True weed connoisseurs know that even seemingly minor details—like how the cannabis plant was grown—matter. But the difference between indoor, outdoor, sun-grown, and all the other bud categories will mean next-to-nothing if you’re a newbie, or even an experienced imbiber suddenly blessed by choice.
Getting good weed advice is a way of smashing lingering taboos against the drug and holding the budding industry accountable, so it’s worth educating on some of these finer points. SO today, I’m going to explore the primary differences between indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis as it relates to you, the buyer.
These plant categories can end up becoming preferences, and while some people are firmly on a team indoor or outdoor, many just want to try the goods and are open to having a different experience each time they light it up.
The buds themselves are bigger and chunkier, but one of the most foolproof ways to differentiate the two is by looking at the stem. Outdoor-grown buds will have a significantly thicker stem than indoor cultivated nugs. Indoor buds will typically be smaller and denser than outdoor's big, clunky nugs.
Why is this even an issue?
Before prohibition, both medicinal and industrial cannabis grew everywhere, even as a weed (hence its nickname). Cannabis seeds and smoking paraphernalia date back thousands of years on multiple continents, and for centuries, it grew outside in the fields like all the other plants.
A culture of urban eradication during the mid-20th century eventually spread to the secret weed valleys of California, as law enforcement agencies chased and imprisoned cannabis cultivators. Sam Ludwig, president of Aster Farms, a sustainable cannabis company based in Northern California, has intimate knowledge of this fact—some of his family members paid the price for stewarding NorCal’s burgeoning outdoor cannabis movement.
As a third-generation cultivator, he can attest to the fact that “cannabis is [only] grown indoors is because of prohibition—raids and incarceration that started in the late ‘70s and still [persist] nearly 50 years later.”
Cultivating indoors provided secrecy...until police eventually figured out ways to track down those operations too. While indoor growing may have changed the game in terms of keeping the black market supplied with products, it also changed how we use the cannabis plant, standardizing the growth of high-potency plants.
These days, products sold on dispensary shelves generally tout the growing method on the label, both as a marketing term and as a practical indicator of what’s inside the jar, bag, or tin.
And while we’re not advocating for one type of weed over another, there are definitely things you should know as a consumer before you buy.
Indoor growing is about control
First, it’s important to point out that cannabis can’t be grown outdoors just anywhere. In a weed-heavy state like California, the moist north, with its forests and gullies, is quite hospitable to an outdoor cannabis growing season, while its arid south is a hub of indoor cultivation.
Robert Masterson, a cultivator at A Golden State, told us that standardized methodology is their motivation for growing indoors. “Cannabis grown indoors can be given the perfect amount of light per square foot and unique spectrums of different lighting sources to maximize terpenes and potency,” he said. “Not all indoor cultivators can completely control their environment, but when done correctly they can achieve the highest genetic potential of specific cultivars.“
This means that by using data and technology, cultivators can fine-tune every element of the process for each strain in pursuit of the holy trinity: higher yields, higher potency, and bespoke sensory qualities. For some consumers, this is precisely the type of cannabis experience they are seeking.
While myths about “today’s” THC contents being higher than ever have been circulating since the mid-2010s, that push has been consumer-driven, not tech-driven. In 2015 The Atlantic reported the “shift toward high potency has arguably more to do with contemporary market forces than with a younger generation of marijuana enthusiasts.”
Flavor and strong THC content are not only driven by indoor cultivation but they are ensured by more consistent growing conditions. As Masterson told us, however, “not all indoor cannabis is grown equally. Make sure you choose a brand that truly understands what they are doing. It costs more to produce cannabis in a controlled environment. Prices at a retail store generally reflect that.”
Highly visible fan Justin Bieber was recently spotted cleaning up at the new Wonderbrett shop in Hollywood, a brand known for its indoor cultivation methods. We asked the company’s co-founder and cultivator, Brett Feldman, what separates his nugs from the larger market.
“What I like about our facility and work is that we’ve been able to hyper-refine the indoor process to ensure a consistent, top-grade product,” Feldman told us via email. “We have the ability to achieve that quality over and over again without the issue of just guessing or gambling.”
Not all cultivators also consume, but Feldman has tips for people who like indoor buds. Primarily, at higher price points, the quality should be in line with the cost. In addition to proper packaging and relative freshness, he’s on the hunt for “meticulous attention to detail when it comes to the top-shelf flower, and the way that the flower has been protected. It hasn’t been allowed to get damaged, so the flower looks very fresh and pristine. It hasn’t been smashed. The crystals are still shiny and glistening.”
Outdoor can be quality, too
The corporatization of cannabis costs the ecosystem a lot, regardless of the cultivation method. While growers like A Golden State and Wonderbrett put effort into sourcing sustainable utilities and lowering their impact, many indoor growers just use as much plastic, electricity, water, fertilizer, and resources as they think they need to get the highest yields and THC possible.