How Cannabis Gets Its Color

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Cannabis is that sticky green herb — except it isn’t always green. Purple Haze, Agent Orange, Black Russian, Blueberry and Rainbow Kush; the names of these strains and others describe the veritable kaleidoscope of colors that can develop on cannabis crops.

Why can cannabis be so colorful? Do the colors indicate anything about a strain’s effects? Can home cultivators encourage certain colors in their crops? Read on to find out more about the colors of cannabis.

Anthocyanins: How Plants Change Color

Anthocyanins are pigments found in many diverse plants, from flowers and fruits to leaves and roots. As you might notice from the “cyan” in their name, anthocyanins are often responsible for blue hues in plants; in fact, they give blueberries their distinctive color. However, anthocyanins can manifest a number of other hues. Strawberries and cherries are red as a result of anthocyanins, and blackberries are black thanks to a high anthocyanin concentration.

Anthocyanins develop in plants as they move through different stages of growth and decay, and different environmental factors affect what hue they will become in the plant. For instance, the gorgeous red and orange leaves found on deciduous trees in the fall gain their color from when sunlight causes the dying leaves to accumulate anthocyanins, turning them red and purple. Shaded leaves on the same tree do not accumulate anthocyanins, so they become yellow as they die. Acidity and alkalinity also affect how anthocyanins behave. In acidic conditions, anthocyanins will appear as red pigments, while alkaline conditions cause anthocyanins to become blue.

Cannabis plants can have anthocyanins throughout, from roots and stems to their leaves and flowers.In cannabis plants, anthocyanins function to protect the plant from excessive UV rays, acting like a natural sunscreen. It doesn’t take a large amount of anthocyanins to turn a cannabis plant different colors. In some strains with high anthocyanin concentrations, pigments can even be present in the trichomes, or the tiny, sparkly tubes where most cannabinoids are kept. Yet, you might wonder: If anthocyanins are present in the parts of weed that you consume, are they doing anything to affect your high?

Image by MariaHuxley from Pixabay

The Effects of Anthocyanins

Studies on anthocyanins in food have found a range of positive effects from these pigments, which is perhaps why highly colorful foods — blueberries, red cabbage, black currants, etc. — are often considered to be superfoods. Anthocyanins are believed to provide anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial benefits, and they seem to be useful in preventing serious disease like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

It is yet unknown what anthocyanins could be doing to weed users. There is plenty of lore surrounding blue and purple strains — that they are more sedative or more medicinal than strains that lack such pigmentation. However, research on purple strains hasn’t exactly confirmed this widespread belief. It is possible that anthocyanins contribute in some way to the entourage effect, which allows other cannabis compounds to temper the effect of THC to provide a mellower and more enjoyable high. If this is important to you, you can ask budtenders at your nearby Colorado dispensary about the purple strains they stock.

Activating Anthocyanins at Home

If you are a home cannabis cultivator, growing purple, blue, red and black strains can be quite a challenge. Colorful cannabis strains can require more advanced cultivation techniques in general, and activating the anthocyanins usually requires a delicate touch to avoid accidentally and irrevocably harming the plant.

To start, you need to acquire seeds or clones of cannabis plants known to have high anthocyanin concentrations. The best way to do this is to talk to growers in your area, as online cannabis seed sellers aren’t always trustworthy. Generally, strains with “purple” or “blue” in their name will have a good amount of anthocyanins, but you can ask to see mature plants or buds just to be sure.

After planting your cannabis crop as usual and allowing it to grow through the vegetative stage, you can start experimenting with temperature to bring out as much color as possible. During the nighttime, your temperatures should be between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius colder than they are during the day, which causes chlorophyll to break down and anthocyanins to shine.

Ultimately, colorful weed is fun. Even if you don’t notice a major change in the way purple, blue, red and black buds make you feel, you will likely enjoy looking at the kaleidoscope of color as you get high.


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