Marijuana Under a Microscope: These ultra-close-up images might just blow your mind

Marijuana Under a Microscope: These ultra-close-up images might just blow your mind
Science director John Rudd uses a microscope to look at a marijuana sample at a marijuana testing laboratory.
Source: Dan Joling/AP
Science director John Rudd uses a microscope to look at a marijuana sample at a marijuana testing laboratory.
Source: Dan Joling/AP

We all know that marijuana is a miracle of nature. But when was the last time you looked at it — I mean really looked at it — before sparking that bowl?

Marijuana burning under a microscope
Source: AcidCow.com

You needn't be stoned to appreciate the biological beauty of weed (though it wouldn't hurt). Even with the naked eye, you'll see those delicate, reddish-orange hairs — these are the marijuana's pistils, which serve a reproductive purpose for the plant but don't much alter taste or potency for the smoker.

Moving in closer, you'll see the crystalline frost of trichomes, the milky, clear-white glands growing on the epidermis of the buds and leaves. This resin coat is what makes weed sticky, and it's what produces cannabinoids like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

At higher magnification, trichomes resemble some kind of mushroom out of your favorite sci-fi movie. Which they may as well be, honestly.

Marijuana trichomes at high magnification
Source: Mic/A Microscopic View

It only gets cooler from there. Ford McCann's Cannabis Under the Microscope: A Visual Exploration of Medicinal Sativa and C. Indica, a dazzling collection of everything "from macro photography to scanning electron microscopy," makes weed seem entirely alien. Check out this cross-section of a cannabis leaf that includes a petiole, one of the little branches that extends off the main stem:

Image of a petiole, the cross-section of a leaf support
Source: Ford McCann/Cannabis Under the Microscope: A Visual Exploration of Medicinal Sativa and C. Indica

And here, on the underside of a leaf, we can see that trichomes come in more than one shape — the spiky, defensive kind, and the squat, round type, which produces more THC:

Scanning electron microscope image of underside of cannabis leaf
Source: Ford McCann/Cannabis Under The Microscope: A Visual Exploration of Medicinal Sativa and C. Indica

Finally, we have the amazing view below of a bud, or cola, where flowers sprout. The concentration and variety of trichomes here is even richer, accounting for the high levels of THC found in this part of cannabis plant.  

Scanning electron microscope image of cannabis bud
Source: Cannabis Under the Microscope: A Visual Exploration of Medicinal Sativa and C. Indica/Ford McCann

So yeah, you could say there's more to marijuana than you see at first glance. And now that you have a better sense of this miracle plant's awesome anatomy, you'll be all the more grateful when 4:20 finally rolls around.

Dave Chappelle as Sir Smoke-A-Lot in the film 'Half Baked'
Source: Universal Pictures/Giphy

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Miles Klee

Author of the novel Ivyland and the story collection True False. Words in Electric Literature, Lapham's Quarterly, Vanity Fair, The Awl, Guernica, Motherboard, Vulture, McSweeney's and elsewhere. Probably eating tacos right now.

MORE FROM

The six words that will make you sound smarter than all your friends when watching the eclipse

What is an umbra? How does the Saros cycle work? The total solar eclipse, explained.

Do you have little freckles in your eyes? This might be why.

Remember to protect your eyes.

The US desperately needs computer science majors, so keep coding

There are more than 500,000 computing jobs open in the US right now.

The 2017 solar eclipse will help scientists figure out just how much energy we get from the sun

Reflections are tricky things — as we'll learn when August's total solar eclipse hits.

No, Mars didn’t grow 12 more moons — here’s what’s happening in this stunning picture

Mars and the mysteriously multiplying moon.

Scooby-Doo’s real name isn’t Scoobert Doobert

It's time to call Scooby by his real name.

The six words that will make you sound smarter than all your friends when watching the eclipse

What is an umbra? How does the Saros cycle work? The total solar eclipse, explained.

Do you have little freckles in your eyes? This might be why.

Remember to protect your eyes.

The US desperately needs computer science majors, so keep coding

There are more than 500,000 computing jobs open in the US right now.

The 2017 solar eclipse will help scientists figure out just how much energy we get from the sun

Reflections are tricky things — as we'll learn when August's total solar eclipse hits.

No, Mars didn’t grow 12 more moons — here’s what’s happening in this stunning picture

Mars and the mysteriously multiplying moon.

Scooby-Doo’s real name isn’t Scoobert Doobert

It's time to call Scooby by his real name.