The Effect Of UV Light On Plants (Black Lights For Weed?)
Last updated June 25, 2019 By Steven 23 Comments
Plants, like humans, are living organisms.
And just like us they require nutrients and the right conditions to flourish. While plants obviously need water to survive, light is their main source of energy.
The natural light we enjoy here on earth comes from the sun, a blazing mass of fire that produces enough energy to maintain all life forms on this planet. The light from the sun is composed of packets of energy called photons; it is this energy that plants utilize to make their food supply.
The light from the sun is made up of varying wavelengths. Plants use most of this spectrum, some colors far more than others, but they do not make use of ultraviolet and infrared light.
Does this mean that UV light has no effect whatsoever on plants?
Quite the opposite. Varying levels of UV light bring about distinct characteristics in crops. Unfortunately, most of them are negative.
First we will cover the effects of UV light on plants in general and then we will cover the effect of UV on cannabis specifically.
How Does UV Light Affect Plants?
Before we get into the effects of UV light on plants, let’s briefly talk about what exactly is meant by ultraviolet light.
What Is UV Light?
Ultraviolet light is invisible to the naked eye and is the shortest wavelength in the spectrum, lying between 100 to 400 nm (nano meters). Before UV light reaches the earth’s surface, most of it is absorbed by the stratosphere.
The earth’s atmosphere is well-adapted to absorb all UV-C radiation, but UV-A and UV-B light still reaches the earth’s surface. Luckily, this light is not too harmful at the levels that reach us.
It is UV-R light that is most damaging to life forms. Thankfully, only 7-9% of it is able to reach the biosphere.
For this reason, under normal conditions, UV light does not have a substantial impact on plant growth. The exact effects of UV light have been evaluated under laboratory conditions, however.
Impact of UV Light on Microbes
Microscopic organisms such as bacteria play an important role in a plant’s life, both good and bad. Some bacteria, such as the ones that cause wilt and rust, may induce diseases in plants. Others, such as the nitrogen-fixing bacteria, may play a vital role in growth and in repairing damage.
Ultraviolet light is detrimental to these microbes and may result in their death. Many scientists have tried using UV light to kill pathogens.
The problem is always the same: while ultraviolet light kills off germs, it also destroys beneficial and symbiotic microbes that play an active role in the healthy growth of a plant.
When UV light kills of these organisms, it causes changes in the composition of materials that the plant needs to make its food supply. For example, ultraviolet light can cause retardation in plants, if it kills of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, because it reduces the amount of usable nitrogen.
Ultraviolet Light Causes DNA Damage
It has been widely documented, that UV-R light is highly damaging to life forms, especially their DNA, lipids and proteins. When DNA is damaged, genetic material retards and either results in mutation or cell apoptosis, where the cell engulfs itself to protect itself from damage.
DNA damage, however, may not always be a negative; mutations in plants are the evolutionary forces that lead to greater diversity and often stronger organisms more suited to surviving.
For example, plants are able to make use of blue light and UV-A to push toward controlled apoptosis. This ensures that nutrients are not wasted and organs that have grown old are eliminated so new organs can be formed.
UV Light Leads to UV-Resistant Crops
With the world heading toward a possible climatic crisis, many researchers have started worrying about the impact of UV light on crops. Considering how thin the ozone layer has become, it is highly likely that in the near future, more DNA-damaging UV radiation will make it through the atmosphere down to the earth’s surface.
This does not necessarily have to be bad news, though. In controlled laboratory experiments, researchers found that crops that were exposed to more UV light actually started producing molecules to block it.
This means that these crops are able to survive in harsher climates and drier regions. Moreover, the plants then used ultraviolet light to their advantage to curb mold and other diseases that were festering in the soil.
This new research might be critical in the future as global warming raises temperatures, the ozone layer is further depleted and more light penetrates down to the earth’s surface.
And, not only did plants become more resistant to harmful light and microbes in those experiments, they also changed their shapes: they became shorter and thicker, which helps reduce water loss.
While UV light is generally harmful to plants, it can still be used to bring about positive effects. A final such effect comes in the growing of cannabis.
UV Light For Growing Marijuana
Ultraviolet light causes the production of resin, and with it THC and CBD, in order to protect the marijuana plant from harmful UV rays. Thus, adding UV light to LED grow lights results in an increase in THC in the resulting buds.
There is no question that at its core, UV light is harmful to plants. But in harming plants, it actually causes them to develop protective mechanisms that make them stronger going forward.
With weed, this results in an increase in THC and CBD. For this reason, feeding your marijuana plants low levels of supplemental UV light will actually help them and generally result in better crops, as is the case with cannabis.
Do Plants Need UV Light?
No, plants do not need UV light. It actually causes them harm. But in causing harm, it forces plants to protect themselves, which can result in a positive for our needs.
