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When we first published this article (June 25th, 2018), ‘Plant Growth Regulators’ were the subject of many a forum thread… we were doing what we could to compile all the loose bits of information found across the internet into one accessible space.By and large, people didn’t really know about PGR. Information was disparate.
Since then, this article (and topic) has gained a lot of attention from the cannabis community. FAB has been waging a public awareness campaign against Plant Growth Regulators in the form of #FCKPGR stickers, merchandise and other propaganda. Recently, we even launched a new design!
We have witnessed a rapid sea-change occur over the past three years – it’s been a real pleasure, being present for this massive shift in consciousness. We’re grateful to see new understandings associated with harm-reduction emerge before our eyes. People are learning to recognise the difference between good quality bud, and awful PGR crap.
If you’re still unsure exactly what PGR is, how it works, or why it’s so bad, read on…
Greetings, FABulous people! Let’s talk about PGR.
Has it ever occurred to you that something might be a little “off” with the weed you’re smoking? Does your cannabis look kind of sad? Does it smell a bit like a laundry cabinet – or does it not smell like anything at all?
Your weird-looking bud might be on toxic plant steroids. If your weed gives you headaches and gets you ‘fried’ in a really unenjoyable way, it’s important to consider this possibility. Cannabis grown using certain plant steroids are carcinogenic to the human body when combusted. The hormonal changes produce a specimen with compressed cell walls, resulting in visibly dense, clumpy, ugly flowers. Definitely not dank.
Don’t believe me, on this? It’s more common than you may think.
Cannabis grown with carcinogenic Plant Growth Regulators / Plant Growth Retardants (PGRs) have flooded the Australian black market in recent years. Hydroponic PGR growing operations are commonplace due their high profitability and low cost of operation for criminal syndicates. Colloquially, PGR goes by many names – scag, dirt, ‘Brisbane/Melbourne Red’ and ‘Canberra/Adelaide’ Gold, to mention just a few.
The current climate of prohibition has contributed to the rapid proliferation of PGR across Australian towns, suburbs and cities. As it stands, there is way too much power in the hands of those “supplying”, leaving consumers without meaningful choices. The situation across Australia has become dire, with the nation’s streets having become completely saturated with PGR buds for years now.
The saddest part? Most people seem unaware of the phenomenon. While some seasoned veterans have learned how to identify crappy buds in an instant… there are many young Australians who are slowly losing touch with what an authentic cannabis experience ought to look and feel like.
How do we know? Well, we used to be those kids, until we learned about the dangers of PGR through online forums. Since then, we’ve educated ourselves, done the research, and stayed clear from toxic buds. We’re definitely better off for it – and you can be, too.
What Are PGRs?
Are your buds rock hard? Perhaps they are covered in ugly, brown hairs? Maybe the buds themselves don’t have much of a scent to them, or smell like they haven’t been cured and dried out very well? If this sounds familiar to you, it’s likely that you’ve been smoking weed that has been treated with toxic Plant Growth Regulators.
PGRs are typically used to fatten buds up, increasing their weight; benefiting the ‘bottom lines’ of both producers and vendors – effectively increasing profits down the chain. This would be fine – if smoking PGR didn’t suck the cannabinoids and terpenes (i.e. the fun) out of cannabis, and have deeply adverse consequences to one’s health over the long term…
So, is PGR weed bad? The answer is a resounding YES – well, mostly. It depends what you mean. There are Organic Plant Growth Regulators which do not chemically induce cell reproduction in the same way.
Natural Plant Growth Regulators provide plants with an additional supply of auxins and cytokinins. As such, they aren’t toxic or detrimental to human wellbeing, on the whole. Examples of non-toxic PGRs include seaweed, kelp extract, bat guano extract, alfalfa extract, and the product ‘cannaboost’ by APTUS Plant Tech.
The Most Commonly Toxic ‘Plant Growth Regulators’
Paclobutrazol (PBZ), Daminozide (a.k.a. Alar), and Chlormequat Chloride are all well-known synthetic Plant Growth Regulators / Plant Growth Retardants; each has been used in Australian cannabis grows for decades. That’s right – unsafe weed has been circulating across Australia for ages.
