Dr. Robb's Blog #6: An explanation of how and why we trim cannabis.

Trim Trim-A-Tree, Trim Trim-A-Tree, Trim Trim Some Boo

I thought I cleverly came up with a great play on words for the song “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins as a title for this month’s blog post on trimming cannabis. The terms “tree” and “boo” are both nicknames for cannabis. It just worked perfectly. However, I think there may be more to just a simple play on words here. After a re-watch of the original Mary Poppins, I got to wondering about the scene with Mary’s Uncle Albert. For those of you who don’t remember this scene (or perhaps have never seen Mary Poppins), Uncle Albert suffers from an “affliction” that results his “flying high” in the air caused by laughing too much. There’s even a song where Uncle Albert mentions his “affliction” by singing:

The more I laugh, the more I fill with glee

And the more the glee

The more I’m a merrier me

Perhaps, Uncle Albert was enjoying some finger or scissor hash after a long trim session, which is why he’s flying high? Regardless, something is lifting Uncle Albert’s mood beyond just laughing, and I think if you’re reading this article, you might have an inkling of what that could be.

Unfortunately, Uncle Albert’s trim session was not included in the final film edit of Mary Poppins, so we are unable to learn of how some people trim their bud from watching this Disney classic. Luckily, I’m here to provide you with some insights of the idiosyncrasies that is trimming cannabis. And in honor of the remake of Mary Poppins in theaters now, I want to go beyond what’s already been done forever in the cannabis trim game and discuss something new that has me rather excited.


Why do we trim cannabis flowers?

Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.

-Frank Lloyd Wright

Trimming cannabis serves a hybrid purpose that marries form and function into one. If you ask the average person on the streets of why cannabis buds need to be trimmed, I bet you would see a large number of people saying that it makes the nugs look pretty. This is absolutely true; however, trimming cannabis provides a functional purpose as well. When trimming bud, the trimmer is removing the sugar leaves from the bud. These are small leaves that protrude from in between individual flowers of the bud. *A side note, the nugs of cannabis are technically inflorescences of flowers, not just a single flower, but many. These sugar leaves are so-named because they have some of those trichomes where the cannabinoids and terpenes are concentrated, and a cursory look of those trichomes makes it look like the leaves are frosted with sugar.

Unfortunately, the sugar leaves do not have as many of the trichomes as the buds themselves do. So, if you leave the sugar leaves on, the potency of cannabinoids per total weight of the bud decreases. Cannabis consumers of yore were savvy enough to know that increasing the trichome content per weight of bud meant your money went further than if you were to leave those sugar leaves on the bud. On top of that, removing those sugar leaves also makes for a smoother smoke. If you read my last blog post on drying and curing, you will remember that when you harvest cannabis, there are sugars that are found in the plant tissue as a result of the breakdown of chlorophyll. These sugars are attributed to a harsher smoke. Sugar leaves are exactly what the name implies: leaves. Plant leaves, for most plants, are primarily responsible for absorbing light to drive photosynthesis. Of course, this requires chlorophyll. So, if we trim away plant tissue that is high in chlorophyll and relatively low in cannabinoid content, we are making for a smoother, higher potency smoke.


The age-old question: wet or dry trim?

I would like to propose that the phrase “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” should be replaced with “There’s more than one way to trim some bud”. It’s just so much more appealing on the ear, and it’s the truth. There are many ways you can trim, but I want to address the 800-lb nug in the room: wet vs. dry trimming. Wet trimming is defined as trimming/manicuring the bud prior to drying the flowers. As you can guess, dry trimming references trimming the flower after drying.

There are significant benefits to both trim styles, but let’s discuss wet trimming first. Probably the biggest benefit is that it’s easier on the person who is doing the trimming. The sugar leaves prior to drying tend to stick out away from the rest of the bud, making it easier for the trimmer to snip that leaf away. Additionally, the trichomes are less brittle when wet as opposed to dry. Therefore, handling wet buds tends to result in fewer of the trichomes breaking off of the bud. Trichomes that fall off the flowers during the trim process can be collected and reused. These trichomes are collectively called “kief”.

The benefits to a dry trim tend to be less apparent than the benefits for wet trimming, but the most common benefit is that trimming shears/scissors tend to get less gummy on a dry trim than on a wet trim. A single wet trim session can really gum up your shears if not properly maintained. Additionally, and very importantly, doing a dry trim tends to promote a better dried flower. There are always exceptions to every rule, which is why I said that it “tends to promote” a better dry for the bud. The reason why I say this is because as soon as you harvest your flower (like we discussed a couple of blog posts ago), you transition from terpene production mode to terpene retention mode. Getting the flower into a proper dry/cure environment as soon as possible is rather important to reduce excessive terpene volatilization (nerdspeak for keeping the terpenes inside the flower as opposed to “gassing off”). Unless you are trimming in the dry/cure space, you are likely to be trimming in an environment that is likely a bit too warm to promote proper terpene retention. Additionally, if you have a very large harvest, it becomes very difficult to trim through all of the product while it’s still wet and before it becomes rotten.


What do I need to trim cannabis?

