The Best of Both Worlds – Daylighting and Neuroscience in Cannabis


In this Growers Spotlight, we interviewed Jonathan Cachat of Sungrown Zero about the Solatube and what it can offer the cannabis industry.

The following is an interview with industry experts. Growers Network does not endorse nor evaluate the claims of our interviewees, nor do they influence our editorial process. We thank our interviewees for their time and effort so we can continue our exclusive Growers Spotlight service.


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Daylighting


What is daylighting, and how does it work?

Daylighting is the technology of bringing sunlight into whatever spaces you want it. For Sungrown Zero, we’re talking about Solatubes. We’ve been trying to reproduce the sun’s spectrum indoors with artificial lights, why not just let in that sunlight instead?

Solatubes are designed to preserve as much of the visible spectrum as possible, while blocking out or reflecting UV and IR light. You can bring the full PAR spectrum from the sun into your grow, without all of the other consequences associated with greenhouses.


Why would you use daylighting over a greenhouse?

That’s a great question. If you want to reduce your electricity usage, why not just leap straight into a greenhouse, right?

Let me provide with a shocking statistic: On average, 60% of the product grown in Canadian greenhouses has to be destroyed because it fails to pass lab testing standards. That’s millions of dollars in product loss, because these greenhouses are unable to properly control their climate.

That’s where daylighting can really step in; you get the best of both worlds, because you can have the environmental controls of an indoor grow, with the lighting inputs of a greenhouse.


What percentage of visible light is getting into room from these tubes?

When Sungrown Zero tested the Solatube’s PAR values, we found that there was approximately a 75% transference of light intensity from the inside compared to the outside. And the spectrum is completely in the PAR range.

Of course, the light intensity depends on your geographic location, time of year, the weather, and the layout of your roof, in addition to a variety of other factors. The bulk of my work at Sungrown Zero is not the installation of the tubes themselves; rather, I work to achieve the best setup for our clients.


Neurology and Pharmacology


Tell me about your background in the science of cannabis.

I went to graduate school at Tulane, and worked on a Ph.D. in psychopharmacology there. As part of my graduate work, I signed up for and received a DEA license to access and research schedule 1-4 drugs. I was able to order a large swathe of prohibited substances, including LSD, MDMA, Cocaine, Heroin, and more for research purposes.

Sadly, our research had very little data from using the limited amount of cannabis oil we were given for the study, so we couldn’t draw any meaningful conclusions from it. Looking back at it now, I realize that the fish we injected with cannabis oil were stoned; they just sat on the bottom of the tank and barely moved.


How does the DEA treat cannabis compared to other drugs?

During the course of my work with the zebrafish, I came to realize that the DEA treats cannabis very differently from other schedule 1 drugs. I had no problem ordering most schedule 1 drugs. But when I ordered cannabis, I got one hell of a runaround. It took them nearly 6 months to get back to us with a small 20-40 mg vial of what was essentially crystallized cannabis oil suspended in 99% alcohol. The vial came with a handwritten note expressing that we were not authorized to study the effects of cannabis by itself, and had to administer it in conjunction with the alcohol that was suspending it.

That’s not real science — real science isolates all variables possible. Essentially, the DEA told us that we couldn’t actually research the cannabis.


What research do you think needs to be done for the neuroscience of cannabis?

The first steps to any FDA clinical study ask just two questions:

  1. Is it safe?
  2. Is it effective?

To answer the first question, humans have lived for millennia alongside cannabis and cannabis products. You don’t really need to conduct a study to prove that it is safe, just look at the history of it.

To answer the second question of effectiveness, you can also look at the historical literature surrounding cannabis’ medicinal value. From ancient China all the way up until prohibition, people were using cannabis to treat a variety of ailments. Even into the late 19th century and early 20th century, most doctors and medics saw cannabis as having medicinal value.


What do you think of the current state of cannabis research?

The majority of research available today is negative about cannabis. If you do a quick survey of the research papers on cannabis, over ⅔ of the research focuses on the harms of cannabis. That’s not because cannabis is actually harmful, but because scientists need to get funded, and the people granting the funding have a vested interest in portraying cannabis in a negative light.

Additionally, most research that isn’t explicitly negative has largely focused on THC and CBD. We know that there are hundreds of cannabinoids, so we’re literally only looking at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the neuroscience behind those cannabinoids.

