Welcome to Weed – Understanding Cannabis Flower
“Welcome to Weed” is our new bi-weekly series dedicated to getting new consumers of Cannabis up to speed on everything they need to know. If you are already an experienced consumer, feel free to read as well, you might find something of interest. To kick things off, we’re going to focus on the plant itself, and understanding cannabis flower.
Indica vs Sativa – An introduction to the genus Cannabis.
Cannabis is a part of the Cannabaceae family of plants, which includes hackberries and hops; the fragrant flowering plant that imparts the bitter flavors to your favorite beers. Cannabis, like hops also has antimicrobial properties, which is why hops were originally added to beer meant for shipping, as it preserved the beer for long ocean voyages.
All buds are from female plants
The cannabis plant is dioecious, meaning there are distinct male and female plants, and is pollinated by wind, rather than insects or birds. This gender split in plants is how the potent flower buds we are used to today were perfected. By isolating female plants away from their male counterparts and avoiding pollination, the female plants focus all their energy into flower production rather than seed production. Therefore every cannabis flower you will encounter comes from a feminine plant. (Some female plants that are shocked during their flowering cycle by uneven lighting periods, extreme heat, cold or lack of water can sometimes become hermaphroditic and self pollinate.)
The unpollinated flowers of the female cannabis plant are known as Sensimilla, from the Spanish words, sin (no) semilla (seed). No, Sensimilla is not a strain.
Cannabis is broken down into three species, Indica, Sativa and Ruderalis. Each has very distinct traits, and hybridizations of the three are commonly created to try and bring out specific characteristics.
Indica plants tend to be short (generally under seven feet tall) and bushy with broad leaves. Native to India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Indica plants are well suited to growing in northern, colder climates. Indicas are thought to have evolved their deep resinous coating as a form of protection against the harsher climates it is native to.
Indica is characterized by a drowsy, relaxed, euphoric feeling. This can range from simply chilled out to “couch locked”, a common term that is exactly what it sounds like, the inability to really stand up. Unlike Alcohol, this is not due to dizziness and falling over, but just a completely sedate relaxation that leaves you simply not wanting to get up.
Recreationally, Indica is great to unwind after a long day. Think “Netflix and extra chill”. While not necessarily a great strain at parties, leaving you more quiet than usual, it also calms anxiety allowing a bit more comfort in public places. Medically, Indicas are used to treat pain, cramps, muscle spasms, insomnia, anxiety, and loss of appetite.
Sativas originally flourished in more tropical climates closer to the equator, Jamaica, Africa, and Central America. To take advantage of the longer days, hotter temperatures and lower rainfall, Sativas developed long thin leaves while growing incredibly tall, sometimes over 20 feet tall.
Sativa is the get-up-and-go phenotype. With an uplifting and stimulating cerebral effect, Sativas lend themselves well to physical activity, creative pursuits and social situations. The giggling stereotypes seen in movies are Sativa effects.
In low doses, Sativas are often used for daytime treatment of the same effects as indicas. However, the cerebral effects can be a bit too much at higher doses, causing anxiety in those who are prone to it. Medically, Sativas are used by patients to treat depression, stress, fatigue and headaches. Recreationally, Sativas are great strains for social outings, and appreciation or art and live performances.
By crossing Indicas and Sativas, cultivators hope to capture the best of each strain, sometimes crossing an indica dominant hybrid with a more pure sativa to reduce anxiety, or introducing Sativa genetics into an indica to to reduce couchlock and lethargy.
Hybrids are impossible to generalize, as they truly span the entire range of cannabis effects. Given ages of selective cross breeding, some say that ALL modern cannabis strains are hybrid, but the generally accepted margin is if a strain is over 70% either indica or sativa, it is considered that, while hybrids are those with under 70% of a dominant type..
Blue Dream. Girl Scout Cookie, White Widow, Gorilla Glue #4, Trainwreck, Pineapple Express, Headband, Chemdawg, Fire OG
Ruderalis was named as a new and unique subspecies of Cannabis in the early 20th century. Found in colder northern climates of Russia, it has long been dismissed due to its very low yields and low THC content, however Ruderalis had developed a very unique trait.
Indicas or Sativas flower based on the amount of light they recieve, often generating flowers when the light gradually changes from 12 hours of daylight to 18 hours of daylight; indicating that summer has arrived and other plants will be producing pollen. This trait is called photoperiodism in plants.
Given the shorter day times in the northern latitudes where it evolved, Ruderalis had instead become date determinate, meaning that it consistently started flowering based only on the age of the plant. By carefully breeding Ruderalis with other strains, autoflowering strains were developed.
Autoflowering plants have the benefits of allowing faster outdoor grow cycles and allowing indoor plants to share the same light cycle regardless of the flowering period of the plants, autoflowering strains are seldom used in commercial cultivation as the plants are small, and yields are low. For hobbyist and stealth growers auto-flower strains can be quite useful.
There are a million slang terms out there, and you’ll sound foolish using most of it, so we’ll ave that for the Urban Dictionary. There are a few words worth knowing when discussing flower.