Cannabis is the best example. UV light forces it to create more resin to protect itself, which means higher THC and CBD levels. For that reason, many marijuana growers look to add UV light to the final few weeks of the grow, when it has the most effect on the final product.
But what is the best way to give your plants ultraviolet light?
How To Provide UVA/UVB Lights For Plants
A lot of LED grow lights have UV diodes these days, but they only have UV-A light. That’s because UV-B LED diodes are incredibly expensive and are only included on very high priced fixtures.
There is a prevalent belief that only UV-B light is beneficial to THC and CBD production, but this is based on a poorly run study that did not, in fact, prove this. Black Dog LED did their own research and found that UV-A light also increases production of THC and CBD.
For that reason, any LED grow light that has UV diodes will work just fine to give your plants some UV light.
Nevertheless, I know some people will insist their plants need UV-B light. But using LEDs is not the way to do it.
UVB LED Grow Light: Is It Worth It?
Short answer: no.
As mentioned above, UVB diodes are extremely costly.
Fixtures that do include UVB light do so by attaching a UVB fluorescent bulb to their fixture. They are, in essence, an LED grow light with an additional UVB bulb.
And you pay for this addition. There are only two of these lights on the market: the Amare Solar Eclipse 500, which costs $1075 and the California Lightworks SolarSystem 1100 with UVB, which costs $1799.
Personally, I find this a bit gimmicky and it is never worth the increased cost.
Then there is the Cirrus UVB bar. It is the only fixture that uses actual UVB diodes. And it uses only those diodes. It is a pure UVB LED grow light, meaning it functions as supplemental lighting only.
The problem is: it costs $499. For a supplemental light!
Honestly, the benefits from adding UV-B light are not worth paying several hundred (let alone over $1000) dollars.
The only way adding UVB makes financial sense is to get a regular T5 fluorescent fixture and put a T5 fluorescent UVB bulb in it.
These bulbs cost only a little more than a standard fluorescent bulb and they also emit UV-A light, in addition to UV-B.
Here is a good option in two different sizes (these are just the bulbs; you can get any standard T5 fluorescent fixture like this one for them).
How Does Black Light Affect Plant Growth?
Many people ask me about black lights and reptile lights. They want to know if those can be used to supply UV light to their plants.
Black lights emit UV-A light only, so they affect plants the same way any other source of UV-A light does (which was covered above). They are a fairly weak source, however.
Below are answers to the most common questions I get.
Can Plants Grow Under Black Light?
No, most plants can not grow under a black light, if the black light is the only light source. If other light is present, they can grow under the black light, assuming it is not too strong or close to the plants. The black light itself does not do anything to help growth, though.
Do Black Lights Help Plants Grow?
Black lights do not help plants grow. They can help out in the ways described above, as in boosting production of THC and CBD in cannabis, but they do not aid growth at all.
Black Light For Growing Weed?
While a black light will, as mentioned, boost THC and CBD production, it will not grow weed on its own. You can use one as supplemental lighting, but your cannabis plant will not grow without an actual grow light or sunlight.
Do I Need A Black Light In My Grow Room?
No, you do not need a black light in your grow room. If you are growing marijuana, the addition of UV light can boost THC and CBD production, but it is not necessary for plants. If you do add ultraviolet light, it would be better to use a grow bulb like the AgroMax bulbs linked to above, since those emit both UVA and UVB light.
To boost the production of THC and CBD, you would only add ultraviolet light during a specific part of the grow cycle (see next question).
Should I Use A Black Light During Flowering?
If you are adding a black light to your grow for the purposes of boosting the production of CBD and THC, then you’ll want to use that light only during the final few weeks of the flowering stage of growth.
Will Reptile Lights Work For Plants
Reptile lights will work in the same way that black lights or other ultraviolet light will work. They will not help the plant grow, but will activate their defense mechanisms, which leads to, for example, the production of trichomes in marijuana.
The main difference between reptile lights and black lights is that most reptile lights emit UV-B light (there are also UVA reptile lights, but reptiles need UVB more), while black lights emit UV-A light.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have any additional questions concerning ultraviolet light for plants, or specifically for marijuana? If so, please ask them in the comments below and I will be happy to add them to this article.
A lot of indoor growers supplement their grow lighting with UV light, especially for cannabis. Before you do the same, you must know the effects UV light has on plants. It is actually harmful, because…
Does Light Degrade Cannabis?
Sunday November 18, 2018
W ith sweeping acceptance of cannabis moving across the world, the marijuana plant is finally stepping into the limelight. Store shelves that once offered an array of options for hiding bud now sell cannabis display cases. Companies like Smokus Focus have sprung up with devices to maximize the flower-viewing experience, flooding the specimen in question with bright LED light. With all the increased exposure, it begs the question, what exactly does light do to cannabis?
