The Chemistry of Cannabis: Detection of Cannabis Farms

*This blog post is purely for educational purposes. We do not support the production, distribution, or consumption of Cannabis.

Welcome back! So, since you’ve clearly been overwhelmed by the amazingness of the information in our blog posts, we think you deserve a refresher. In previous blog posts, we have discussed the effects thatCannabis has on the brain, and the different forms through which Cannabis can enter the body and results in these effects. In this blog post, we’ll discuss new and innovative ways that law enforcement is using to detect Cannabis farms.

Scratch ‘N Sniff™

(yes, you read that right)

A charity organization based in London, England has come up with an innovative way to help police officers locate Cannabis farms. The organization has created Scratch ‘N Sniff™ cards. These Scratch ‘N Sniff™ cards that mimic the scent of Cannabis in its growing stage, and are being distributed to English citizens so that they can to familiarize themselves with the smell of growing Cannabis and can notify the police if they detect the scent. So far, the organization has issued more than 200,000 scratch and sniff cards to hotspots in England, and, there has been a 28% increase in information from the public on Cannabis farms.

Now, how do these Scratch ‘N Sniff™ cards work? The ideas of chemistry can be applied to the Scratch ‘N Sniff™ technology through the ideas associated with entropy. Entropy is the number of ways a system can be arranged. In this case, aroma molecules that are microencapsulated are at a state of low entropy, since they are enclosed in minute capsules. The manufacturing process of scratch and sniff cards utilizes this entropy idea. The diagram shown below illustrates the process. In general, the process includes taking the aroma-generating chemical and encapsulating it in gelatin or plastic spheres that are a few microns in diameter, and this traps the odor. A certain chemical catalyst is used to bring about the reaction which finalizes the encapsulation of the odor. In other words, the catalyst is the metaphorical “kick in the pants,” or the thing that bring about the reaction. This  reaction requires a “kick in the pants” because it will not happen on its own; this type of reaction prevents particles from diffusing, as they would “like” to, and in order to get particles to do something they don’t want to, you have to bribe them with energy.

When these capsules are given another metaphorical “kick in the pants,” or an activation energy, they are released and they dissipate and spread the scent. Even though the particles want to diffuse, a “kick in the pants” is required to give them enough energy to break through the capsule. This energy required to get this reaction going comes in the form of kinetic energy from a person, when he/she scratches the card, applying friction to the capsules. The aroma molecules are then released, and since they have more volume to diffuse into, they achieve a higher state of entropy.

This idea of  Scratch ‘N Sniff™ technology, then, can support the notion that the entropy of the universe is always increasing. Spontaneous reactions, which have a negative free energy value, are constantly occurring in the universe. The Scratch ‘N Sniff™ system is one primary example of this chemical theory. Since this technology embodies the principles underlying entropy, then it also applies to The Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law states that “In an isolated system, natural processes are spontaneous when they lead to an increase in disorder, or entropy.”

Thermal Cameras

Tower block thermal image

Authorities are beginning to use thermal cameras to detectCannabis farms. Often, Cannabis growers employ heat lamps when growing indoors. Further modifications to the growing area typically include the addition of ventilation and irrigation systems. Thermal cameras are being used to detect growers who hideCannabis around other plants, rendering them invisible to the naked eye. However, the grower must make some changes to the soil, which allow these cameras to detect hidden plants. The soil is turned over and the vegetation around the plant is trimmed off to allow for better absorption of water and nutrients. As a result the soil also absorbs heat at a higher rate than the other surrounding plants. Consequently, they stand out in thermal scans.

Just like any other camera you use, thermal cameras detect light. However, they differ from conventional cameras in that they detect different wavelengths of light. Thermal cameras detect infrared light as opposed to visible light. Because the lamps generate heat, the system emits infrared radiation. At the atomic level, the heat is simply the movement of particles. When the particles collide with each other, they can affect each other and induce a dipole oscillation. Due to this volatile distribution of charge, electric and magnetic waves are emitted as photons within a certain range of frequencies. Finally, the hotter an object is, the shorter the wavelength it emits. Thus, thermal cameras display hotter areas closer to white and darker areas closer to black. Also, if an object is hot enough it can emit thermal radiation that is visible to the human eye, a simple example being fire.

Well, that’s all folks!


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