What on Earth is an Anthocyanin?
By Margo Amala
Many cannabis enthusiasts are lured by the vibrant colors and hues found in cannabis buds. While the most common color in the cannabis plant is green: when you examine a dried flower each cultivar can express unique colors ranging from pink, blue, purple and even black in cannabis strains. A common question we encounter at Urban Farmacy is: what makes cannabis purple? The answer is anthocyanins. What on Earth is an anthocyanin you ask? Let’s dig in!
Anthocyanins are water soluble pigments present in many plants, not just cannabis. For example: blueberries and grapes contain anthocyanins. Anthocyanins can be blue, purple, red, pink or even black depending on ph. An anthocyanin is part of a class of molecules called flavonoids. The primary function of flavonoids are to protect plants. Flavonoids contribute to the color (pigment), aroma and flavor of plants. Flavonoids account for roughly 10% of the compounds found in the cannabis plant. There are even flavonoids specific to the cannabis plant called cannaflavins. While research is still emerging about flavonoids and cannabis, it is believed that they play a role in the entourage effect. The entourage effect contends that combining cannabis compounds creates different impacts on the body and mind than a single compound on its own.
The heart of the issue remains: what causes some cannabis plants to turn purple (express anthocyanins) and others not so much? There are three primary factors: genetics, temperature and ph. Certain cultivars of cannabis are genetically prone to expressing more anthocyanins than others. For example the notorious Forbidden Fruit is so dark purple it almost looks black! Other notorious “purple” strains such as Grandaddy Purple or Purple Haze fall into this category as well. Beyond genetics, there are ways in which the environment encourages the expression of anthocyanins. Chlorophyll makes plants green, and plays an important role in photosynthesis. In the natural world of plants going outdoors, as the colder temperatures of autumn set in, chlorophyll production decreases and anthocyanin production increases. Indoor and greenhouse growers have the ability to manipulate anthocyanin production by dropping the temperatures and keeping them low for longer periods of time during the late stages of flowering. This temperature manipulation directs cannabis plants which might not otherwise be purple, to express anthocyanins leaving the cannabis buds more colorful than usual. It is possible to also manipulate anthocyanin production through nutrients and ph. In more acidic conditions, anthocyanins appear more red while blue pigment expresses itself in more alkaline conditions. Overall, anthocyanins are sensitive to light, temperature and ph: this also makes them elusive and difficult to study.
One of the most curious questions lingering about flavonoids is: what effects do they exert on our human experience when we consume them? Flavonoids in food have been found to have a synergistic effect that works with the vitamins, minerals, fiber and other compounds found in whole foods – a concept that is similar to the cannabis entourage effect. With that in mind, there is not enough cannabis specific flavonoid research to define what exactly is happening when you consume cannabis rich in flavonoids. Further, since anthocyanins are very sensitive to light, temperature and ph – it is possible that smoking or vaping damages or destroys flavonoids.
In conclusion, cannabis rich in anthocyanins is beautiful and pleasing to the eye. We know there is synergistic action between terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids and other cannabis plant compounds. Beyond that, there is no definitive answer to how anthocyanin rich cannabis will impact your experience. If you are curious enough to conduct your own experiments: I encourage everyone to understand how the endogenous cannabinoid system works. One of my favorite aspects of being human is that we are free to explore and define our own experiences. The world of cannabis has so much to offer in defining our life experiences. At Urban Farmacy we are passionate about the cannabis journey. Check out our menu and please stop by to share your cannabis experiences with us!