What is Reverse Osmosis?


From bubble-hash extract artists to every organic book in the canna community, reverse osmosis is everywhere! But before we look at its benefits and role in the cannabis community, let’s understand what reverse osmosis is and how it functions.

The best video I’ve found that describes reverse osmosis can be found here. Fair warning, there is lots of geeking-out in this video and some potentially boring moments, but I guarantee there is key information worth waiting for.

Another great video source is a two-part YouTube video on reverse osmosis (part 1/ part 2). This video is an interesting discussion/interview between Dr. Mercola and his guest Houston, a technical expert for a company in the water filtration industry.

Before you skip to check out those videos, let’s review a few key terms:

  • Solvent—a substance, usually a liquid and most frequently H₂O, capable of dissolving another substance
  • Solute—what gets dissolved in the solvent [THINK SALT]
  • Solvent + dissolved Solute = Solution

Osmosis is defined as the process where a solvent passes through a semipermeable membrane from a solution with lower solute levels (hypotonic state) over to an area with higher solute levels (hypertonic state). This movement occurs until equal levels of solute concentrations are reached.

Reverse Osmosis Explained
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In chemistry, physiology, and nature we are always trying to achieve equilibrium. The second a slight imbalance occurs red flags are raised and a chain reaction of secondary actions are triggered in an attempt to regain balance.  Osmosis is just that, a response to an imbalance in solute levels. It is the attempt to regain or attain osmotic equilibrium (note: osmotic pressure is required).

So, what is reverse osmosis then?

Osmosis attempts to create equilibrium by mixing the solvent and solute. This is accomplished through the movement of solvent (H₂O) from the hypotonic solution (pure water) to the hypertonic (salt water) one. Conversely, reverse osmosis separates the solute from the solvent by making the solvent (H₂O) filter out of the hypertonic solution (salt water) and into the hypotonic one (pure water).


Reverse Osmosis
Photo Source

Sounds like reverse osmosis faces an uphill battle against a phenomenon that is set on making sure everything is balanced. In fact, the only way for it to work is if an external factor intervenes, which is why RO requires applied pressure to counteract the natural inclination of a system to maintain balance. In order for reverse osmosis to work there has to be enough pressure applied to the hypertonic solution (saltwater) side to counteract the naturally occurring osmotic pressure built up on the hypotonic solution (pure water) side. You will discover that while hooking up most at-home reverse osmosis systems the pressure from your home’s water system serves is enough to force the water through the filters.

RO and Your Medicinal Garden

How does incorporating RO into your garden help your prospering ladies?

  • Provides a super clean slate to start adding nutrients to—what you put into your feeding water is exactly what will be going to your ladies, no additional minerals, Cl, etc.
  •  Eliminates fluctuating ppm & pH readings, which can occur when feeding directly from faucet.
  •  Removes alkalinity and prevents salt build-ups.
  • Eradicates the possibility of chloramine (another form of Cl found in tap water that is combined with ammonia), which can neutralize added microbial life in organically brewed compost teas.

Potential down-sides:

  •  Your plants actually need some minerals and salts present in tap water–the bicarbonates and carbonates present help buffer the pH of the water and neutralize acids (like those present in nutrients).
  •  Cal-Mag deficiency- many nutrient companies concoct their recipes under the assumption that most people water with tap-water, and thus reduce levels of Ca and Mg as a preventative action to avoid possible overfeeding.

Bubble Masters

Extraction artists know that optimizing the steps from starting material to end product is crucial. Everyone’s protocol is different, but when it comes to ice wax the key player is temperature and yes, you guessed it, the colder the better! You’re trying to freeze the trichomes off, emphasizes on freeze.

Cool, but how does incorporating RO water into the extraction processes help ice or bubble wax?

As you can imagine, every detail down to the ice cubes used to freeze the starting material is vitally important. And science tells us that RO water-ice cubes are ideal ingredients to use when creating and maintaining a below freezing environment!

Water normally freezes at 0° C or 32° F, however it can also be “supercooled” at standard pressure to almost −48.3° C/−55° F; this process requires pure water, like RO water, free of nucleation sites that can be seen in regular ice cubes.

Reverse Osmosis System
Example of an at-home RO system. Photo Courtesy of @Craftnug

While I do recommend RO for the garden, when it comes to human consumption it’s best if RO water is used in a rare detox regimen and not as a sole resource for water.  Studies have found RO could serve as the culprit for diseases like osteoporosis during long term use. Remember the concept of a system’s desire to constantly be in balance? Imagine introducing PURE water (RO, not distilled) into our bodies. It’s going to want to react and pull away from its surroundings to reach a balance. This concept is quickly touched on during Part I of Dr. Mercola’s interview with Houston. Again, Part I and Part II can be found here.

You can get your hands on some RO water by purchasing an at-home reverse osmosis water system, like this one here. Or you can visit your local water store and usually get filled up for as cheap as a few quarters/gallon.

As always, I hope this has been helpful. Got any questions? Let me know, comment below!

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