In ideal conditions, cannabis can absorb 1500 - 2000 μmol/s. For context, in California, the sun can emit up to 2000 μmol/s around midday. This means that the light source should ideally be powerful enough to deliver this intensity over the area the canopy will occupy. Equipped with a powerful and efficient grow light, you may be tempted to use as much power as you can afford, to increase yield - but this is often not the best strategy; leaves can be damaged by overexposure to light (and heat) which will decrease yield. To avoid this, slowly increase the intensity of your light over several days, by increasing power draw by 5-10 watts per day, and observing the leaves regularly. Any yellowing leaves can be a sign of light stress. This may be accompanied by curling leaves which are a sign of heat stress, often caused by lights being too intense. Note also that seedlings require and are less able to make use of light than flowering plants.

Horticultural light metrics

There are many different metrics that can be used to measure the intensity and quality of light for photosynthesis in the cultivar. These metrics are important for assessing if a source is sufficient but especially notable when comparing two different lights.


unit: μmol/s

Light intensity is quantified by the number of photons produced per second. Because the number of photons is so large they are measured in micro-moles (µmol). One µmol is actually 602 quadrillion photons. See: Measuring light intensity

Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density (PPFD)

unit: μmol/m2/s.

A measure of light intensity within the PAR range over an area. The maximum PPFD a grow light can produce is important to know as well as the size of the area it can deliver that PPFD.


unit: μmol/J

The light intensity a horticultural light produces per Joule of power it uses. At the time of writing, the most efficient LED package available is the LM301H by Samsung. It achieves 3.10 μmol/J @ 65 mA, 25°C. The efficiency of all LEDs will change slightly depending on the temperature and current supplied.

DLI (Daily light Integral)

unit: mols/m2

The amount of light energy in the PAR range a plant is receiving every 24 hours. For example, if you used a light with a PPFD of 500μmol/m2/s on a 20/4 lighting schedule that would result in a DLI of 43.20 mols. DLI is generally the most useful metric of light intensity the plant is exposed to as it takes the light schedule into account.

Full light intensity from the sun in summer reaches around 60 DLI[1]

DLI calculator

Horticulural light terms


PAR stands for Photosynthetic Active Radiation: light within the range of 400 to 700 nanometers that drives photosynthesis. For reference, the human eye can see light between 380 to 750 nm.

Types of lighting

There are several light technologies that have differing efficiencies, spectrums, and form factors.

CFL - Compact fluorescent lamp

HID - High-density discharge

LED - Light emitting diode

LEDs are the most compact and efficient light source but can be more costly than other means and require a driver.

LED Drivers

LED drivers can be categorized into constant voltage and constant current, both with dimmable options. If your panel has a recommended voltage, it's best to select a constant voltage driver. Dimmable drivers are more expensive but worth it because your plant requires more light at the flowering stage than at the seedling stage, so you may wish to use less power initially to conserve power. Meanwell drivers are the industry standard for efficiency and lifespan.

Light schedules

This refers to how many hours of light a plant is exposed to in a 24-hour period. Common light schedules include 24/0 (24 hours of light a day), 20/4 (20 hours light, 4 hours darkness), 18/6 (18 hours light, 6 hours darkness), and 12/12 (12 hours of light, 12 hours of darkness). Typically 12/12 is used when growing photo-flowers as this is very likely to initiate flowering in all strains, however, the light schedule has other effects on the cultivar. One 2023 paper has found that longer light periods can increase yield but decrease THC content.[2]

Auto flowers can be grown with lights on 24 hours a day (24/0), but constant light can leave the plant with no time to recover from deficiencies or stress in general. The absence of a dark period can also stave the plant's rhizosphere, negatively affecting growth[3]. It is a good idea to match the light schedule with the cultivar's circadian rhythm; Many growers recommend 20/4 or 22/2.

Ideal light conditions

Cannabis can tolerate an extreme light intensity. Many growers limit light levels early in the plants life but this is not nessesary[4].

Ideal intensity is around 1000 - 2000 μmol/s. 40 DLI is a good target although it is possible to go higher.

Generally the maximum light intensity a plant can tolerate becomes limited by other conditions such as CO2 level or nutrient deficiency. Note that light intensity is proportional to the rate of transpiration, meaning higher light intensity can raise the humidity of the environment as more water exits the plant. This creates another potential limitation to the maximum light that can be applied; the grower's ability to control the temperature and humidity.

Optimum light intensity

In this instance, "optimum light intensity" refers to the amount of light that provides the maximum yield from the cultivar.

