CULTIVATION & PRODUCTION
01 - Propagation Stage - Germination & Cloning
As the first stage of the 12 stage medicinal cannabis production process, propagation begins with an understanding of your planned production needs i.e how much of the final drug do you want to produce each year? Stage 1 follows the graphic and facility design through the 12 stages.
How many cannabis plants do you need to grow?
Cultivating medicinal cannabis starts with a cannabis seed or clone. When designing a cultivation and production facility you need to consider the following:
- The therapeutic dose of the final medicinal product
- The dosage form (e.g. soft gel capsule, tablet, drops, tincture or inhaler)
- Initial production volumes
- Any expansion targets for the future
From this you can then determine how many plants you will need to grow to meet your production targets. The yield of cannabis plants is typically 300 g of dried bud per square metre of mature plants. The cannabis yield and purity that you get from the dried bud is dependent on the plant strain selected, the growing technique and the facility design.
How will you create the plants?
There are three common ways to create the female cannabis plants required to produce medicinal cannabis products:
From cannabis seeds
This is the cheapest method, but cannabis seeds need to be feminised (via a chemical process) prior to germination, otherwise approximately 50% of them will produce male plants. Plants grown from seed take the longest to mature and may not be identical to the parent plant, depending on the source of the cannabis seed.
Growing new cannabis plants from cuttings of a mature plant is the quickest way to get mature plants. One plant can typically yield 500-600 clones via this method and each is an exact copy of the mother (often called the mom) plant.
Note that ‘Strain drift’ is a phenomenon where the cuttings vary slightly from the mother plant due to the stresses placed on the mother by taking too many cuttings over a period of time. The taking of cuttings from a mother plant needs to be carefully managed to avoid this.
By tissue culture
Often called micropropagation, tissue culture grows new plants from cells a parent plant. The advantage of tissue culture is that it is done under sterile conditions. This prevents the spread of diseases or pests. The new plants are clones of the parent, so will have identical flowers/buds.
Sometimes a combination of all three techniques is necessary to meet production requirements.
The propagation of cannabis plants is regulated by the Australian Office of Drug Control. You must hold a licence from them to cultivate cannabis (they control the plant during its lifecycle). Once the plant has been harvested and moves into the production of the final medicinal product then the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is the regulator. This part of the manufacturing process must comply with the current Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines. These rules are designed to ensure the safety and efficacy of all pharmaceutical drugs sold in Australia. The rules cover everything from facility design through production processes to the packaging, labelling, storage and transport of the final drug product.
When designing a building to propagate cannabis plants it’s important to consider:
- The supply of inputs e.g. seeds, pots and propagation media. E.g. recycled pots or growing media from a poor supplier may contain traces of pesticides. These can work their way into the final medicinal product, representing a threat to the product quality.
- Disease and pest control e.g. powdery mildew, hemp russet mite
- Minimising labour costs – centralizing and/or automating processes can significantly reduce ongoing labour costs
- Flexibility in layout to allow changes to meet changing production needs
- Lighting selection and the associated power costs
- Production flow – minimizing the movements involved in transporting materials and plants from one production area to another can significantly reduce labour costs. E.g. using tiered trollies to move plants from the propagation area to the growing area allows far more plants to be moved at once.