There are a number of items that if on hand will help you properly trim, but the one thing that you will absolutely need is patience. Trimming can be tedious, which is why it is always suggested to find a comfortable work area because you can be there for quite some time.

Other than the abstract, you physically will need trimming shears. There are many varieties of shears available, and one thing that I have come to realize with trimming shears is that you get what you pay for. The cheaper shears tend to not last. I’m not saying you need to find the most expensive pair of shears you can find, but I would suggest that paying for a little more robustness in your equipment is going to payoff in the long run as you will not be running through scissors as they get gummed up.

Another item that helps immensely when trimming cannabis is booze. Actually, booze is the wrong term, but I’m still referring to an alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol to be more specific. What I’m about to type is very important, which is why I’m about to type it in all caps and bold font: DO NOT DRINK ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL!!! IT IS POISONOUS AND SHOULD NEVER BE INGESTED. Now that we’ve established that you shouldn’t poison yourself, I must also point out that IsoPropyl Alcohol is sometimes abbreviated to IPA. The reason why isopropyl alcohol is so important is two-fold. First off, it does a spectacular job of sanitizing as it will kill microbials that could potentially be transferred from bud to bud via the workstation or trimming scissors. Secondly, isopropyl does a great job of removing resin, which is especially useful for the scissors themselves. So, in one fell swoop, the scissors/shears are sanitized and made less gummy. Is there anything alcohol can’t do?

You will also need disposable nitrile gloves to wear during the dirty work. I know that someone out there is saying that you don’t need to wear gloves to trim. Well, technically, you don’t; however, if you want to make sure that you’re not inoculating your cannabis with E. coli or the like, it’s strongly recommended you wear gloves. The last thing you want to do is spend all this time and effort in producing the perfect nug that you won’t be able to sell into the legal market (if that’s your goal) because it can’t pass the microbial test that is now mandated by the state of California.

Although not necessary, I strongly recommend providing yourself some entertainment in the form of music or podcasts or audiobooks. I, personally, am a music or podcast guy, but this one’s on you. Definitely find what works for you. I recommend listening to “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, but that’s only because Zeppelin rules.


Any quick tips for trimming?

Remember what the primary purposes of trimming. We want to make the buds look uniform and pretty, but also want to remove any plant tissue that isn’t completely covered in trichomes. Rule of thumb, if it isn’t completely covered in trichomes, it goes. The removal of those sugar leaves will bring out the inner structure of the bud more easily as well.

Also, for more precision, it’s best to use the tips of your trimming scissors. If you come in at the bud with the side of your scissors, two things will happen. You will gum up the mechanism of the scissors, and your cuts won’t be as precise as you’ll be working with a larger surface area of cutting blade. Essentially, the cutting with the side of the scissors is more akin to chopping than precisely manicuring the flowers, and nobody wants that.

Save your leftovers. Make sure you collect all that kief, trim, and your finger/scissor hash. All those leftovers still have a decent amount of cannabinoid content in them. The trim can be used for extractions. The kief can be used for oh so many things, but it’s a great little boost to your bowl if you sprinkle the kief over your flower before you smoke. You can do the same thing finger/scissor hash. Finger/scissor hash is the built-up resin that develops on the fingers of your gloves and on your scissors. If you’re using an automated trimming machine, the build-up of scissor hash can get substantial very quickly. The finger/scissor hash can be fairly potent stuff, since it’s basically kief that’s been rolled together until it becomes a resinous ball/brick of cannabinoids and terpenes.


What’s some new and exciting in the trimming game that we all should be looking forward to?

Trimming is inherently a laborious task; however, we are seeing some very interesting technology coming into the space that will change things very quickly. There is a plethora of automated trimming machines in the industry. They all work with varying levels of quality, and they tend to have a negative stigma about them. Part of the reason that automated trimming machines have a negative connotation is due to the history of automation at this part of the cannabis production process. Historically, trimming machines are little more than upside down lawn mowers that the flowers move over. As you can guess, a lot of these flowers can look fairly beat up as they come out of the back end of the machine.

Luckily, technology is catching up to not only quickly trim flowers, but also do it with precision on par with its human counterparts. There is AI technology that is coming out of Beta testing that uses visualization tech to precisely trim the sugar leaves off the buds without touching the flowers themselves. I have seen this in action, and I can say without hesitation that I was flabbergasted. The quality of the product was spectacular, which has always been the holy grail for automated trimming. As of now, this technology only works for wet trims, but I know that they are working on bringing dry trimming into the fold as well.


Final words…

Trimming is an important step to creating that top shelf look, while simultaneously trimming away plant tissues that can result in harsher/lower potency smokes. Granted, trimming is not as necessary if you are producing for biomass extraction, but it is absolutely required if you plan on smoking the flower.

Speaking of smoking and in honor of the new Mary Poppins movie that recently hit theaters, I would like to change a word or two in the lyrics for Uncle Albert’s “I Love to Laugh”. Hopefully, Robert and Richard Sherman won’t mind too much:

I love to (laugh) smoke

Loud and long and clear

I love to (laugh) smoke

It’s getting worse better every year


The more I (laugh) smoke, the more I fill with glee

And the more the glee

The more I’m a merrier me, it’s embarrassing

The more I’m a merrier me

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