Though very few have yet been scientifically tested, it is clear from users’ experience of vaporizers that delivery efficiency varies from model to model, with the temperature being used, and the fineness of the ground herb. Here we offer a brief botanical introduction of the cannabis plant’s ‘chemical factory’ and some supporting microscope photography to help explain the whole process of vaporization.
Herbs are Complex & Hard to Study
Medicines based on natural products are usually hard to study, since the plant contains many structurally similar compounds and it is often unclear what the active ingredient is, if there is indeed only one. With over 420 known constituents, cannabis is one of the best chemically studied plants. Most interesting of these constituents are the secretions of the head cells of glandular hairs (trichomes) distributed across the surface of the plant (see photos).
Why Buds are Best
Although found all over the male and female plants, trichomes are particularly concentrated on the female inflorescence (bud). When talking about cannabis for either medicinal or recreational use, it is these female flowers (‘flos’) that are referred to, being the most potent part of the plant.
Solitary resin glands consisting of one or two-dozen cells, most often at the tips of slender trichome stalks which form an extension of the plant’s surface. These glands secrete an aromatic terpenoid-containing resin with a very high content of cannabinoids, which collect under a thin membrane surrounding the secretory head cells.
Know Your –Noids
The resin contains a variety of constituents, any of which might play a role in the biological activities of the cannabis plant. Among these are at least 66 cannabinoids, along with various terpenoids and flavonoids. The cannabinoids make up around 80% of the resinous secretion of the glandular hairs, and are odourless (it’s actually the terpenoid compounds that give cannabis its distinctive smell).
Huge Variation in Cannabinoids
Not all cannabinoids identified are present in all cannabis products. The main ones detected are THC, CBN, CBD, CBG and CBC, and there is enormous variation in their quantitative ratios, from strain to strain and even crop to crop (depending on other non-genetic factors such as light, available nutrients and minerals, etc).
The adaptive significance of the resin glands remains speculative but most probably they act as defence compounds against insect and fungal attack.
Observing the Volatility
The resin constituents also vary in their volatility, meaning readiness to vaporize. To get some idea of this variation, we’ve photographed several different cannabis strains before heat was applied and after, and at different temperatures.
In all of them you can clearly see the melting, bubbling and discoloration that affects the resins, and that the plant material remains unburned. But you also get some idea of this variation.
Future Plans and D.I.Y. Observation
Ideally the photos would show the same section of bud before and after, so the effects on individual trichomes could be seen. We’re working on how to show this. We also hope to repeat the photo series with other beneficial herbs.
In the meantime, cheap, compact microscopes (30x-60x) are to be had for a few Dollars/Euros on the Net.
So why not invest in one to observe the resinous beauty of the cannabis bud and the effects of vaporisation for yourself?
This can also be helpful to see if you are using your herbs and vaporizer in the best way possible. Also makes for great pictures.
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