Cola – A cola is the uppermost flower(s) of a plant. The topmost cola is known as the terminal, apical or apex bud, generally is the largest flower, and will frequently have a more resinous coating as it receives the most light and the majority of the plants energy. (The accompanying picture is a cola from an Indica plant)
Calyx – The calyx is the seed pod where, if pollinated, the plant will generate seeds. In Sensi, this is where the highest concentration of Cannabinoids will be found. (Highlight A in the image)
Trichomes – Often simply referred to as “crystals” trichomes are literally the resin glands of the cannabis plant. At a glance, trichome content can hint at the quality of cannabis. (The light white spots appearing across highlights A and B)
Pistil – Pistils, just like in any other flower are the parts responsible for grabbing pollen from the air. In cured flower, these appear as fine hairs and can be white, red or brown in color. (Red hairs in highlight A)
Sugar Leaves – If you closely at a cannabis flower, you will see dozens of tiny leaves. These are covered in trichomes, and often trimmed off to highlight the calyx of the bud. (Highlight B in the picture, notice the fine white hair like structures, and the lack of the in highlight C)
Fan Leaves – Fan leaves are what everyone imagines when they think of a “pot leaf”. Palm leaves are where the majority of respiration and photosynthesis in the plant occurs. They contain only trace amounts off cannabanoids and are seldom used, though raw cannabis juicing is gaining popularity. (Highlight C in the picture)
Top, Mid, Low – While commonly used to denote the quality of the flower this is actually referring to where on the plant the flower comes from. The higher on the plant, the larger and more resinous the flower will be, with lower flowers often being smaller. (The image shows a flower that is still immature, but when fully grown and cured will be considered a top)
Indoor – Grown entirely under lights indoors with a controlled environment. Some argue that indoor is better than outdoor, but over years I have learned it really boils down to the skill of the cultivator. It is good to know that indoor does not always mean hydro, and indoor gardens using soil are common.
Outdoor – Increasingly called “Sun Grown” to highlight the lower carbon footprint of outdoor marijuana, many consider outdoor to have a superior taste due to nuances of the soil and climate of where it is grown, just as you have in wine. Often, remote Northern California neighborhoods will share strains between themselves, resulting in plants uniquely suited to the area where is it grown.
Light Dep – A perfect combination of indoor and outdoor, light dep refers to greenhouse grows that are augmented with mechanical blackout shades, grow lights, and often heaters, allowing year round cultivation without relying entirely on grow lights
Organic – Organic does not mean better or cleaner Cannabis. All it says is that the grower uses nutrients commonly used in growing organic certified food crops. Due to issues with pumps and nutrient solutions, organic and hydroponic are often mutually exclusive.
Biodynamic – Biodynamic cannabis is VERY rare, but does exist. Biodynamics is the process of creating a closed loop farm, where all inputs to a crop come from the farm itself, and all waste is returned to the soil for the next crop.
Hydroponic – When somebody talks about “hydro” there are talking about the way the plant is grown, not any particular trait of the plant itself. Given the control a grower has over all the nutrients the plant is given, hydroponic cannabis is known for high quality crops. Again, this depends on the skill of the cultivator. Hydroponic does not need to be indoor, but outdoor hydroponics setups are troublesome and seldom used.
There are many ways to consume cannabis flower, Timothy Leary swore by what became known as a Leary Biscuit, merely ground up flower mixed with a little bit of butter, topped with cheese and toasted and the portable dry-flower vaporizers available today are amazing. It’s a matter of personal preference and environment.
There are as many types of pipes as there are personalities. Pipes can be made from glass, clay, stone, shells, brass, stainless steel or any other flame resistant material, with glass generally being regarded as the cleanest, yet most fragile.
Parts of the pipe
Bowl – Where the weed goes!
Neck – The tube part of the pipe connecting the bowl to the mouthpiece, occasionally called a shank.
Chamber – In bubblers and water pipes, this is where the water goes.
Carb – A small hole that pulls air into the pipe allowing it to be cleared of smoke after drawing from it. Pull carbs are common on water pipes, where you remove the bowl from the pipe in order to let in fresh air.
Mouthpiece – Where you pull the smoke from the pipe.
Types of Pipes
Hand Pipe (aka Spoon Pipe)
Proto Pipe (Phil Jergenson)
Water Pipes (Bongs)
An adaption of the Thai word baung, bongs have been used for millennia, with 2400 year old water pipes with cannabis and opium residue discovered in southern Russia in 2015. Water pipes are, in essence, filtration devices, catching tar and ash before it goes flying into the lungs, but also serving to cool the smoke before it is inhaled. The typically large chambers lead to much larger hits.
Joints, Spliffs and Blunts
We’re going to come back to this to get really in depth. Cannabis is inherently a social plant, and joints are a favorite way to share the experience with family and friends. Pre-rolls are convenient, but don’t compare to breaking up your favorite flower and rolling your own.
Joint – The basic, unadulterated joint. Flower and a rolling paper. Perhaps a small cardboard filter if you roll like that. There are hundreds of types of rolling papers, from bleached wood pulp to organic rice. Unbleached hemp papers tend to impart the least amount of taste to the flower while remaining easy to roll.
Blunt – A joint rolled in a cigar wrap. The term blunt arose from the use of Phillies Blunt Cigars to break open for the wrap, but Backwoods and Swisher Sweets are also popular. There are usually dozens of flavors of ready-to-roll cigar wraps available at any smoke shop. We promise you that you will never get cannabis from us that would benefit from a “Chicken and Waffles” blunt wrap.
Spliff – A joint rolled with tobacco and weed. While some people are fine with pinching some tobacco out of a cigarette, the traditional spliff is rolled with slightly moist long-cut rolling tobacco.
Vaporizers are probably the best way to inhale cannabis and something we will go into depth in later. The benefits of the full flower and terpenes remains, while the volatile compounds released from actually burning the flower are minimized. By heating dried and ground flower at a consistent and carefully controlled temperature, the cannabanoids and terpenes are activated and released. The resulting vapor is incredibly smooth and does not burn the throat the way smoking can. There are quite a few vaporizers on the market, but the two most respected are The Volcano by Storz and Bikel and the Pax 3, which is smaller and easily portable.
We hope you picked up some useful information here, in coming weeks in “Welcome to Weed”, we will be covering edibles, concentrates, vape pens, topicals and more. have something you’d like us to cover? Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!