crumbling, it’s probably past its prime.
- Smell. If it has no smell at all, or if the smell has dissipated somewhat, the weed is past its prime. If it smells moldy, you should also throw it out.
- Taste. If the weed has lost flavor, if it burns your throat, or if it just tastes harsh, it’s likely past its prime.
It’s important to note that old weed probably won’t make you sick (unless it has developed mold, in which case you should toss it out immediately). It just won’t be as pleasing to consume and usually won’t be as potent.
If you want to age your weed without sacrificing freshness, the best way is to store it under the optimal conditions. Light, air, humidity, and extreme temperatures should all be avoided, as these are the qualities that degrade cannabinoids and terpenes.
One of the best ways to store weed is to place it in airtight glass jars—like Mason jars—and keep the jars in a cool, dark environment. Under these conditions, you may be able to maintain your optimal product quality for up to two years while still achieving some of the benefits of aging.
Another great way to store weed is using an air-tight stash container, these containers are specially designed to maintain the optimal environment for your cannabis. You can find these containers in most dispensaries and smoke shops.
If you’re simply looking for a unique “vintage” experience, your best bet is to purchase aged weed from professional cultivators who have taken the time to harvest and process the plant to perfection.
If you’re looking to achieve a product that’s less psychoactive but that offers unique therapeutic potential, you might benefit from letting your own cannabis age naturally for 6 months to a year. Just make sure to store it carefully.
And if you’re just wondering whether that old baggie of Bubba Kush you found between your couch cushions is still good to smoke, the answer is…maybe. That all depends on how old it is and how well it has been stored.
The good news is that you probably won’t get sick; the bad news is that it probably won’t be quite as good as an aged Napa Valley cabernet. So take it slow, but enjoy.