Best defense for cannabis plants is the plant itself

cannabis as a pesticide

The conversation of cannabis and pesticides often errs on the side of the all-natural options. New research from Cornell points to the plant as the most organic answer.

Cannabis is an accumulator, meaning it soaks whatever it can from the soil into its trunk, stems, fan leaves, and flower. If used, pesticides can easily make it into the products people smoke, eat, vape, and dab. Many states have banned certain insecticides and pest-deterring sprays in regulated grows. Neem oil, essential oils, and other natural methods are implemented at cultivations that opt for non-toxic pesticides.

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A recent study published in Horticulture Research shows that the plant may develop certain cannabinoids in the growth cycle as a response to insect predators, making it a pesticide in itself.

Cannabis is its own pesticide

Cornell School of Integrative Plant Science professor Larry Smart spearheaded the paper, which shows a correlation between the accumulation of CBD and CBG and the survival of plant-eating pests.

Researchers cultivated three types of hemp plants: CBD-rich, CBG-rich, and cannabinoid-free options, growing them either from seed or clone. Professor Smart shared with Cornell Chronicle that the study utilized the theories that cannabinoids develop as a barrier in female plants to protect seeds but goes one step further.

“No one has put together a comprehensive set of experimental results to show a direct relationship between the accumulation of these cannabinoids and their harmful effects on insects,” Smart shared with the Chronicle.

The study was born and gathered observations in the university’s hemp breeding program. Ukrainian hemp plants were much more susceptible to Japanese beetles, while others weren’t affected. After testing, the team noted that the Ukrainian genetics didn’t produce cannabinoids. The same was noticed with cabbage looper larvae; higher cannabinoid content meant fewer pests.

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To understand how CBDA and CBGA impacted insects, researchers painted extracts of the compounds in differing concentrations onto leaves. Foliage wiped and not wiped with cannabinoids was then fed to groups of larvae. Larvae in the cannabinoid groups had a higher mortality rate and grew smaller the higher the concentration.

How this research impacts the cannabis industry

This is an exciting update as farmers search for new ways to keep crops healthy, and cannabinoids might not be the only weed compounds worth studying. Terpenes may also develop in response to the introduction of predators. Terpene nanoemulsions showed valuable insecticidal properties in recent research, and hypotheses continue on how female plants evolve and adapt based on their environments.

In the last few decades, a lot has been learned about the impact of pesticides on American foods and the soil. One thing many can agree on is that they don’t want to burn and inhale them in their weed. Research like this is instrumental in supporting an all-natural industry and protecting consumer lungs. Between terpenes and cannabinoids, the plant may be the best resource for all-natural pesticides.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.