Albino marijuana was like the yeti of the cannabis world: tremendously elusive, seen by few, and doubted by many. Its existence had acquired legendary status due to its very rare appearances, until a few years ago photos began to pop up all over different cannabis forums, and the alarm went off alerting people to its existence.
The truth is that, in view of its incredible appearance, with radically white buds, the commotion caused by these plants is hardly surprising. The most qualified voices explained that it was a genetic mutation, caused by the genes that control chlorophyll production, although there were also those who attributed it to strong decolouration caused by high-intensity lamps.
There is such a thing as albino weed. But only up to a point.
Let me explain. If a plant is an albino, that means it’s not producing chlorophyll. If it isn’t producing chlorophyll, it probably won’t survive very long. Chlorophyll’s needed for photosynthesis, which is how plants get energy from sunlight. If a plant can’t produce energy from sunlight, it will die. Unless it’s a mistletoe or a similar parasitic species. They hook their roots into other plants and steal their nutrients! That really happens! Many of these parasites are albino, with no green coloration at all.
This is called “variegation” and is an incredible mutation
But botanists and other experts from the plant world arrived and cleared up all possible doubts: “It’s called ‘variegation’ and is probably one of the most striking mutations that can be witnessed in the cannabis world.” This anomaly occurs when the genes that control the production of chlorophyll are not expressed correctly, giving rise to plants with albino characteristics.
When this mutation takes place there appear plants that are totally white, or with incredible patterns, coloured or colourless. It all depends on the cause of the albinism: if it is due to a double albino gene the whole plant is white. If it comes from a malfunction of the genes that regulate chlorophyll production, it will feature patterns or areas as white as snow.
The value of albino marijuana plants is more aesthetic than cannabis-related, due to their peculiar genetics, which hamper or prevent the photosynthesis process. If they are authentic albinos, 100% “white ladies,” it is impossible for them to complete this process to feed themselves. If they are only partially albino they will be able to synthesise sunlight in the parts of their structure that are green and contain chlorophyll. Despite their stunning appearances, these phenotypes actually yield very poor results.
Although at times they (those that are not totally albino) can yield good-quality buds, their productivity will always be lower than their green counterparts – especially if the decolouration also extends to the buds. When this happens (whether due to a genetic or luminescent factor) they will lack the key elements needed to produce optimal cannabis.
There are two principal causes of white flowers and leaves in cannabis. It can be due to light bleaching, particularly from LED lights. Or it can be a genetic mutation!
Albinism is a recessive genetic trait that makes plants weaker. Plants can show signs of albinism at the seedling stage. The plant doesn’t have to be completely white to be considered albino. Some plants may only lose chlorophyll on certain leaves or plant parts, which may be triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The process of hybridization can also bring out albino traits in a strain. To hybridize a plant, breeders often backcross strains to bring out certain recessive traits. In some cases, it’s possible that hybridization may enable albino characteristics to express more often.
Light bleaching is another major cause of whitening. Perhaps some strains have more of a genetic predisposition for turning white under certain lighting circumstances, but more research is needed to determine how albinism occurs in cannabis plants. However, it’s often the case that plants turn white in areas that are closest to the lights. Every once in a while, the top buds and leaves of a plant will bleach with the light intensity is too strong. This is a major source of stress for the plant, as the whitened bud then loses the ability to photosynthesize.
What do I do if my cannabis plant turns white?
Whether it’s because of a lighting mistake or an unexpected breeding problem, there may be a couple ways to salvage a plant that has started to show white coloration.
Very early research found that feeding plants sugars in the absence of light will help them grow and increase in volume. However, plant growth may be abnormal and the gains slight. Experiments completed as early as 1919 found that adding supplemental sugars and nutrients to albino corn samples did help them grow and increased the overall weight of the seed. Yet, without these supplemental sugars, the albino plants died.
Should a cannabis plant begin to turn white or show signs of albinism, supplemental feedings may help save your crop from being a total bust if some green coloration is still present.
Lighting adjustments are certainly another recommended option. Perhaps consider switching to a LED grow light with a lower wattage. Adjusting the height of the light may also be beneficial. Lights should be close enough to provide adequate lumens to the entire canopy, but not close enough to cause plants to show signs of heat stress.
If a plant is white from a seedling stage, it’s probably one to toss. Some suggest that white cannabis plants will produce less THC and CBD than a green plant.
[Updated, originally published 02.10. 2017]