the power of the flower
Most cannabis consumers are fairly familiar with two parts of the cannabis plant: The flowers (or buds), and the infamous fan leaves. Five and seven-pointed pot leaves have adorned countless product ads and stacks of marketing materials, while “nug porn” has graced the pages of popular marijuana magazines and websites for years.
But what about the rest of the plant? It’s helpful to understand the parts of this herb that so frequently appear throughout social media and educational materials.
Understand Indica vs. Sativa
It’s first important to understand the different morphologies, or forms and structures, of indica and sativa strains. Indicas are short and stocky, while sativas are tall and lanky. Sativas tend to deliver a more energetic, cerebral high, while indicas are more sedating, delivering the infamous “couchlock” and appetite stimulation (munchies).
A good primer can be found in the following two articles:
These articles give readers a better idea — including plenty of photos — of the difference between the two sometimes dramatically different sub-species of cannabis.
Most of the focus of cannabis anatomy is on the resin-bearing female plants that produce usable medicine and marketable recreational herb. Males are of concern to growers because they must be identified and killed during cultivation, before they pollinate females (which then put valuable energy and resources into producing seeds, not resin).
Breeders obviously use male plants to pollinate females in search of new and unique strains. Growers who work from clones taken from female “mothers” do not have to worry about male plants and their unwelcome pollen appearing in their gardens.
At the top of the plant is the main cola (also called the apical bud), typically the largest collection of flowering buds available on the plant. However, even small plants will produce multiple cola at the end of major branches. The cola is known as the terminal bud because it does not appear along the mid-section of a branch. Using a variety of techniques, gardeners can increase the number of colas present on a flowering female cannabis plant in an effort to produce a greater yield.
While the cola is a section of the cannabis flower at the end of a branch, a calyx is the actual bud itself. It is small sugar leaves (gaining their name from the fact that, in good strains, they are covered in trichomes), tear-shaped nodules, and pistils (see below). For those who smoke or vaporize cannabis flowers, the calyx is what it’s all about and where the highest concentration of trichomes can be found.
The pistil is what many laypeople describe as the “hairs” that poke out from inside each calyx. They first appear as white and then morph to orange, red, and eventually brown. They sometimes curl and bend, as if in search of something. Which they are. Pistils, found only on female plants, function to capture the pollen from a male. Although bright orange pistils are commonly associated with better quality cannabis, they actually contain very few trichomes, offering the plant nothing in terms of aroma (terpenes) or potency (THC).
Fan leaves are the large, protruding leaves that appear along the length of the plant. While most commonly comprised of five individual leaves, fan leaves may sometimes feature seven and even nine leaves (more common in sativa strains). Fan leaves, which become part of the plant’s “trim” during harvest, are of interest to not only those who make cannabis extracts, edibles, and infused products, but also to those who juice them as part of a health regime or disease therapy.
The most important part of the cannabis plant is the nearly microscopic, translucent resin glands that coat the flowers and sometimes fan leaves. Trichomes contain the “miracle molecules” known as cannabinoids and terpenes. With a synergy called the entourage effect, cannabinoids and terpenes work together to deliver medical efficacy or euphoria.
Trichomes and the medically rich resin they produce are used to create a variety of cannabis extractions and concentrates, including kief (loose powder trichomes), hash (old-school pressed trichomes or ice water extraction via “bubble bags”), BHO (Butane Hash Oil), and modern interpretations on the theme like wax, shatter, and glass used in dabbing.
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how to consume cannabis
When it comes to cannabis consumption, the second-most important consideration, after the flower itself, is the delivery method. This point is often overlooked, as evidenced by the prevalence of consumers who have limited their experimentation to only one or two methods. If you find yourself within this category but aspire to become a comprehensive cannabis aficionado, let this be your checklist. Gaining the mental and physical benefits of cannabis is largely dependent upon how it’s consumed, with each method providing a unique experience and host of effects. Who knows — you could find a new favorite. Let the exploration begin!
There are three basic delivery methods: inhalation, oral, and topical. Under these umbrella methods are various techniques that serve unique functions, each appropriate for different occasions.
Inhalation Delivery Methods
When cannabis is inhaled, the gases enter the lungs before absorbing into the bloodstream. There are currently two prevalent types of inhalation methods: smoking and vaporization.
Different Ways of Smoking Cannabis
This ancient custom is the method most commonly associated with cannabis, and there are many different ways for consumers to smoke. Advances in vaporization technology, however, have offered smokers an alternative method with fewer health concerns. The effects associated with smoking are widely debated, but health professionals are in agreement that smoke-free methods pose less risk and are medically preferred.
Cannabis smokers have a wide array of devices at their disposal, including hand pipes, water pipes, rolling papers, hookahs, and homemade one-time use devices. Each of these provides different experiences and influence the grade of smoke inhaled.
These are probably the most common smoking device in circulation today and generally favored for their convenience: they are small, portable, and simple to use. Hand pipes have grown into an artistic expression and are available in countless creative forms and styles, both for decoration and functionality (such as disguise pipes that imitate everyday objects). Hand pipes operate by trapping the smoke produced from burning cannabis, which is then inhaled by the user.
Water pipes come in slightly different variations, including but not limited to bongs and bubblers. Like hand pipes, these come in a variety of styles and designs but increase in sophistication by incorporating water. The health benefits associated with the addition of water are up for debate: water cools the smoke, but it’s uncertain whether it acts as an effective filter for harmful constituents.
Generally, these are used to smoke joints or blunts. Joints are cannabis rolled in a paper, the composition of which varies across an assortment of plants including but not limited to hemp, bamboo, and rice. Blunts are cannabis rolled in cigar paper made from the tobacco plant and contain nicotine. Blunt consumers often prefer the flavor and combined effects of the nicotine and cannabis; however, the medical risks linked to nicotine deter most health-conscious cannabis consumers.
This is one of the less common methods of smoking cannabis and is generally associated with smoking shisha, the American term for wet tobacco. Cannabis is rarely smoked alone in a hookah because its low water content causes the plant to burn faster than it can be inhaled, producing an acrid taste and wasting the herb. For economically-conscious smokers, this is likely the prominent concern as large quantities of cannabis are needed to yield the same results as other smoking methods.
To resolve this, cannabis is sandwiched between tobacco, introducing the same health concerns associated with blunts. However, the hookah does allow multiple people to smoke at the same time, significantly changing the smoking experience.
Homemade One-Time Use Devices
This method may allow for the greatest creativity and includes all disposable cannabis smoking devices. The most common homemade device is a pipe due to its simplicity, but skilled crafters have taken on water pipe designs as well. Health effects associated with this method are equally variable depending on the material and method used for assembly.
Vaporizers are the logical choice for moderate to experienced and/or health-conscious cannabis consumers. A vaporizer steadily heats herbs to a temperature that is high enough to extract THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, but the temperatures are too low for the potentially harmful toxins that are released during combustion. Essentially, vaporization minimizes the health risks associated with smoking. This improvement comes with an equally significant reduction in odor, which is generally the first acknowledgement of first-time vaporizer users. There is a diverse landscape of vaporizer models and the market is only expanding as the technology improves.
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