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Different Curing Techniques

By Ed Rosenthal/Mel Frank

Curing is a process employed to naturally enhance the bouquet, flavour, and texture of marijuana. Curing does not lower potency when done correctly, although poor curing methods often result in some less of THC.

Curing is not an essential procedure, and many growers prefer the "natural" flavour of uncured grass. Sweet sinsemilla buds usually are not cured.

Curing is most successful on plants which have "ripened" and are beginning to lose chlorophyll. It is less successful on growing tips and other vigorous parts which are immature. These parts may only lose some chlorophyll.

Curing proceeds while the leaf is still alive, for until it dries, many of the leaf's life processes continue. Since the leaf's ability to produce sugars is thwarted, it breaks down stored starch to simple sugars, which are used for food. This gives the grass a sweet or earthy aroma and taste. At the same time, many of the complex proteins and pigments, such as chlorophyll, are broken down in enzymatic processes. This changes the colour of the leaf from green to various shades of yellow, brown, tan, or red, depending primarily on the variety, but also on growing environment and cure technique. The destruction of chlorophyll eliminates the minty taste that is commonly associated with green homegrown.

There are several methods of curing, most of which were originally designed to cure large quantities of tobacco. Some of them can be modified by the home grower to use for small marijuana harvests as well as large harvests. The methods used to cure marijuana are the air, flue, sweat, sun, and water cures.

Air Curing
Air curing is a technique developed in the United States for curing pipe and cigar tobacco. It was originally done in specially constructed barns made with ventilator slats which could be sealed; a small shed or metal building can easily be adapted for this use. However, this method of curing works only when there is enough material to keep the air saturated with moisture.

Wires are strung across the barn, and the marijuana plants or plant parts are hung from them, using string, wire twists, or the crooks of branches. The plants material should be closely spaced, but there should be enough room between branches (a few inches) so that air circulates freely. The building is kept unventilated until all the material loses some chlorophyll (green colour). This loss occurs rapidly during warm sunny weather because heat builds up, which hastens the cure. In wet or overcast weather, the temperature in the chamber will be cooler, and the process will proceed more slowly. If these conditions last for more than a day or two, unwanted mould may grow on the plants. The best way to prevent mould from forming is to raise the temperature to 90F by using a heater.

After the leaves have lost their deep green and become pale, the ventilator or windows are opened slightly, so that the temperature and humidity are lowered and the curing process is slowed. The process then continues until all traces of chlorophyll are eliminated. The entire process may take six weeks. Then the ventilators are opened, and an exhaust fan installed if necessary, to dry the material to the point that it can be smoked but still is moist, that is, bends rather than crumbles or powders when rubbed between thumb and forefinger.

Flue Curing
Flue curing differs from air curing in that the process is speeded up by using an external source of heat, and the air circulation is more closely regulated. This method can be used with small quantities of material in a small, airtight curing box constructed for the purpose. Large quantities can be hung in a room or barn as described in Air Curing.

A simple way to control the temperature when curing or drying small amounts of marijuana is to place the material to be cured in a watertight box (or a bottle) with ventilation holes on the top. Place the box in a water-filled container, such as a pot, fish-tank, or bathtub. The curing box contains air and will float. The water surrounding the box is maintained at the correct temperature by means of a stove or hotplate, fish-tank or water-bed heater, or any inexpensive immersible heater. Temperature of the water is monitored.

With the marijuana loosely packed, maintain water temperature at 90 degrees. After several days, the green tissue turns a pale yellow-green or murky colour, indicating yellow or brown pigments. Then increase temperature, to about 100 degrees, until all traces of green disappear. Raise the temperature once again, this time to 115 degrees, until a full, ripe colour develops. Also increase ventilation at this time, so that the marijuana dries. Plants dried at high temperature tend to be brittle; so lower the temperature before drying is completed. This last phase of drying can be done at room temperature, out of the water bath. The whole process takes a week or less.

Marijuana cured by this technique turns a deep brown colour. Immature material may retain some chlorophyll and have a slight greenish cast. Taste is rich yet mild.

Sweat Curing
Sweat curing is the technique most widely used in Colombia. Long branches containing colas are layered in piles about 18 inches high and a minimum of two feet square, more often about ten by fifteen feet. Sweat curing actually incorporates the fermenting process. Within a few hours the leaves begin to heat up from the microbial action in the same way that a compost pile ferments. Then change in colour is very rapid; watch the pile carefully, so that it does not overheat and rot the colas. Each day unpack the piles, and remove the colas that have turned colour. Within four or five days, all the colas will have turned colour. They are then dried. One way to prevent rot while using this method is to place cotton sheets, rags, or paper towels between each double layer of colas. The towels absorb some of the moisture and slow down the process.

Sweat curing can be modified for use with as little marijuana as two large plants. Pack the marijuana tightly in a heavy paper sack (or several layers of paper bags), and place it in the sun. The light is converted to heat and helps support the sweat.

Another variation of the sweat process occurs when fresh undried marijuana is bricked. The bricks are placed in piles, and they cure while being transported.

A simple procedure for a slow sweat cure is to roll fresh marijuana in plastic bags. Each week, open the bag for about an hour to evaporate some water. In about six weeks, the ammonia smell will dissipate somewhat, and the grass should be dried. This cure works well with small quantities of mediocre grass, since it concentrates the material.

Sun Curing
A quick way to cure small quantities of marijuana is to loosely fill a plastic bag or glass jar, or place a layer between glass or plastic sheets, and expose the material to the sun. Within a few hours the sun begins to bleach it. Turn the marijuana every few hours, so that all parts are exposed to the sun. An even cure is achieved in one to two days. Some degradation of THC may occur using this method.

Water Cure
Unlike other curing methods, the water cure is performed after the marijuana is dried. Powder and small pieces are most often used, but the cure also works with whole colas. The material is piled loosely in a glass or ceramic pot which is filled with luke-warm water. (When hot water is used, some of the THC is released in oils, which escape and float to the top of the water.) Within a few hours many of the non-psychoactive water-soluble substances dissolve. An occasional gentle stirring speeds the process. The water is changed and the process repeated. Then the grass is dried again for smoking.

THC is not water-soluble; so it remains on the plant when it is soaked. By eliminating water-soluble substances (pigments, proteins, sugars, and some resins), which may make up 25 percent of the plant material by weight, this cure may increase the concentration of THC by up to a third.

Marijuana cured by this method has a dark, almost black colour, and looks twisted and curled, something like tea leaves. The water cure is frequently used to cure dried fan leaves and poor-quality grass.

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