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If you want to read more, you can read the full article below.


Daylighting for Cannabis


Essentially daylighting is the technology and materials science of bringing sunlight into whatever spaces you want it. Typically, when most people hear the term “daylighting,” they think of skylights or windows. But for Sungrown Zero, we’re talking about Solatubes. Solatubes were originally designed for homes, offices, and other workspaces, because there’s a large number of studies showing that sunlight improves people’s morale, motivation, and prosocial behaviors. Additionally, they reduce electrical bills. Naturally, offices, workspaces, and homes are great places to implement daylighting technology for that reason.

But there was an unrealized potential for the Solatube in the cannabis industry. After all, we’ve been trying to reproduce the sun’s spectrum indoors with artificial lights. Why not just let in that sunlight instead? We don’t need a greenhouse to do it, we just need daylighting.

Example of commercial Solatubes.

And that’s really where Solatubes come in handy when compared to a typical greenhouse. They’re designed to preserve as much of the visible spectrum as possible, while blocking out or reflecting UV and IR light. Essentially, you can bring the PAR spectrum from the sun into your grow, without all of the other consequences associated with greenhouses.

Solatube isn’t the only company producing these “tubular daylighting devices” of course. There’s several other companies making similar products, including Velux, but they typically aren’t designed to reduce UV/IR entering the space. The Solatube matches most growers’ needs, and cuts out the rest.

Now, some growers might have an issue with blocking out UV. After all, there have been efforts in recent years to reintroduce UV light into grows, because there is evidence that it affects the plants. We’re just not sure how it affects them exactly, and we need more research to determine what that something is. There are a variety of UV devices available on the market, and they only need to be run or short periods of time for the plants to experience the full effect. I’ve heard that you only need to dose with UV for about 20 minutes in the flowering cycle every other day.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with a side benefit that comes from the heat of luminaires in colder climates.

But if you really want to make sure that your room’s environment is uniform, and not introduce all sorts of microclimates, you want a dedicated system to take care of your heating and/or cooling. Good HVAC systems should allow for much more even heating solutions, without having hundreds of tiny heaters distributed unevenly throughout your grow.

The Sungrown Zero system is designed for efficiency. We reduce the electrical bill by bringing in natural sunlight, and letting you decide how you want to control your environment. You don’t have to rely on your lighting systems for their heat output, nor do you have to spend extra money on cooling your lights. You don’t need as many backup generators or failsafes when you’re using sunlight.

That’s a great question. If you want to reduce your electricity usage, why not just leap straight into a greenhouse, right? After all, they are bringing the sun into their grow to its maximum effect.

Well, let me provide with a statistic you don’t often hear discussed in public. That statistic is 60%. On average, 60% of the product grown in Canadian greenhouses has to be destroyed because it fails to pass lab testing standards. Destroying 60% of an average harvest is millions of dollars in product loss, potentially making greenhouse growing more expensive than indoor growing, due to opportunity cost. And that 60% failure rate is caused by greenhouses being unable to properly control their climate, which allows mold or bacteria to flourish and ruin a lot of cannabis.

And that’s where the Solatube can really step in and find its niche. You get the best of both worlds, without either of the downsides. You have the environmental controls of an indoor grow, with the lighting inputs typical to a greenhouse. It’s a hybrid growing system that really doesn’t have many downsides.


Will the 60% destruction figure cause people to stay away from using greenhouses?

I think that figures means that daylighting systems will be a strong competitor with greenhouses. As I said before, they offer the best of both worlds.

Greenhouse design is fundamentally constrained due to a conflict between lighting and insulation. The better insulated the greenhouse is, the less light it lets in, and vice versa. With daylighting devices such as the Solatube, insulation isn’t even a concern at all. The building can be as insulated as much as we want, and these tubes will simply provide light from the outside.

This is why I think the future for high end cannabis growing is in a hybrid light design. There will always be a place for indoor grows, outdoor grows, and greenhouses, but I think if you want premium-quality and high volume at a reasonable input price, a hybrid design is the best option.

We should be very careful what terms we use here to describe the light. In this case, if we’re talking about percentage, we’re talking about light intensity. The full visible light spectrum is always coming in, but the intensity is what may differ.

