We hear about amino acids all the time, especially regarding health and fitness. Bodybuilders maximize their amino acid intake to build muscle. Long-distance runners require amino acids for hard runs. Vegetarians and vegans seek out specific foods rich in these compounds to supplement a diet short on meat.
But what are amino acids, and why are they important for growing cannabis?
Every living being uses proteins to stay alive and reproduce. Proteins are giant molecules that literally do everything in a biological cell: they’re needed to replicate DNA, they’re employed as chemical messengers, they act as hormones, and they build structural components like cells walls, tissue, nerve, and even bones.
Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins. Biologists call this phenomena the “central dogma of molecular biology”: DNA instructs the cell to recruit amino acids to build proteins. Those proteins then carry out the cell’s functions so it can self-regulate, generate energy and even divide to create new cells.
Cannabis sativa, being a living thing, is no different from the rest of life in this regard. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, and terpenes such as pinene and myrcene, do not appear spontaneously in the plant. Special proteins build those phytocompounds from other cellular components. When your cannabis plants receive healthy doses of amino acids, they can maximize production of the things we desire most: cannabinoids and terpenes.
Amino acids as micronutrients
At a minimum, plants require only light, water, air and some minerals to survive. They possess the cellular machinery to take those energy inputs and turn them into plant tissue. However, plants also draw some metals such as copper and zinc from the soil. Microorganisms in the soil, such as bacteria, provide trace amounts of amino acids to the plant as well. The microorganism source for amino acids is one reason why maintaining a healthy microscopic environment for your plants is absolutely critical to a successful grow.
Most organic or soil-based methods for growing cannabis don’t require additional amino acids. If you’re growing hydroponically, however, consider feeding solutions that contain amino acids to supplement the lack of a thriving microorganism presence. The additional amino acids in the hydro mixtures simulate a soil environment.
Amino acids as chelates
Aside from building proteins, amino acids act as “carrier” molecules for other necessary nutrients. Zinc, iron, copper and other metallic micronutrients activate the enzymes in plants, and amino acids such as glutamic acid or citric acid bind to these metals. This binding activity is known as “chelation,” and amino acids become a “chelate.” When amino acids chelate to micronutrients, they make these nutrients more bioavailable, so the plant has an easier time making efficient use of the tiny amounts of those goodies in their soil or water.
Amino acids as fertilizer correction
Fertilizers, which we need to feed our cannabis plants, will strain plants over time. Nitrogen is necessary for plant growth, but as plants are artificially pushed to their growth limits, their cellular structures weaken. This can make plants more susceptible to physical damage, which can stress the plant or make it prone to infection.
L-glutamic acid is one amino acid that strengthens plants, counteracting some of this potential weakening caused by fertilizers. Other amino acids, by chelating nutrients, keep the plant healthy and strong, even as its growth is boosted by nitrogen-rich fertilizers.
A short list of amino acid functions
It’s critical to remember that cannabis plants use only L-amino acids. For those of you who aren’t chemists, L-amino acids have a 3D shape that “turns left.” R-amino acids, due to their structure, cannot be readily used by plants.
Priya Chemicals provides a more detailed list of amino acids and their uses, which are summarized here:
Amino acid sources
If your grow operation relies on soil or coconut husk, simply maintaining the media’s microflora should be enough. Plants have a limit to how many amino acids they can absorb at a time, and these media usually provide enough to keep your plants healthy. Addition of glutamic acid and L-methionine will ensure your microenvironments stay balanced so they generate constant streams of amino acids to the plant roots.
You can, however, increase amino acid levels artificially, especially if you’re aiming for a particular effect. Just remember to do so in moderation, because excess amino acids will be wasted if they aren’t absorbed.
Garden suppliers such as Aptus Plant Tech, Montiff, and House & Garden offer products that are packed with amino acids. Determine which amino acids you need for your grow, and simply follow the instructions on the bottle. Some of these products can be used for both soil and hydro grows and others are exclusive to hydro, so be sure to double-check where your amino acid mixture would go.
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