Hand Trimming vs. Machine Trimming Cannabis: What’s the Difference?

Harvesting cannabis plants poses some pretty unique challenges. People outside the industry aren’t usually aware of this, though. Unless you’re a grower, a marijuana user, or a CBD enthusiast, it’s entirely possible that you’ve always thought the leaves of a cannabis plant are what everyone gets so excited about.  


It’s not an unreasonable assumption, especially with how cannabis use is portrayed in pop culture. And if it were true, it would make producing cannabis-based products a lot easier. Unfortunately for those of us making those products, from medical marijuana to CBD tinctures, it’s the flower of the plant that contains all the good stuff, and the leaves are largely a waste product.


The Central Problem

The problem is, the leaves have a tendency to mingle with the flower, and since they don’t contain noteworthy concentrations of cannabinoids, including them in the product is a bad idea. That means they have to be removed during the harvesting process.


There’s two ways to do this. Either you can painstakingly trim every fan leaf by hand, or you can use a specially designed machine to do it. Hand trimming is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and fairly difficult to do at scale. Machine trimming is faster, but doesn’t trim all of the undesirables, and often damages the flower. 


The Argument for Machine Trimming

Hand trimming is obviously the method of choice for smaller growing operations. If you’re growing your own medical marijuana, or you’re a small outfit with modest outputs, hand trimming doesn’t get too overwhelming. Where you run into problems is when you’re producing cargo loads of the stuff. 


It’s not uncommon for hand trimmers to average a pound of product a day. Machines, on the other hand, can do several times that in an hour. For growers that need to process hundreds of pounds of cannabis flowers, using a machine to boost efficiencies is obviously an appealing option.


The Downsides to Machine Trimming

There are a few trade-offs, though. First and foremost, because of how machines process the flower, they tend to leave behind (“leaf behind,” perhaps?) undesirable leaf matter, especially when fan leaves grow from inside the structure of the flower. More importantly, the tumbler that trims the leaves can be very abrasive on the outside of the flower, and that’s where all the fun stuff is.


Just like the uninitiated don’t usually know that no one is smoking the marijuana leaves, a lot of people don’t know that the cannabinoids are essentially a glaze on the outside of the flower. But that’s not all that’s in that glaze. There’s also terpenes, and both chemicals can be removed or damaged by machine trimming. Let’s take a closer look at both of those.


The Appeal of Cannabis

Cannabinoids (THC and CBD) are responsible for how you feel when you use a cannabis product. THC is the psychoactive chemical that gets you high, and marijuana is cultivated to produce higher concentrations of it. CBD is the relaxant that potentially reduces chronic pain and stress levels, and hemp is what you grow when you want higher concentrations if it. 


Terpenes, on the other hand, are the chemicals that affect how the product smells and tastes. This is true even when you’re not done processing the flower after you’ve trimmed it (when making CBD products, for instance). 


Because most of these chemicals are on the surface of the flower, running them through the tumbler can seriously impact the quality of the final product—in potency, in aroma, and in sapidity. 


Lastly, machine trimming can even affect the visual appeal of the product, as flowers processed this way tend to have a uniform football or pine cone shape. This obviously doesn’t apply to products that are further processed, but it can be a deciding factor for some connoisseurs. 



Obviously, not every larger-scale grower can afford to hand trim their cannabis. Since it requires manpower, it’s more costly, and it tends to drive up the price of the product. That’s why machine trimming has become so popular—it’s an easy way to keep costs down. It does result in a lower grade product, however. 


To learn more about how hand trimming can produce higher-quality CBD products, contact the experts at Keen Leaf.