PGRs get a very negative wrap in Australia – and for good reason. Paclobutrazol and Cyco PGR (A+B) can completely ruin a cannabis plant; as such, it isn’t uncommon to hear the advice that PGRs are worth avoiding altogether. In honesty, it’s pretty solid advice.
Other, slightly less infamous Plant Growth Regulators (which you should equally seek to stay clear of in your grow, and in life) include:
- Bushload by General Hydroponics
- Gravity by Emerald Triangle
- Flower Dragon by Grow Envy
- Phosphoload by Dutch Master
- Superbud by Dutch Master
- Rock Juice
- Boonta Bud
- Mega Bud
- Dr Nodes
- Yield Masta/Sudden Impact
In this article, we’re going to focus mostly on Paclobutrazol; the most common PGR used in Australia.
PBZ is a plant growth retardant. It also works as a gibberellic acid antagonist.
In effect, PBZ binds to enzymes that are crucial to the cannabis growing process. Paclobutrazol inhibits the terpene synthase enzyme – causing a bottleneck in both the terpene synthesis pathway and the THC synthase pathway.
This is why Paclobutrazol significantly reduces a hemp plant’s capacity to produce THC; the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis which helps you get high.
PBZ also lowers a cannabis plant’s ability to produce terpenes; the compounds which produce a wide diversity of dank smells.
Weed grown with PBZ is not only less visually appetising than usual; it’s also less psychoactive, and lacks the potent scents of buds grown without toxic PGRs.
Ultimately, Paclobutrazol causes the plant cells to endlessly divide, rather than elongate. As a result, the cells are packed closer together, with the flowers accommodating less space between calyx’s/pistols. Buds treated with PBZ are often mutant, rock hard messes, covered in thick, entangled red hairs, without any crystallised trichomes to be seen.
With that said, it’s important to note that density alone is not necessarily an assurance of PGR. Some strains can be naturally quite dense, contain an abundance of red hairs, and still be AOK – with high concentrations of terpenes and psychoactive cannabinoids.
Combustion of Paclobutrazol (as when smoked) causes the compound to break down into nitrosamines – the most carcinogenic component in cigarettes. Nitrosamines have been found to make liver cells swell up. Smoking PGR can cause direct damage to your liver.
If this all wasn’t bad enough… Paclobutrazol makes it much harder for any ‘young buck’ to impregnate women, as it wreaks havoc on male fertility and the human sperm count. For those of you that want kids; you’ll want to stop smoking this crap immediately. On the other hand, if you don’t really mind poisoning your body in several different ways… by all means, continue.
A Pervasive Problem
The ubiquity of PGR weed is pretty terrifying. If you’re sitting there, wondering if the kind-of underwhelming pot you’ve been smoking on is PGR (or not), the answer is most likely yes. If you’re smoking hydroponic in any major Australian city, there’s a solid chance you’ve been consuming cannabis grown with PGR – unknowingly. Finding a source that isn’t peddling cannabis grown with Plant Growth Regulators can actually be quite challenging.
Gigantic commercial growers and illegal gangs use PGRs in their buds thanks to their overall effectiveness at boosting yields – and profits. Aussie consumers can only combat this if they stop buying synthetically-treated cannabis products.
Many smokers who are well aware of this problem still resign themselves to purchasing from a dealer who distributes PGR buds – either because they can’t find anyone or anything else in their area – or because they just don’t want to pay a higher premium for good quality buds.
If you can’t grow your own weed, we recommend that you do all you can to connect yourself to the hobbyists and small-time growers out there who produce clean cannabis. Australians should realise that for as long as they tolerate and accept PGRs themselves, there will be no financial incentive for producers and sellers to consider the wellbeing of their buyers.
Identifying PGR Buds
When trying to identify PGR, we typically look for rock hard buds with unusually thick stems, dull colours, and dry leaves. ‘PGR Buds’ will possess a visible lack of trichomes – the crystallised ‘pollen’ of cannabis. They will also be covered in reddish-brown hairs. PGRs stimulates growth of the calyxes and accelerates the maturation of the pistils, without giving them time to swell up and produce trichomes.
Often, PGR weed feels “spongey”. This is generally due to poor drying and curing – if the buds are too densely packed together, the drying process will be unsuccessful.
