As the cannabis industry grows — thanks to more widespread legalization efforts, looser regulations and greater public interest — every element of the cannabis industry is gaining public attention. These days, cannabis consumers want to know how dispensaries operate, how cannabis products are made and, perhaps most importantly, how cannabis grows.

Yet, many consumers are surprised to learn that many of their favorite cannabis strains are grown from clones, not seeds. The term “clone” has an ambiguous connotation; many people associate cloning with dubious scientific practices, with the result that they don’t want to buy or use any product that is the result of cloning activities.

Fortunately, cannabis clones aren’t exactly what they sound like — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a potential danger for the cannabis industry.

What Cannabis Clones Are

There are two ways to grow plants: from seeds and from cuttings. Cuttings are pieces of stem or leaf cut from a mature plant; with the right care, a cutting can grow roots, or be grafted onto existing roots, and flourish into a new plant of its own. In cannabis cultivation, cuttings that have taken root are called clones.

The term “clone” is quite apropos, considering that cuttings create a genetic duplicate of their mother plant. Unlike seeds, which mix genes from different plants, cuttings and clones allow growers to copy and paste the genes of one plant into their next crop.

Fortunately, the process of cloning cannabis doesn’t require test tubes and moral ambiguity. All it takes is a healthy, mature female cannabis plant, a sterile blade and some rooting medium, like soil, to make a cutting. Then, cultivators need to supply their cuttings with the right after care, which typically involves a high-humidity environment and a grow light to foster root development and growth. In one to two weeks, the clone should take root and start becoming a larger, healthier plant.

Of course, cultivators don’t necessarily need to make their own clones. Beginners and home growers can purchase pre-made clones from many sources. The best place to buy a clone is from a local grow operation that has a good reputation for organic and sustainable plant care, but in places where cultivation centers are sparse, like Maryland, a dispensary likely has clones available for sale.

Why Cannabis Farmers Prefer Clones

Almost all cannabis available in dispensaries around the country is created from clones. Here are several reasons why:

Clone genetics are known. The clone plant will manifest identical traits to its mother plant, which means growers know what to expect from the clone in terms of grow time and yield as well as in the cannabinoid and terpene profile of the plant. Thanks to cloning, growers can develop and maintain different strains of cannabis, which reliably generate the same effects in consumers thanks to their identical genetics.

Clones are always female. Male cannabis plants are essentially useless to cultivators because they do not produce the resinous buds that are harvested and dried for consumption. While it is impossible to tell the sex of a seed, growers can be certain that cuttings taken from female plants will grow into female clones. Thus, grow ops don’t need to waste resources on unwanted male plants.

Clones have a head start. Growing from seeds requires starting from the very beginning of a plant’s lifecycle, but clones begin life already sprouted and a few inches tall. This can reduce the amount of time required for maturation by weeks, which tends to be exceedingly economical for commercial cultivators.

How Cannabis Clones Could Be Dangerous

There are many advantages to growing with clones — but there is one big disadvantage for all growers to consider: mutations. Though clones are genetic copies of their parent plants, genes can change due to environmental factors or simply random chance. Unfortunately, as cultivators take more and more cuttings from subsequent generations of clones, these mutations can manifest into major deviations from the genetics of the original mother. Most often, these deviations cause weaknesses in the plant, such as susceptibility to disease, pests or rot; sometimes, they can shift the cannabinoid content, causing certain plants to produce less potent buds. Because mutations are a serious concern not just for individual cultivators but for the cannabis industry as a whole, growers need to be careful during the cloning process to select only the healthiest plants for producing cuttings.