The threshold for optimal growth and photosynthesis, from the vegetative stage, is a DLI of 65 moles.[5]

Yield appears to be linear with PPFD to around 2000 μmol/s[6][7]. Above 500 μmol/s supplemental co2 is advised to make optimum use of the light.[8]

Temperature and light optima for photosynthesis were concluded to be at 25–30 °C and ∼1500 μmol m2/s respectively[9]

Upper limit of light intensity

The theoretical upper limit that a plant can tolerate before experiencing symptoms of poor health.

The Maximum PPFD cannabis can tolerate is around 2000 - 2500 μmol/s in perfect conditions[10][11] and a DLI of around 40 - 60 moles.

Meta-analysis of plant morphology to light intensity.[12]

Measuring light intensity

An SPD chart of common light spectrums

The amount of photosynthetically reactive light (PAR) present can be measured using a dedicated device known as a Quantum sensor. They are very accurate, however, as most smartphones have a lux meter, a much cheaper alternative is to use a "PPFD meter" app. A lux value can be combined with the grow light's spectral power distribution (SPD) to calculate the amount of PAR radiation. This is necessary because lux meters measure light in the frequency relevant to human vision and not photosynthesis.

Simply put, these apps use the phone's brightness sensor to find a lux value and ask the user to input the frequency of the grow light they are using. Often 3500K or 4000K for "full-spectrum lights", Samsung produces a number of LEDs in this range.

Some examples are PPFD Meter on Android or Photone on iPhone (Better implementations may exist).

A competent online implementation exists at waveformlighting.

Light spectrum

The color of light is dependent on the frequency of the light. see also Electromagnetic spectrum. Blue/purple light used to be standard in Cannabis growing but is slowly being replaced by "full-spectrum" lights. The light spectrum applied to a plant can affect its morphology and cannabinoid content. [13]

High-frequency light

Approximately 3% of the light radiation from the sun is ultraviolet; in the range of 100-400 nm. The light is the ratio of 1:30 UVB to UVA, and all UVC is absorbed by the atmosphere, particularly the Ozone layer. UV light rays can damage plants and stress them, triggering the creation of more cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBG[14][15] [13]. It is common to find LED boards that include UV LEDs.

UV A (315-400 nm)

UV B (280-315 nm)

UV C (100-280 nm)

Low-frequency light

Low-frequency light is constituted of red light in the visible spectrum, "far range" and infrared.

Red light promotes cell elongation in plants, in cannabis, this manifests as stretching of the stem. While not visible to the human eye, far-red light is also photosynthetically active[16]

Adding far-red light can increase cannabis yield by an average of 20%[17]

see also: How Lighting Affects Cannabis Cultivation - Cannabis Grow Lights[18]


  1. - Bruce Bugee Grow lighting myths
  2. Peterswald, T.J.; Mieog, J.C.; Azman Halimi, R.; Magner, N.J.; Trebilco, A.; Kretzschmar, T.; Purdy, S.J. Moving Away from 12:12; the Effect of Different Photoperiods on Biomass Yield and Cannabinoids in Medicinal Cannabis. Plants 2023, 12, 1061.
  3. Karuna Chourey Ph.D. - Shango Los 2019
  4. Best Grow Lighting for Cannabis with Dr Bruce Bugbee | Far red ePAR -
  5. Daily Light Integral DLI Relation To Cannabis Yield (Meta-analysis, Matthew Debacco, 2021)
  6. Cannabis Yield, Potency, and Leaf Photosynthesis Respond Differently to Increasing Light Levels in an Indoor Environment (Rodriguez-Morrison, 2021)
  7. High Light Intensities Can Be Used to Grow Healthy and Robust Cannabis Plants During the Vegetative Stage of Indoor Production (Moher, 2021)
  8. Fluence Cannabis Cultivation Guide, 2020 -
  9. Photosynthetic response of Cannabis sativa L. to variations in photosynthetic photon flux densities, temperature and CO2 conditions (Chandra, 2008)
  10. Light dependence of photosynthesis and water vapor exchange... (Chandra, 2015)-
  11. Cannabis business times Oct, 2021
  12. A meta-analysis of plant responses to light intensity for 70 traits ranging from molecules to whole plant performance (Poorter, 2019)
  13. 13.0 13.1 Magagnini 2018, The Effect of Light Spectrum on the Morphology and Cannabinoid Content of Cannabis sativa L -
  14. What light spectrum does weed need to grow? - Growing Cannabis 201: Advanced Grow Tips | Indica Institute -
  15. Pate, David W. (1983). "Possible role of ultraviolet radiation in evolution of Cannabis chemotypes" doi:10.1007/BF02904200
  16. Dr. Bruce Bugbee (2019) -
  17. Fluence science -