All About Cannabis Trichomes, the Incredible Chemical Factories of Marijuana
By Space Coast Daily // November 4, 2020
When you think about it, the cannabis plant is a pretty amazing specimen. Not only do these green leafy plants have the potential to boost creativity and productivity in an individual, but they also have some amazing medical uses for conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s Disease to eating disorders.
Whether you’re more interested in the recreational uses of marijuana or you’re looking for relief from pain, anxiety, or another common medical condition, the marvels of marijuana all come down to one thing: trichomes.
Trichomes are the tiny hairs that line the outer surface of plants, and they are often referred to as the “chemical factories” of cannabis.
In this guide to trichomes, learn all about this tiny yet powerful part of the cannabis plant and why it plays such a vital role in both recreational and medical marijuana use.
What Are Trichomes?
The official definition states that trichomes “from the Greek τρίχωμα (trichōma) meaning ‘hair’, are fine outgrowths or appendages on plants, algae, lichens, and certain protists. They are of diverse structure and function.”
These small (virtually microscopic) hairlike structures resemble tiny crystals at first glance, but when examined more closely, it’s obvious that they have a mushroom-like shape. They cover the surface of a cannabis plant’s leaves and buds and tend to be shiny and sticky.
What Is the Importance of Trichomes?
Trichomes are nothing short of beautiful, giving a plant a crystal-like appearance that glitters and gleams under the light. But their function is so much more than aesthetic. Aside from creating sparkle and shininess that resembles a blanket of frost, trichomes serve many different purposes.
First and foremost, trichome production in plants is done as a defense mechanism against harmful things in the surrounding environment, like insects, animals, and UV rays. Trichomes taste extremely bitter and tend to give off a skunky smell, so animals are quickly turned off and leave the plant untouched.
By covering the surface of the more vulnerable parts of the plant, trichomes also protect against environmental harms like too much sunlight, extreme heat, strong winds, and even some forms of fungal pathogens.
Another important function of trichomes is the absorption of water and minerals that are required by a plant to survive. Of course, the root system is more vital for water and nutrient absorption, but trichomes help to keep water in to keep the plant hydrated.
Cannabinoid & Terpene Production
This last function is arguably the most important function of trichomes, at least to humans. In order to perform their other functions and stay protected, trichomes produce a wide range of chemicals. As weed plants move into their flowering phases and start blooming, trichomes start making something called cannabinoids.
The most famous cannabinoid is THC, which is the chemical compound responsible for the “high” effect cannabis is known for, but there are over 100 different cannabinoids produced by these tiny hairs.
Trichomes are also responsible for producing terpenes, which are the aromatic compounds found in many plants. Terpenes are responsible for those pungent smells that cannabis is known for, and without trichomes, we wouldn’t have those terpenes and unique smell/flavor profiles for different strains.
3 Types of Trichomes in Marijuana
In cannabis plants, there are 3 main types of trichomes that help to fulfill the functions listed above. Here’s what they are:
1. Bulbous Trichomes
2. Capitate Sessile Trichomes
3. Capitate Stalked Trichomes
These are the smallest trichomes out of the 3 categories, and they can be as tiny as 10 micrometers. You’ll notice small and pointed bulbous trichomes lining the entire surface of the plant, not just the leaves and buds.
This type of trichome is slightly larger and contains a head and a stalk. Capitate sessile hairs start forming before the plant even enters the flowering phase, containing many of the lesser-known cannabinoids.
Capitate stalked trichomes are the largest in size and they can measure as much as 100 micrometers. Although it’s easier and more effective to use a magnifying glass or microscope, these trichomes can be seen with the naked eye.
This type of trichome only starts forming once the plants have begun flowering. They’re very important in the production of cannabinoids and terpenes, especially THC.
Keep in mind, you will need a digital microscope to examine these different types of trichomes more closely. You can use this guide to digital microscopes to choose a device that will magnify a plant’s trichomes up to 1000x.
Why Is It So Important to Monitor Trichome Lifecycle?
It can be very difficult for a grower to know exactly when it’s time to harvest a crop; this is where trichomes really come into play. Paying close attention to the trichome lifecycle by examining color changes can help a grower to determine exactly when it’s time to harvest.
Because trichomes play a major role in cannabinoid and terpene production, harvesting at the proper time when trichomes are at their peak can take the potency, aromas, and flavors of the bud to the next level. Harvesting too early or too late could result in weaker cannabinoids and terpenes, which basically means weak bud.
When Is the Ideal Time to Harvest?
The ideal time to harvest is different for everyone depending on overall preferences and strain types. It really comes down if you’re looking for an energetic high or a more relaxing couch-lock effect.
The general guideline is to harvest when the majority of the trichomes (90% or more) turn from a milky white to an amber hue if you want a more relaxing effect. If you prefer the highest level of THC and just want to get high, you’ll want to harvest earlier when only about 70% of the trichomes have darkened to amber and the rest are still milky white.
How to Choose a Magnifying Tool for Your Trichomes
The very last trichome topic we’ll cover is how to choose the right magnifying tool. Never rely solely on the human eye to examine trichomes and determine when it’s time to harvest – this more often than not results in poor judgment.
A quality magnifying glass is usually enough for a beginner grower, but more advanced growers with high numbers of plants and commercial operations generally opt for a digital microscope instead.
When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to have both handy. Use the magnifying glass for quick peaks at the trichomes, but for more intense examination, pluck a bud and check it out under the microscope.