Cannabis is a curious plant. Though it was likely among the first crops ever domesticated by humankind, it has been illegal for most of living memory. Only recently have we started to appreciate its practical uses, not only as a recreational substance but as a medicinal treatment for a variety of ills.
Over the millennia since its first cultivation, cannabis has undergone countless changes. Today, though there is only one cannabis species, there are myriad variations with different combinations of cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds. One of the most mysterious variations results in purple bud — but not everything you read about purple strains is always true.
Purple Strains Are Purple
Perhaps it is a good idea to tackle the biggest misconception about purple cannabis strains right off the bat. Despite the name, purple strains don’t have to be purple. Many strains of so-called purple weed actually look more like a strange, dark green, and some even appear closer to black.
This is thanks to how that purple-ish color develops within different strains. In fact, the same compounds that give blueberries their purply-blue color also affect cannabis. Called anthocyanins, these compounds are water-soluble pigments that occur in many different plants, and despite the “cyan” in their name, the color they create depends on their pH level. As a result, the same compound might appear red, purple, dark blue or black.
Cannabis strains that lack the right genetic components cannot be induced to turn purple, but given the right environmental circumstances, it is possible to shift the hue of cannabis crops with anthocyanins. Experienced breeders can put the plant in different types of stress at different stages of growth to encourage the development of a certain color. However, because most breeders are after cannabinoid content and terpene development rather than color, few bother to experiment with stressing their crop in this way.
Purple Strains Are More Potent
Purple has long been the color of royalty — ever since ancient civilizations, when the only way to make purple dye was extremely expensive and time-consuming. Because purple strains are relatively rare, they feel special, and some stoners began to associate them with more intense psychoactive effects.
Yet, regardless of the legends, the science indicates that purple strains aren’t necessarily stronger in cannabinoid content than your run-of-the-mill green bud. For one, anthocyanins don’t seem to have any effect on human biology, which means that this compound alone isn’t contributing to any enhancement of psychoactivity.
Worse, testing has found that purple strains as a whole tend to have less THC, the cannabinoid most responsible for the feeling of being high, than non-purple strains. Though a high-THC purple strain is not out of the realm of possibility, the fact is that breeding genetically high-THC strains with a purple strain risks the loss of the anthocyanins. Most breeders of purple bud find success in the novelty of the color alone and are less interested in polluting and potentially ruining their strain’s genetics with a plain, green MaryJane.
Purple Strains Are Genetically Modified
This myth is a bit of a head-scratcher. On the one hand, purple strains are not genetically modified in the way that some stoners surmise; there aren’t geneticists in a “Jurassic Park”–style lab pulling apart cannabis’s DNA to give it the same color as blueberries. On the other hand, all marijuana in all dispensaries from Maryland to California are genetically modified, considering that none of it evolved naturally in the wild.
Cannabis was one of the first crops ever domesticated by humankind, and through the millennia, the plant has changed in ways incomprehensible to modern marijuana users. The cannabis that grew wild across the southeast Eurasian Steppe looked almost nothing like the plant available for purchase today; it was likely much smaller and scrubbier, and there was no way it produced such large and cannabinoid-filled colas. Over time, cannabis cultivators have bred for hardier plants that produce greater quantities of cannabinoids, and sometimes that has had interesting effects, like the development of anthocyanins. Breeders did not intentionally inject cannabis DNA with anthocyanins, but many have intentionally tried to keep them in the plant for novelty and visual interest.
Purple strains are fascinating, but they aren’t as mystical and magical as some stoners would have you believe. The more you learn about cannabis science, the more informed you will be when you visit your local dispensary.
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