Another telltale sign of crappy PGR weed is a distinct lack of smell. If your ganja ain’t DANK… it’s a sign that something is wrong!
Spot the PGR!
Here are a few pointers – hopefully they will help you identify weed grown with PGRs:
Fig. 1 is a quite standard story when it comes to Australian PGR weed. There is a dark dullness to the buds; the hairs are brown and dense. There are basically no visible trichomes. It honestly just looks so unappealing. Terrible smoke.
Below, Fig. 2: another example of cannabis grown with Plant Growth Regulators, sitting above some cannabis which has not been treated with PGR.
Quite easy to tell, don’t you think?
On the other hand… look at Figure 3. Assuming all you knew about PGR was what we’ve told you thus far, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suppose that this bud has a few PGR-like characteristics – there are a lot of orange hairs, for instance.
In this case, however, it’s relatively easy to discern between this specimen and PGR weed – if you know what you’re looking for.
First of all, the colours in this cannabis are anything but dull and muted. Further, when you look closely, there are trichomes visible all over the weed – and its leaves. Additionally, the buds are not all that dense. What we have here is an example of some good bud.
If you come across something like this, chances are… it’s high quality weed, and a great smoke.
I want to apologise for the next picture (Fig. 4). It is just utterly revolting – hell, it makes me wanna vomit. It reminds me of the countless negative experiences that I’ve had with PGR buds.
The smell of ammonia instantly comes to mind, just looking at it. Covered in ugly brown hairs, and dominated by thick stems, anything that looks like this is sure to be PGR.
To top it all off, the white, yellow and black powder growing on the buds in this photo isn’t some kind of crazy trichome: it’s literally mould.
If you ever come across ANYTHING that looks like this image, do the entire universe a favour and just RUN. Your body – particularly your liver – will thank you in return. You will be blessed with years of good health that you would not have otherwise possessed. Your grandchildren will thank you. If we don’t want this garbage circulating, we need to start turning it down entirely.
After that completely pitiful excuse of a bud, let’s try to finish this section off on a positive note. Here we have another specimen (to the right) – with thick stems, and a heavy concentration of brown hairs.
The weed is quite dense… but you can tell that this is some good stuff. Those trichomes are quite obviously visible, and the hairs haven’t mutated into clumps of plant matter. In fact, this is a beautiful example of good weed right here.
Still having trouble identifying whether your weed has been grown with PGR? Contact us!
The Dangers of PGR Buds
Here’s the rub: Plant Growth Regulators are harmful – although, thanks to a lack of research, we don’t know exactly how. They’re also everywhere, thanks to the complete lack of regulation over black markets in the era of prohibition.
There is a growing awareness of the myriad negative health impacts on the human body, especially over the long term – yet, no clinical studies have been done on cannabis grown with PGR.
We still don’t know exactly what consuming PGR weed (via combustion) does to people. This is why everyone should avoid their consumption of this stuff, as much as they can. People in the Australian black market need to know this information; not only for the sake of their own health, but for the wellbeing of others, their family and friends.
PGR weed is gradually becoming a greater health risk to regular citizens, as the number of frequent cannabis users increases year after year. According to the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), 34.8% of all Australians have tried cannabis, with 10.4% having consumed the drug in the past year. Our prohibitive laws have struggled to keep up with the pace of the black market; which has proven it will stand to turn a profit, irregardless of criminal code and the legal standing of the substance.
Share this article with everyone you know who smokes cannabis – it’s very important to spread the word. Furthermore, if this issue speaks to you, please be sure to write to your local members of parliament. You can help inform our elected representatives of the true public health dangers associated with cannabis prohibition.
Please: say ‘NO’ to PGR weed. This stuff gives weed a bad name. If somebody sells you some shitty looking cannabis, decline it. It’s better go without that poison in your body, than to subject yourself to a crappy, scattered and paranoid high – complete with a splitting headache.
Got any questions or comments about PGR buds? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below!
 Commonwealth of Massachusetts (MDAR): Paclobutrazol, January 2012 –
 California Environmental Protection Agency: PACLOBUTRAZOL, January 1993 –
 PubMed: Exposure to Paclobutrazol disrupts Spermatogenesis in male Sebastiscus marmoratus, October 2015 –
 AIHW: Illicit use of drugs, January 2018 –