Easily the most distinctive attribute of finely-grown medical marijuana is the rich color it displays. This characteristic can instantly separate pharmaceutical-grade flowers from the rest. While patients often delight in examining individual strains and observing the rainbow of subtle hues they exhibit, the science behind cannabis’s colors is actually quite complex:
Some strains of cannabis change color as they flower. What’s the secret? Genetics. Anthocyanins are a group of around 400 water-soluble pigment molecules classified as flavonoids. They appear red, blue, or purple according to their pH.
Interestingly, flavonoids are generally yellow, hence the latin root “flavus“, meaning yellow. They also have nothing to do with flavor, being extremely bitter.
Think of the tree leaves in fall. As temperatures drop, they change from green to red, orange, yellow, or gold. Cannabis doesn’t produce the colors until the latter half of the flowering stage, with a few exceptions. Once the green fades, they can come forth and shine. [Herb.co]
These effects are especially pronounced within the sophisticated microclimates indoor cultivators create. Seasonal changes that would ordinarily be spread throughout the year are simulated and sped-up to increase cannabinoid content and shorten the plant’s natural growth cycle. Dramatic changes in plant chemistry occur at a rapid pace, producing very visible and often beautiful results.
Still, the factors that determine the color profile of finished cannabis flowers are part nature and part nurture. Individual strains may possess a genetic predisposition towards certain pigmentation. For example, the famous purples and oranges seen in the Granddaddy Purple strain are typically visible in most examples of the genetic. However, cultivation conditions contribute as well and factors such as temperature and nutrients have a significant impact on the color of cured flowers.
For patients seeking to select the highest quality medicine, it’s important to note that color itself is not directly indicative of potency. The abundance and condition of the plant’s trichomes are a better measure, but color can certainly serve as evidence of an individual genetic’s authenticity and the conditions in which it was grown. Since unusual coloration can also be achieved by deliberately adjusting room temperatures and nutrient ratios, patients should be cautious about assuming that an extreme appearance is synonymous with exceptional quality. In some cases, atypical color variations could also be indicative of a nutrient deficiency or exposure to excessively cold temperatures.
For better or worse, the great range of cannabis genetics and cultivation techniques employed currently in the medical cannabis industry ensure that patients can expect variation in the appearance of their medicine. This is true even between separate examples of the same strain, grown under different conditions or at different times. Part of the magic of the cannabis plant is its ability to adapt to its environment. Color, like aroma and flavor, thus becomes an attribute that experienced patients rely upon to identify and remember particular strains that stood out for them. We are fortunate, one might argue, that a plant of such importance to the health of so many is also capable of exhibiting such great beauty.