And that’s really a design question. Much of the original design on the Solatubes focused on the human usage of sunlight, so a lot of the original documentation was in terms of lux or lumens, not in PAR. When Sungrown Zero tested the Solatube’s PAR values, we found that there was approximately a 75% transference of light intensity from the inside compared to the outside.

There’s one thing I want to point out too. When we set up a grow space, our goal is to ambiently achieve 550 µmol m-2 s-1 of light, and we can do that because sunlight diffuses very well. And if your grow is set up to be particularly reflective, you may get even higher values. Also, depending on the position of the sun, there’s going to be hot spots too. Those hot spots can often reach 800-1000 µmol m-2 s-1 or greater, depending on your geographic location, time of year, the weather, and the layout of your roof.

The bulk of my work at Sungrown Zero is not the installation of the tubes themselves; rather, the majority of my work is dedicated to achieving the best setup for our clients. We examine the facility, the structure, the goals of our clients, optimal light placement, the weather patterns and climate, the plants, and the best way to fit as many tubes as possible into the structure without causing the roof to collapse. We also take into account seasonal variations, and how the light moves through the structure.
See for yourself. There’s a video Solatube put up on their YouTube channel from a school in Texas that was hit by a hurricane (and the resulting debris). The roof was not pretty afterwards, but none of the Solatubes were damaged. This stuff is durable.

Additionally, Solatube itself has been doing this work for decades, and they are confident in their workmanship. They have a 25 year warranty on the non-moving parts in the tubes. Any moving parts have a 5 year warranty.


About Jonathan and Sungrown Zero


My first experience with cannabis was back in high school, where I first learned that cannabis was not the “foe” that DARE programs made it out to be. After high school, I decided to pursue an education in a brand new field at the time, social neuroscience.

Basically, social neuroscience examines the relationship between our mental state and nervous system and how external factors can affect our internal state. Our brain isn’t merely affected by genetics or brain chemistry, but the world around us too. At face value, this might seem obvious, but speak to a typical neuroscientist, and they may will skirt around the issue, because there is a gap between what we know about psychology and neurology. This gap is what social neurology attempts to solve. For example, in elderly couples, when one person in the couple dies, it is extremely common for their partner’s survival rate to drop drastically. There is no external cause for this change, it is a social consequence. But neurology cannot account for this change, nor does psychology understanding the neurological underpinnings of this change in survival rate.

Anyway, pursuing the degree in social neuroscience allowed me to take advanced biochemistry courses alongside a variety of economic and political classes. It didn’t take me long to recognize that the federal scheduling of cannabis has very little to do with actual science. It’s purely political.

I eventually went on to graduate school at Tulane in New Orleans, and worked on a Ph.D. in psychopharmacology. As part of my graduate work, I signed up for and received a DEA license to access and research schedule 1-4 drugs. It was a rather lengthy and arduous process. The process is very formal; you have to be working with a university that has a formal track record of research, plus they do an extensive background check.

Once I was given the license by the DEA to study these drugs, I was able to order a large swathe of limited quantities of prohibited substances, including LSD, MDMA, Cocaine, Heroin, and more. My research was focused on the neurological effects of these drugs on zebrafish.

Because we were giving drugs to fish, it was a relatively simple task to dose the water for the fish. We did accidentally kill a few zebrafish during the initial stages when we were figuring out the best way to dose the water. They may have eaten large chunks of morphine. Ahem. However, cannabis oil is slightly different, because it’s hydrophobic. We had to inject the zebrafish with it.

Sadly, we had so little data from using the cannabis oil in the study that we couldn’t draw any meaningful conclusions from it. Looking back at it now, I realize that the fish we injected with cannabis oil were stoned. They behaved very similarly to the fish that were suffering from withdrawal, but they didn’t have the elevated cortisol levels (a stress hormone) associated with withdrawal. They just sat on the bottom of the tank and barely moved. They were just super lethargic.

Anyway, in that study we ended up mapping the behavioral patterns from the zebrafish that we drugged and built a 3D modeling program so that a learning computer could actually determine the probability that a fish was on a given drug. It was quite interesting.

Well, I was at UC Davis as a postdoc in neuroscience and data integration. My work with 3D modeling and computer learning had really paid off. Anyway, at that point in time, the California Growers Alliance was coming together in Sacramento. The CCIA was also forming. I was a quick drive away, and I was a grower with a doctorate, so they regularly invited me to speak at their conferences.