The Radiation Situation
Since the days of Edison and Tesla, light has become a part of everyday modern life. In fact, it’s so common that we tend to forget what light is. Light is radiation, specifically electromagnetic radiation within a certain spectrum. Radiation degrades organic material when sufficient energy is transferred. This is evident to anyone who’s gotten sunburn, but is also the same process that turns grass brown and fades untreated wood.
In museums, flash photography is prohibited due to the damage radiation might do to artifacts. If you have ever visited the Star Spangled Banner in DC, you’ll know that it’s kept in a special darkened room, with no photography allowed. This is because the flag is made of cotton, and cotton is organic, thus more susceptible to light degradation. So will light harm your weed? In short, yes, light will begin to degrade cannabis as soon as it is cut from the plant.
Not All Light is Equal
Perhaps all this radiation talk has you looking for the nearest fallout bunker for rent on Air BnB, but fear not, most light is harmless. When sufficiently energized, radiation can knock electrons off atoms, resulting in ions. This “ionizing-radiation” can damage living cells (and the DNA within), which is how radiation exposure increases the risk for cancer.
Most visible light is non-ionizing radiation, and thus, generally harmless to humans and living things (including cannabis).
The complicated part lies in ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Ultraviolet light sits right along the line between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum. The difference is so close that UV light is further subdivided, with the lower half of UV referred to as “soft” UV, and the upper half considered ionizing radiation. Due to the unique properties of UV light, some of the non-ionizing spectrum is even able to exhibit ionizing-like effects. Multiple studies have shown ultraviolet light to be a primary contributing factor to THC breakdown.
Many light sources, including the popular Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) bulb (the type one might find in most commercial businesses, including a dispensary), emit a small portion of UV light (sunlight that reaches earth also carries a small portion of UV, typically more than commercial bulbs). As THC is a relatively unstable compound, only a small amount of light is required for degradation. For this reason, cannabis light exposure should be minimalized wherever possible. If your local dispensary keeps their stock in large clear jars, it might be wise to look elsewhere.
What Evidence Do We Have?
A few studies have delved into the degradation of THC. THC itself is not a very stable compound and will degrade into CBN with exposure to light, air and heat. A 1976 study determined light to be the largest factor of the three. A more recent four-year study delved deeper into the phenomenon, finding “on the average, the concentration of THC in the plant material decreased by 16.6% ±7.4 of its original value after one year, 26.8% ±7.3 after two years, 34.5% ±7.6 after three years and 41.4% ±6.5 after four years,” for cannabis stored at room temperature.
Researchers found that “the higher the concentration of THC, the faster the degradation over the first one or two years.”
Additionally, “the degradation of THC appears to proceed at a higher rate for the first year than subsequent years and levels off after two years to a rate of loss of approximately 7 per cent per year.” At a loss rate of roughly 1.3% per month (and a wide degree of variance), the majority of cannabis smoked within a year of harvesting should be relatively close to ideal freshness.
Oxidizers (Oxygen being the most common) are substances that cause other compounds to lose electrons (become oxidized). Much like light exposure, oxidation contributes of the process that converts THC to CBN. This is why some luxury cannabis companies have taken to packaging in nitrogen, which has a lower oxidation rate than O2.
Research has also found that heat plays a primary roll in cannabinoid breakdown. Studies in the 70’s determined that lower temperatures showed a slower rate of cannabinoid loss, with temperatures below freezing to have the lowest rate of cannabinoid loss. Anything between frozen and ambient room temp (70
F), was shown to be fairly stable, but temperatures above will start to quickly degrade THC.
How to Properly Store Your Cannabis Stash
When it comes to storing your cannabis, controlling for light, air, and heat will keep your buds fresh the longest. For light, keep flower in an opaque container. A drawer works pretty well also. Mason jars are the industry staple for a cheap and readily available airtight container. Heat should not be a problem so long as you are keeping your bud at room temperature, but maybe don’t store it near the radiator or heating vent. Freezing is technically optimal, and works well for long-term storage. Trichomes may become brittle and fall off, but if kept away from light and air, should avoid cannabinoid degradation. Ultimately, there are many ways to properly preserve your stash so try a few options out and pick what’s best for you!
What are your thoughts on light degradation in cannabis? Comment below!
Matt Mongelia holds an MFA in writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has worked in the cannabis industry in various roles for 4 years, from dispensaries, production and retail to events, content and marketing. He is a writer for the comic Dark Beach, and has previously covered music and cultural content for SOL REPUBLIC.
Keeping cannabis fresh is an important task for any marijuana enthusiast and it's more complex than simply storing your stash in any old jar. Learn more about the ways light interacts with cannabis and if it degrades marijuana. PLus, find out some of the best ways to store your cannabis for longer!