Can Smells from Cannabis Cultivation Be Effectively Measured & Controlled?

by Byers Scientific | May 21, 2021 | Blog | Cannabis | Emissions | Resources

Whether you love or loathe the distinct smell of cannabis, there’s no denying that it has quickly become a talking point in communities across the country. With recreational cannabis now legal in 17 states and counting, it’s an issue that’s still gathering steam. As cultivation facilities scale to meet consumer demand, there’s one question top of mind for cultivators (and their neighboring communities): can smells from cannabis cultivation be effectively measured and controlled? 

Yes, and here is how.

The issue of commercialized cannabis cultivation 

Much of the problem lies in the widespread and rapid commercialization of cannabis cultivation. As facilities scale up, so does the issue of smell. Or, at least, the perceived issue of smell. Because of the subjective nature of olfactory perception, individual responses to the same density and composition of odor-causing emissions can range from slight annoyance to extreme disturbance. 

Complaints from neighboring communities are on the rise across the country, forcing local authorities to take actions that could threaten commercial cannabis operations. To compound the problem, many local regulators are unsure how to appropriately address issues related to cannabis odor.  

According to Dr. William Vizuete, the answer lies in scientific data. “Right now, regulators are making decisions in the absence of real scientific data. That leads to ineffective decisions. No one wants to make decisions with that level of uncertainty. So, I see a clear path forward where we [Byers Emissions Analysis] can provide decision-makers and stakeholders with the data they need to make informed decisions.”

Empowering regulators

Byers Emissions Analysis seeks to help regulatory bodies make sound decisions around cannabis cultivation. Our cannabis emissions data and research benefits stakeholders, communities, and the environment because it provides the quantitative data required to make informed (and enforceable) decisions. 

Our research team is backed by national leaders in atmospheric chemistry and cannabis emissions research, Dr. Alex Guenther and Dr. William Vizuete. Byers conducts leaf enclosure studies, a technique adapted to the cannabis industry by Dr. Guenther, to determine the exact types and quantities of site-specific terpenes and all other compounds emitted off the cannabis plant. They are then able to develop gas-phase emission rates for all strain/site-specific terpenes.

Understanding the gas-phase emission rate

When plants transpire, they emit various compounds, much like people exhaling isoprene, acetone, ethanol, methanol, and other alcohols. All plants, not just cannabis, emit these compounds (or “off-gas”) at a measurable rate. However, the type and concentration of these compounds can vary significantly, depending on the plant’s strain and what stage the plant is at in its life cycle. Another critical factor is how gases are emitted. For example, are gases coming off the leaves themselves, or are pools being evaporated off the plants? 

When compiled into an “emissions factor” inventory, information about a plant’s emissions rate helps to provide the information that agencies, such as the EPA and other regulatory bodies, need to measure the potential impacts of these individual and collective compounds on people and the environment. This helps them to create data-backed, quantifiable guidelines that do not rely on the subjectivity of smell. 

Why does this matter for regulating smells associated with commercial cannabis cultivation?

There are no complete, publicly available  emissions factor inventories for commercial cannabis yet. This is due in large part to the fact that in cannabis plants, there can be up to 200 unique compounds present. Further, given the large number of different strains of commercial cannabis and variations within strains, compiling such an inventory would be a massive undertaking. This makes cannabis odor assessment extremely complex. This large variability, at least in part, dictates why site-specific analysis is necessary.

Once an emission rate is assigned to each compound, we can model complete profiles of all gas molecules coming off the over 600 different cannabis strains and determine possible contributions to public health, odor, and air quality concerns. 

Protecting commercial cannabis cultivators

Byers works to protect and mitigate risk for revenue-driving commercial cannabis cultivation businesses while simultaneously reducing potential negative impacts on both the environment and local communities from cannabis emissions. 

Utilizing our proprietary Cannabis Emissions Profiler (CEP) protocol, our team can take collected cannabis emissions data from an operation and mathematically determine the exact number of emissions control units required to sequester the molecules as a function of the cultivation area’s total volume. In other words, we help commercial cannabis cultivators understand and implement their facility’s unique odor control requirements. 

As community complaints of emissions and odor from cannabis cultivation rise significantly worldwide, this scientific approach to odor control is more crucial than ever before. We support regulators in their engagement with licensed operators to prevent and resolve cannabis emissions and odor-related issues with the data and technology to effectively and sustainably combat these tensions.