Before the legal cannabis industry set up shop, buying weed was a hit-or-miss experience: One never could be sure about a strain’s identity, much less where it was grown or how far it had traveled. More often than not, flower was dried out and harsh when smoked. So, users came up with all manner of creative do-it-yourself solutions to re-humidify their bud: orange peels, tortillas, wet paper towels. What could go wrong?
Maybe it didn’t matter so much when people were smoking low-grade weed, but now that boutique flower costs up to $20 per gram, growers and buyers think less about orange peels and more about relative humidity and the science behind flower preservation.
That’s how Boveda, a humidity-control company founded in 1997 in Minnetonka, Minnesota, found itself unexpectedly introduced to the cannabis industry.
“Cannabis found us before we found the cannabis industry,” said Dan Cleveland, vice president of marketing. Cannabis companies began using Boveda’s 65 RH packs, originally designed for cigars, to preserve their flower and business took off from there.
“It took us a year to realize what was happening,” he said. But when they realized the opportunity and potential, the research and development teams ramped up. Now, products designed for cannabis are the fastest-growing part of Boveda’s business.
The science behind RH
The core of Boveda’s business is its patented 2-way humidity control packs, which are used to keep musical instruments, electronics, food, cigars, and herbs, among other things, in optimal condition for a better shelf life. The company sells a variety of different humidity packs, each engineered to maintain a specific humidity level (from 13 percent to 97 percent) and sized according to the amount of material they will be used to regulate.
Boveda holds a patent for its product design, a saturated solution of pure water and natural salt contained within a water-vapor-permeable “reverse osmosis” membrane. The product maintains a predetermined level of relative humidity (RH) by releasing or absorbing purified water vapor through the membrane.
“Keeping cannabis between 55 percent and 65 percent RH levels optimizes the efficacy, flavor, aroma, and taste of the flower,” explained Vice President for Research Robert Esse. “Science has shown when cannabis is stored within these proper humidity levels, flower can achieve up to 15 percent more terpene retention.” One of the ironic consequences of storing cannabis flower in optimal conditions is the terpenes don’t release their magical aromas as soon as the mason jar is opened, but only later when they are ground up.
Keeping flower fresh at retail
In order to evaluate the condition of cannabis available in legal retail stores, Boveda conducted research in Palm Springs, California; Denver; Las Vegas; Phoenix; and Portland, Oregon, buying thirty-five samples of flower off the shelf at randomly selected dispensaries. The company measured the water activity level of each sample and found most were underweight and under-humidified. Only 9 percent of the entire sample set was sold at optimal conditions, and 74 percent experienced a 2-percent decrease in sale weight.
“We are still in infant stage with research and figuring out the dynamics of curing and the science of long-term storage,” said Cleveland. “The basic things we are still learning, like what happens to terpenes and cannabinoids over time, will help us figure out the optimal way to maintain flower post-harvest.”
A common complaint across cannabis-legal states is delay in the supply chain, which can occur for any number of regulatory or logistics reasons. Boveda’s team believes the company’s products can help mitigate such problems by keeping products and herbal medicine as fresh as possible for extended periods of time. How long that is, and how effective the products are, is a work in progress.
Phil Seda, chief executive officer for Seattle-based craft cannabis cultivator Sky High Gardens, said he was an early adopter and partner with Boveda. His company grows top-shelf exotic strains with complex terpene profiles and aromas that he’s determined to preserve all the way through the supply chain.
“If you have perfectly dried and cured bud, you don’t need (RH) packets right away, but as soon as we sell it to retailers, its beyond our control,” he said. “So, putting that Boveda pack in each unit ensures the customer will be happy with what they receive.”
As a high-end indoor grower, Sky High Gardens always is looking for ways to add value to its products, Seda explained, such as curing flower in glass with Boveda packets for six weeks before the product is shown to retailers. After the flower is sold, he said it can take anywhere from two weeks to six months for stores to sell the entire batch. “The packets do a great job of maintaining the right humidity, which helps with a lot of things, including aroma, terpene preservation, and a smooth burn,” he said.
Boveda has done preliminary studies to measure terpene and cannabinoid retention, and Cleveland said tests show with the appropriate humidity level, volatile terpenes won’t escape, instead remaining encased within the flower. “We are developing tests to determine what natural degradation looks like and what are the terpene changes with humidification,” he said. “How do you retard that natural degradation?”
For a company that backed its way into the cannabis industry, Boveda since has embraced the community and now devotes most of its research-and-development budget to discovering everything it can about the composition and degradation of the plant’s complex chemical compounds. For that, its customer base of growers, retailers, and flower aficionados is grateful.
“Cannabis is a much different marketplace than our other customers, but it’s very similar in one respect: It’s a passion play,” said Cleveland. “Our products allow people to enjoy and enhance their passions, and the cannabis crowd is certainly passionate.”