The Secrets to Ripeness of Cannabis Buds

There's a fine line between under-ripe, properly ripened, and over ripe buds. Fortunately, there are various methods available for gauging the maturity of your buds!

In this article, we'll cover the different levels of ripeness and maturity of your cannabis buds. We'll also explore how ripeness affects the psychoactive effect of the flowers, and share insights into the proper time to harvest your cannabis!

How Do You Know When Marijuana Buds are Ripe?

Figuring out the ripeness of marijuana buds can be a difficult task, especially for new growers! There are 2 major methods to determine if your cannabis plant is having overripe or underripe buds.

cannabis buds with trichome and stigmas

1. Inspecting the Trichomes

Figuring out the ripeness of marijuana buds can be a difficult task, especially for new growers! There are 2 major methods to determine if your cannabis plant is having overripe or underripe buds.

Trichomes have a long stalk, and a short bulbous head - it’s best to view the color and opacity of the head when you want to know the ripeness level. As the plant matures, it produces more and more of these trichomes. Once fully developed, the trichome heads will start to mature, and eventually degrade. There's a color progression these trichomes go through. At the early stages, they will start off clear, having no color or opacity. As they mature, the trichome heads will then turn opaque, or look cloudy/milky. Finally, they will turn an amber or brownish color.

trichomes of ripening marijuana buds

Trichome Stages & Psychoactive Effects

As those trichomes mature, they will change up the psychoactive effect, or "high" produced.

When they hit the milky stage, the trichomes reach their peak THC content, producing a very strong, uplifting, and energizing effect.

Once the trichomes turn amber, the THC has started to degrade, and will convert to CBN and CBD. That means a heavier, more sedative effect kicks in!

2. Inspecting the Stigmas

stigmas/pistils of ripening marijuana buds

If you don’t have the necessary tools to spy on trichome heads, that's okay. There's another great way to suss out the ripeness of your cannabis buds.

You may notice, as buds grow, some "hairs" sprout up. These “hairs” are often misnamed and called cannabis pistils, when they are actually called stigmas.

Stigmas are also an indicator of ripeness. They also change color similar to trichomes: they will start off white, and gradually get a yellowish tint as the buds mature! Finally, they'll turn a shade of orange!

Stigmas ripen and mature a bit quicker than trichomes, due to having more exposure to the environment. For the same reason, the top buds' stigmas will mature sooner than the lower ones.

So, when you see about 80% of those stigma hairs rocking a shade of orange, that's your cue to harvest. It’s not as accurate as viewing the trichomes, but still give a solid idea of the marijuana buds' maturity!

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Over Ripe Buds

Buds never really stop changing. There is a point where they reach peak cannabinoid content and size. After that point, they will only degrade, and go through significant changes to the negative.

picture of over ripe buds and trichomes

Downsides of Letting Cannabis Buds Over-Ripen

1. Lower Quality

Some growers might try to push the plant an extra 2 weeks for a larger harvest, but that really only hurts the quality.

You may not be able to see this change with the naked eye, as cannabis buds stop growing around week 7-8. But there are still significant changes happening at the molecular level.

Over ripe buds will have lower THC, terpene, and overall cannabinoid content. As the plant becomes over ripened, the heat, wind, and light will all play a part in the loss and degradation of the precious cannabinoids. The result? Less flavor and diminished cannabis potency.

2. Risk of Mold & Bacteria

Another potential risk of over ripe buds is susceptibility to mold, fungal, and bacterial issues. Once the plant has reached its peak, and started to degrade, it is basically ready to die. The plant's immune system will slowly set down, and it will no longer be able to defend itself from pathogens and bacteria, leaving it wide open for infections.

It will also drastically slow down its water and nutrient consumption and usage. If the same watering and feeding regimen is maintained, the cannabis plant will become severely overwatered and fertilized. This forces the cells to swell, and eventually burst. This process can cause mold and mildew to form, commonly identified as the culprit behind botrytis or bud rot.

Can You Consume Over Ripe Buds?

While overly ripened marijuana buds can still be injested or used, it's far from optimal or desired. The compromised flavor and reduced potency result in an overall less enjoyable experience.

I hope this brings attention on how important it is to harvest your cannabis within the proper window.

Under Ripe Buds

picture of under ripe buds and trichomes.jpg

What Do Underripe Cannabis Buds Look Like?

It’s much easier to tell if the buds are under ripe, as opposed to their overripe counterparts!

Under ripe buds will often be smaller in size, and have a slightly "shiny" appearance, as none of the trichomes have started maturing! However, it's still best practice to use a lens, or jewelers loop to view the trichome heads when determining the level of ripeness.

Under ripe buds will have all clear, and even some milky trichomes, without any amber trichomes in the mix.

Can You Consume Under Ripe Buds?

Under-ripened marijuana buds can still be consumed and used. They will often have a much more energizing effect, but also may have some off-putting "green" taste, and a tendency to burn very hot and harsh.

These buds still contain large amounts of chlorophyl that hasn’t had a chance to break down. Additionally, a very high mineral and metal content from yet-to-be-processed nutrients will live in the plant's tissue.

Interestingly, many extract companies purposely harvest under ripe buds, as they usually contain the highest terpenes and THC content. Yet, if you plan on smoking the actual flowers I do not recommend harvesting before the buds have had ample time to ripen properly. It's a delicate balance for the best smoking experience!

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How Long Does It Take for Marijuana Buds to Ripen?

Typically, most cannabis strains fall within an 8 to 10-week flowering timeframe, a duration largely dependent on genetics. By week 7 or 8, the buds generally reach their final size.

In the weeks following, the buds will solidify and ripen! Ripening is a longer process and take place from week 5 to 9 or even 10. Once the plant starts to produce trichomes, and the trichomes have fully grown, they will then start to ripen.

Since the cannabis plants produce trichomes throughout the early and mid weeks of flowering, the ripening journey continues into the later weeks. Environmental conditions also play a factor in bu ripeness. A warmer, brighter environment with increased air movement in the grow space tends to expedite the ripening process.

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When to Harvest the Cannabis Buds?

trimming cannabis buds

When it comes to harvesting cannabis, the goal is to hit that sweet spot, so that plant has all of it various compounds still available!

This is what is known as the "Entourage Effect"- it refers to all of the various cannabinoids found in the plant are able to work together to produce the most profound and significant therapeutic and psychoactive impact! This can only happen when the plant is harvested at the right time!

Ideally, cannabis buds should be harvested when roughly 60% of the trichomes have turned amber, with the plant still having some milky and clear trichomes. To learn how to trim cannabis buds without causing harm or waste, be sure to explore our comprehensive guide.

However, if you're after a specific experience, you can tailor your harvest differently. For an uplifting and energizing effect, trim the buds when trichomes are mostly milky. If a more sedative effect is your vibe, wait until the majority of trichomes turn amber, signaling the conversion of THC to CBN and CBD.

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