I eventually ended up getting involved with legislation at the state level, while I was growing at UC Davis. While helping with that legislation, I started getting really nervous about the question of legality in California. After all, it would no longer be just people growing in their basements that were going to be involved — there were lots of multimillion dollar deals for brand new facilities, and many of these facilities were going to be indoor grows. With the kind of power consumption that indoor grows require, any good will that the cannabis industry had built with the public might evaporate due to rising electrical demand.

So I focused on technology that would reduce the environmental impact of cannabis. Lo and behold, not long after I first started thinking about this problem, I was at a friend’s house and noticed a tube in the ceiling. My partner Josh was familiar with the Solatube company, and that inspired us to start SunGrown Zero.


Neurology and Pharmacology


During the course of my work with the zebrafish, I came to realize that the DEA treats cannabis very differently from other schedule 1 drugs. MDMA, LSD, Heroin, etc., I had no problem getting. But when I ordered cannabis, I got one hell of a runaround. They told us we had to get it from an authorized distributor, and that they didn’t have one, so I was out of luck. It took them nearly 6 months to get back to us with a small 20-40 mg vial of what was crystallized cannabis oil that was suspended in 99% alcohol. Inside the package that the vial came in was a handwritten note expressing that we were not authorized to study the effects of cannabis by itself, and had to administer it in conjunction with the alcohol that was suspending it.

That’s not real science — real science isolates all variables possible. Sure, we could get the fish drunk, and that would probably would be pretty funny, but the results aren’t meaningful. Essentially, the DEA told us that we couldn’t actually research the cannabis in any meaningful capacity.

Now, as a quick aside, science isn’t as pristine as most people think it is. It’s really expensive, and, at the end of the day, scientists still have to put food on the table. So when they write research proposals, they’re trying to get money from grant writing agencies. They have to write these proposals in such a way that the grant writing agencies will see the value in their research. Logically, organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse don’t care about treating zebrafish with LSD because it would provide a window into the genetic underpinnings of conscious. They want to know how the drug can be abused to induce an anxiety-like state or how it affects serotonin-like agonists. The result is that scientists have to play the bureaucracy and politics game to pay for the research, and hope they get a change to study what they actually want to know.

So let’s actually talk about the FDA process for clinical studies. The first steps to any FDA clinical study ask just two questions:
  1. Is it safe?
  2. Is it effective?

To answer the first question, humans have lived for millennia alongside cannabis and cannabis products. If anybody thinks it isn’t safe, they’ve absolutely bought into the propaganda. Cannabis has only been illegal for less than a hundred years. So is it safe? You don’t really need to conduct a study to prove that it is safe, just look at the history of it.

To answer the second question of effectiveness, you can also take a look at the historical literature surrounding cannabis’ medicinal value. From ancient China all the way up until prohibition, people were using cannabis to treat a variety of ailments. It’s possible that it was all hoodoo and magical thinking, but that alone is pretty convincing — that even into the late 19th century and early 20th century, most doctors and medics saw cannabis as having medicinal value. It’s even mentioned in the Bible.

Related Article: Cannabis Prohibition in the USA: A Conspiracy, or Something Else?

The majority of research available today was funded by institutes and organizations with similar interests to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. If you do a quick survey of the research papers on cannabis, over ⅔ of the research focuses on the harms of cannabis. That’s not necessarily because cannabis is actually harmful, but because scientists need to get funded, and the people granting the funding had a vested interest in portraying cannabis in a negative light.

Additionally, most research that isn’t explicitly negative has largely focused on 11 cannabinoids, with a particular emphasis on THC and CBD. We know that there are hundreds of cannabinoids, so we’re literally only looking at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the neuroscience behind those cannabinoids. There’s a lot of work to be done to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

I’d say that, if you want to study cannabis science, take the time to read up and evaluate existing scientific studies. Don’t just read them either, critically analyze them. Who funded the study? What other ways could the data have been interpreted? What statistical methods were used and why? This will start to give you a feel for some of the politics involved in the more controversial parts of scientific research, and can serve you well into the future.


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Want to get in touch with Sungrown Zero?

You can reach them via the following methods:

  1. Website: http://sungrownzero.com/
  2. Phone: 530-746-8381
  3. Email: [email protected]


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About the Author

Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.