What are Trichomes? [Cannabis Terminology 101]

We put trichomes under the microscope in this definitive guide.
MarijuanaBreak Staff / Updated on November 21, 2018

What are Trichomes?

Marijuana is finally getting the positive international attention it deserves. It is now legal in well over half of American states for medicinal purposes, and it is federally legal in Canada for recreational use. As a result, cannabis use has been transformed from an action taken place furtively in dark corners, to open usage at home.

However, the general public, and new users in particular, should learn as much about the marijuana plant as possible because knowledge is unquestionably power. For instance, how many people use weed either for medicine or simply to get high, and understand precisely which part of the plant is most responsible for the psychoactive effects?

The next time you see cannabis that is nearly mature or has recently been harvested, take a close look at it. Do you see those gorgeous miniscule crystals that cover the buds and leaves? They are called ‘trichomes,’ which comes from the Greek work trichoma (growth of hair). It is trichomes that produce the terpenes, flavonoids, and most important, cannabinoids that are responsible for the scent, taste, and psychoactive effects of weed.

Why Do Cannabis Plants Have Trichomes?

As much as we would like to believe that weed is a gift created by the Gods to get humans high, the marijuana plant grows trichomes as a defense mechanism. Remember, weed has grown in the wild for tens of thousands of years and evolved to protect itself. When female plants start producing flowers, they are open to attack from animals, insects, UV rays, and a host of other harmful things.

Trichomes are an effective defense because when a would-be predator tries to consume the plant, the potent cannabinoids cause them to get ‘high.’ Also, trichomes have a bitter taste and a powerful aroma that prevents most insects or animals from going near the plant. Trichomes even protect the plant from fungal growth and high winds.

Trichomes contain THC and CBD, along with well over 100 other cannabinoids. As you know, THC results in the psychoactive high that marijuana users enjoy while CBD is gaining prominence as potential medicine that provides ‘healing without the high.’ Moreover, the terpenes contained in trichomes are responsible for the unique smells of weed. For example, the beautiful tropical fruit taste and the scent of the Pineapple Twist strain are provided by terpenes.

Therefore, trichomes are responsible for you getting high, feeling relief from chronic pain, and enjoying the taste and scent of weed.

How and When Trichomes are Produced

After a few weeks, your crop should be ready to move into the flowering stage. It is at this point that trichome production begins in earnest. When the marijuana plant starts producing flowers, trichomes appear on the outer surface and start to transport plastids and vacuoles from their stalks in the head of the gland. Cells in the gland head metabolize and form the forerunner for cannabinoids.

Marijuana plants produce trichomes at different rates depending on numerous factors such as growing environment and genetics. It is important to note that strains which produce high trichome levels don’t necessarily contain high rates of terpenes or cannabinoids. Factors such as UV light play a significant role in the overall terpene and cannabinoid synthesis within the head of the trichome.

Marijuana growers also know that they can use trichomes to help them determine when their crop is ready for harvest. If the trichomes are clear, the plant isn’t ready for harvest. When the time is right, the trichomes will have a milky or cloudy color and often have what appears to be a ‘mushroom’ head. If you wait too long to harvest, the trichomes will turn amber or brown, which means some of the THC has been converted into CBN. As a result, the high you experience will be of the relaxed and sleepy variety.

However, not EVERY marijuana strain’s trichomes turn milky white when ready for harvest. It is important to become familiar with the traits of any strain you grow before placing too much reliance on trichome color.

Trichomes are extremely fragile and volatile at all stages, whether they are still on the vine or if the plant has already been harvested. They can be degraded or destroyed if exposed to excess heat, light, or oxygen. Likewise, their potency will fall if you wait too long to cure and dry the weed.

Three Types of Trichomes

For the record, THC, CBD, and all the other cannabinoids are only found in three specific types of trichome, which we cover briefly below.

1 – Bulbous

This trichome type is the tiniest of the three at just 10-15 microns. For the record, the width of human hair is approximately 40 microns. Bulbous trichomes appear on the surface of the whole plant.

2 – Capitate Sessile

These trichomes are slightly larger than their bulbous counterpart, and there are far more of them on the plant. Capitate Sessile trichomes consist of a head and a stalk.

3 – Capitate Stalked

These trichomes are the largest and most abundant of the trio. Some of them achieve a size of up to 100 microns, which means it isn’t difficult to see them with the naked eye. They consist of a stalk with hypodermic and epidermal feels topped off by a waxy gland head. This head is the main location for terpene and cannabinoid synthesis.

While all three trichomes produce cannabinoids, the Capitate Stalked version is the most abundant, and you can see them around the calyxes of flowering marijuana plants. Their large size means they also produce the highest amount of essential oils.

Trichomes – The Home of Potent Concentrates

In the modern era, we are already spoiled because breeders are creating marijuana strains with THC contents of well above 25%. In the ‘golden’ age of weed, most of what was smoked contained far less than 10%. However, we’re not even satisfied with our 25% THC weed; we want more!

Concentrates such as kief, shatter, and wax contain over 70% THC, a level which can blow anyone’s mind. As trichomes contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids, marijuana lovers are now learning how to separate the sticky THC-laden resin from the rest of the plant.

For example, concentrates such as shatter, wax, and oil can be created at home by using a solvent such as butane oil to separate trichomes from the plant. Also known as BHO, butane hash oil is dangerous to make at home, so we would recommend using concentrates developed by professionals. Other extraction methods include ice water, alcohol, or the very expensive CO2 process.

When trichomes become dry, you can use a three-chamber grinder to collect what becomes known as ‘kief.’ Although it isn’t as powerful as a professionally made concentrate, it still hits 50% THC or more. Experienced users know that it is worth their while to collect kief as a ‘treat’ or an emergency supply when all their weed is gone! You can sprinkle it on joints, add it to a bowl, use it to create Moonrocks, or add it to your coffee. Whatever you do, use it responsibly because it is VERY potent.

Final Thoughts on Trichomes

Whether you are growing marijuana at home or purchasing it from a dispensary, make sure you take some time to appreciate the marvelous trichomes that grow on it. As well as protecting the plant from predators, these trichomes contain the cannabinoids you need to get high or feel better, and the terpenes that make your weed smell and taste fantastic.

If you are cultivating marijuana, make sure you don’t wait too long to harvest. If the trichomes turn brown, you no longer get the benefit of a powerful THC hit. In some cases, the trichomes could fall off which is a disaster. Ultimately, you need to consume as many trichomes as possible to get the maximum benefit of marijuana. Try grinding the trichomes to get kief, a potent form of weed that is sure to provide you with the psychoactive or medicinal effects that you desire.

What are Trichomes? [Cannabis Terminology 101]
November 21, 2018

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