Growing Cannabis in High-Altitude Environments

Nov 11, 2022 | Cannabis Blog

There are more than 700 cannabis varieties in the world. The versatility of cannabis is evident when you think of the highly diverse environments where the plant thrives. For example, several states in the United States grow cannabis: Alaska, Colorado, Washington, Montana, Oregon, California, Arizona, and Nevada. The vastly different climate conditions between these states aptly demonstrate just how incredibly versatile cannabis is.

Cannabis cultivation started in the harsh Himalayan Mountains thousands of years ago. It slowly spread and adapted to local conditions around the world. You can now find cannabis growing in tropical areas such as the Caribbean and Mexico, mountain regions such as Alaska and Colorado, and even drier areas such as South Africa.

Natural selection helped cannabis adjust to each area’s particular weather, soil, and water conditions. Growers then cultivated strains that grew effectively in their region. This is how each marijuana strain has ended up having unique properties and its own growth potential.

Part of the growing research into cannabis cultivation is to understand how marijuana grows and whether diverse growing conditions impact the botanical compounds of the plant.

These questions recently pushed researchers in Italy [1] to investigate the content of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids in cannabis grown on mountains as opposed to the plains. Perhaps surprisingly, there is a significant difference in the quantity of these compounds in each strain, thus confirming that different growing conditions have a significant effect on the properties of cannabis.

What Does Research Tell Us?

The researchers took several cannabis strains and grew them on mountains and plains. They then harvested the flowers and leaves to analyze what they contained.

High-Altitude Cannabis Contains More Terpenes

Their first finding was that mountain-grown cannabis contains significantly more terpenes such as beta-caryophyllene and humulene. Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in all plants. They are what makes flowers, plants, herbs, and leaves smell the way they do.

Cannabis has more than 40 terpenes, including beta-caryophyllene, humulene, pinene, limonene, and linalool. The different percentages of these terpenes give each cannabis strain its individual aromas. Cannabis terpenes are the reason why a marijuana strain smells and feels different than others.

Aside from their aromatic benefits, terpenes also deliver anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial benefits [2] [3]. These add up to the effect of the various cannabinoids and create an enhanced overall effect called the entourage effect.

The Italian study found that a mountain cannabis strain contains more potent terpenes. This suggests that mountain strains may have a more potent effect on the body and mind.

High-Altitude Cannabis Contains More Cannabinoids

Cannabis is brimming with cannabinoids: there are more than 130 that have been counted so far. Some are major cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, while others are minor and found in smaller quantities.

The study found that high-altitude cannabis contains more cannabinoids such as CBDa, CBC, CBCA, and CBGA than low-altitude cannabis.

CBGA is considered the precursor of all cannabinoids. The more CBGA in cannabis, the more cannabinoids will develop before harvest.

CBDA is the precursor of CBD since it’s the acid sibling of CBD. CBDA is turned into CBD with heat in a process called decarboxylation. The more CBDA there is, the more CBD will be produced with decarboxylation.

Having more cannabinoids suggests that high-altitude cannabis may potentially be more effective and more powerful.

What Makes High-Altitude Cannabis Strains So Potent?

It is still unclear why high-altitude cannabis manages to deliver a more pronounced cannabinoid and terpenoid profile.

Farmers know that growing plants at elevations higher than 5,000 feet can be challenging, but also highly rewarding. They face several hurdles during cultivation but the end product can be truly amazing.

Intense Sunlight

Plants grown at high altitudes are under more hours of direct sunlight and increased UV radiation. After all, they are closer to the sun and have less atmosphere protecting them.

More sunlight can be harsh on leaves and flowers: extreme sunlight can dry plants and stunt them. With the right genetics, however, plants can use this extra sunlight effectively to grow better. Sunlight is the necessary ingredient for photosynthesis, so the more sunlight, the more the plant will grow.

High Winds

Mountains are exposed to high winds. Wind can ravage plants as it tears and breaks branches, stems, and leaves.

Cannabis strains that have adapted to high-elevation conditions grow stockier and shorter. Their branches don’t extend too far away from the plant so they don’t break easily.

They have also developed other defense mechanisms, such as having thinner leaves to let the wind pass through more easily. Large leaves, due to their bigger surface, are resistant to the wind and are, therefore, more prone to breaking. Thinner leaves show that the plant has adapted to high-mountain conditions.

Irregular Precipitation

High altitudes enjoy occasional snow and rain. Quite often, however, the conditions change rather abruptly. Downpours of rain can be followed by months of dry weather. High-altitude strains have adapted to these unpredictable conditions by becoming more drought-resistant. They can survive with little water until nature delivers more moisture through precipitation.

Interestingly, the thin leaves that cannabis strains developed to endure high winds are also a great way for the plant to keep its moisture. Large leaves transpire more, unlike thin ones. Thinner leaves are thus more capable of holding on to water.

Cold Snaps

Mountains are known for their sudden cold snaps. Within a few hours, temperatures can drop significantly. This can damage young buds.

High-altitude cannabis strains are more resilient to cold. They have adapted to such sudden temperature changes and will protect themselves until the weather turns better.

Growing Season

The growing season up in the mountains is shorter than in valleys, which is expected as optimal temperatures and conditions do not last for long. Therefore, cannabis grown in high altitudes will need to mature quickly.

Many cannabis growers choose auto-flowering strains that flower within a certain time frame.

Most cannabis strains have their own circadian rhythms and will flower according to the amount of sunlight and darkness they get. Autoflowering strains, on the other hand, flower after a certain amount of time has passed since planting, irrespective of the amount of light they get.

Many ruderalis cannabis strains are auto-flowering. Farmers growing cannabis in Alaska often prefer them for this particular feature, rather than choosing one of the other cannabis strains that have a short growth period.

Concentrated Cannabinoid and Terpene Profile

Higher altitudes make cannabis plants shorter, smaller, and sturdier. It is as if the difficult climate conditions help cannabis plants develop their cannabinoid and terpene profile in a concentrated way: they pack more botanical compounds in their leaves, flowers, and stems.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

It is pointless to grow a cannabis strain that thrives in the Caribbean in a high-altitude area or a state like Alaska. Instead, it’s better to turn to a strain whose provenance helps it flourish in rugged and challenging areas.

Strains originating from Afghanistan and other mountainous areas are more suitable for high altitudes and will deliver more rewarding harvests.

No matter what your marijuana preference is, you will find plenty of strains at Hillside Natural Wellness, your marijuana dispensary in Anchorage, including several grown locally in Alaska. Place your order online or visit our shop at 8639 Toloff St. Anchorage, AK 99507. Our expert budtenders will help you pick the right strain for you!


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7144370/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7120914/

[3] https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.2020.34.s1.04020

[4] https://ethanrusso.org/taming-thc-potential-cannabis-synergy-and-phytocannabinoid-terpenoid-entourage-effects/