Sunday September 20, 2020

By Paul Barach

Is Nitrogen Gas Good at Preserving Cannabis? Health/Science

From the moment that cannabis buds are clipped off the branches and cured, the clock starts ticking down for bringing their maximum freshness and potency to the consumer. Exposure to air and light degrades the THC and terpene molecules contained in the bud, which translates to a less enjoyable experience once that flower is ignited and inhaled. Additionally, as the bud dries out you’re looking at a much harsher smoking experience. Because better weed means repeat customers, cultivators and dispensaries are always looking for fresh ways to bring the dankest buds to pot shop shelves.

In this race against time, some dispensaries and flower wholesalers are opting to use nitrogen gas sealed packaging. But does nitrogen gas make a difference when it comes to preserving weed? Is it just a marketing gimmick to give some producers a sales edge over their competition? Or is nitrogen sealed weed the new standard that consumers should start demanding when it comes to ensuring the dankest store-bought flower for their dollar?

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What is Nitrogen and Why is It Used in Preserving Weed?

One of the most abundant gasses on earth, making up 78% of our atmosphere, nitrogen is colorless and odorless. Most importantly for cannabis storage, it is an unreactive, inert gas. Nitrogen is crucial for the creation of plant cell walls, which is why it’s used in most fertilizers. It’s also crucial in liquid form for the creation of fun Halloween parties. 

Why Use Nitrogen Gas for Cannabis Storage?

As it is an inert gas that will not react with other molecules, Nitrogen has been used for years for preserving perishables during their transport and storage. A lot of common foods like potato chips are shipped in nitrogen-filled containers or bags, as well as perishable liquids like wines. One of the reasons that it's so commonly used is that nitrogen gas is heavier than oxygen. Because of this, nitrogen pushes out the lighter oxygen when pumped into the container so that the oxygen doesn’t damage the product. This includes cannabis.  

The reason for the “airtight” in the “airtight and out of light” maxim is that oxygen is the last thing you want interacting with molecules like THC. The oxygen atom is notoriously greedy and will steal electrons from anything it comes into contact with. This reaction with oxygen, called oxidation, is what makes metal rust, turns sliced apples brown, and degrades THC into CBN.

Airtight cannabis packaging
Airtight cannabis packaging can help to maintain the freshness of your bud. photo credit

There’s nothing inherently wrong with CBN; cannabinol is a necessary cannabinoid with plenty of health benefits that are still being researched. However, it is known to make consumers sleepy, and if you’re looking for a more psychoactive effect from your weed purchase, you want as much of your THC to remain THC as possible, which means keeping as much oxygen away from it as possible.

Another advantage of using nitrogen for storage is that, unlike oxygen, it is an inert gas. This means that nitrogen atoms have a zen-like contentment with their amount of electrons. Because of this stability, they will not react with molecules like THC and degrade them over time.

Flushing the container with nitrogen also starves out any pests or bacteria that remain on the bud, which need oxygen to survive.

Finally, sealing up containers with nitrogen gas creates a positive atmospheric condition in the packaging. Just like a packet of potato chips, this creates a protective barrier around the buds that prevent them from getting crunched up or knocking off too many trichomes in transit. 

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Does Nitrogen Gas Make a Difference in Storing Marijuana?

There are plenty of companies springing up that provide nitrogen gas storage equipment for personal or professional use, so the answer is clearly yes. Some companies are selling specially modded lids that allow you to blow compressed nitrogen gas into your jars, which helps you to maximize the shelf life and potency of your cannabis. Other companies are setting up nitrogen tanks for commercial grows that store large yields for months without noticeable degradation of quality. However, how much of a difference nitrogen storage makes for the average consumer is up for debate.

Flower on a dispensary shelf
Some dispensaries may start looking to use nitrogen gas to preserve the shelf life of their bud. photo credit

If companies are planning to store their cannabis for the long term, then every option used to slow that ticking clock of THC degradation helps, including nitrogen. However, for the weed that shows up on pot shop shelves, what makes more of a difference is how much light and air that weed was exposed to en route. Regardless of the gas used, it's much more important that the pot was contained in airtight and opaque conditions during storage and transport.

Similarly, the curing techniques used by the grower has an enormous impact on the quality of the bud over time. Harvesting the bud when its trichomes have reached their maximum potency - as well as slowly decreasing the humidity as it cures - can lock in cannabis’ freshness and potency for months. Similarly, choosing to hand-trim the bud preserves a noticeable percentage of trichomes that machine trimming otherwise knocks off during processing. This also impacts the bud’s potency at the consumer level.

Packing it All Up

In conclusion, nitrogen gas does make a difference in storage and maintaining freshness over time. Whether its wine, potato chips, or weed, the more oxygen that gets chased out of the package, the less oxidation the contents will go through before they get into the consumer’s hands.

However, in most cases, nitrogen gas sealed packages will not make or break the average consumer’s cannabis experience. The difference between nitrogen sealed and non-nitrogen sealed containers will not be as noticeable as the quality of the bud that results from expert-level curing and trimming, as well as proper storage and transportation methods.

If you are a regular pot consumer deciding on the most quality product, the gas used when packaging the weed should be taken into consideration without being a deciding factor.

Instead, take a close look at the bud you’re considering purchasing. Are the colors of the leaves and hairs rich and vivid? If you can open the container for a whiff, does the flower smell dank with a potent combination of aromas? Is the exterior of the plant sugary with trichome crystals or does it look dull in the light? Does the grower have a good reputation for consistent, quality product in your state? 

If the answers are yes, then don’t worry too much about the gasses surrounding your purchase. It’s getting exposed to the air when you open it anyway.  As long as you keep it airtight and out of the light after that, your bud will stay relatively dank until it’s time to go to buy more. However, if you are a medical patient who buys in bulk or looking to stock up on weed so that you don’t have to visit a dispensary as often, a consumer-grade nitrogen gas storage kit might be worth looking into. If it’s important to keep your weed at its maximum dankness, every little trick helps.


Do you look for nitrogen packing when purchasing your buds? Why or why not? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: dougcremer (license)


Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as Medium.com, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.



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