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Understanding Trichomes

May 12, 2020 11:50:00 AM

The foundation of cannabis is undoubtedly scientific and the language of modern cannabis has become far more technical in recent years. It can be intimidating to those embarking on their cannabis journey. One of the big buzzwords surrounding cannabis is “trichomes”. The trichome is a crucial part of the pot plant. Some may even argue that it’s the sole reason for growing marijuana in the first place. They are a large part of what makes cannabis pleasing to the eye and the soul. Trichomes may seem complicated based on the multitude of functions that they serve, but these awesome little dudes are fairly simple. 

What are trichomes?

When you see dried flower in a dispensary, you will most likely notice that it appears to be covered in a layer of tiny, frosty crystals. Those crystals are called trichomes. They are the sticky glands that cover the flowers and some small leaves of the cannabis plant.
trichomesBy definition, a trichome is “ the small outgrowth on a plant”. The etymology comes from the greek word trikhōma meaning “growth of hair”. Much like terpenes, most plants have trichomes that serve various purposes. Cannabis trichomes house the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes. If you use a grinder, you will notice a fine powder that collects at the bottom. That happens when the trichomes fall off. The collection of trichomes that have been separated from the plant is called kief. Kief can be consumed in a variety of ways. There are three different kinds of trichomes on the cannabis plant. 

  • Bulbous trichomes - These are the smallest of the three. They consist of a few cells, are 15 - 30 micrometers and are only visible through a microscope. They don’t contain any cannabinoids. 
  • Capitate-sessile trichomes - These are the “medium sized” trichomes. They are between 25-100 micrometers long and cover the most ground on the cannabis plant including leafs and stems making them the most abundant. These trichomes do produce cannabinoids, but not to the extent of the third and most well known variety. They have a long stalk with a sphere on the end.
  • Capitate-stalked trichomes - Capitate-stalked trichomes are what most people imagine when they think of trichomes. These guys produce the majority of the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes. They resemble little sticky mushrooms and are the largest of the three as they can get as long as 500 micrometers making them the easiest to be seen by the naked eye.They produce and contain the vast majority of the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes. 

What do trichomes do?

Trichomes are arguably the “fun part” of the cannabis plant since they house all of the good stuff, but they do much more than that. Trichomes serve multiple purposes during the plant’s life cycle. Trichomes begin to form when a cannabis plant enters the flowering stage of growth. As the buds, or flowers develop, they become more susceptible to predators. The trichomes serve as a defense mechanism. Their bitter taste and strong aroma acts as a deterrent against most animals and insects since the trichomes have a strong aroma and bitter flavor. As the plant develops, as do the trichomes, which brings us to another important job. Trichomes are the site of cannabinoid synthesis, meaning it is where the cannabinoids and terpenes are actually made! CBG is the precursor to the most abundant cannabinoids including THC. Enzymes break down and modify CBG to create the other cannabinoids. Trichomes are also where the plant’s terpenes are created. When the plant is developing, the aromatics are mild, and a little bit bitter. The flavonoids become more developed and much sweeter near the end of the flower cycle. A fully mature pot plant will smell fruity, and floral as opposed to the traditional “weed” smell that is produced by the plant matter.  

Trichomes also serve as a visual cue for growers to know if a plant is fully mature and if it is ready to be harvested. When the plant is in the early stages of the flowering cycle, the trichomes will be small and clear. As the plant reaches maturity, the resin inside the trichomes will turn opaque and will eventually turn pale yellow when examined with a microscope. It is easy to confuse trichomes for pistils since they can look similar to the untrained eye and both grow from the calyx of the plant. Trichomes are the sticky little crystals that cover the flower and smaller leaves of the plant. Pistils are small hairs that attract and collect pollen. The pistils are also a good indicator of a plant’s maturity. When a plant first starts to flower, the pistils will be white and stand tall to collect pollen as it blows in the wind. When a plant is ready to be harvested, the pistils will sometimes turn amber. 

Final notes about trichomes

There are many misconceptions about modern marijuana and even more when it comes to the anatomy of the cannabis plant. Since the trichome is the powerhouse of cannabinoid production, it’s a logical conclusion that if a marijuana bud has a lot of trichomes, also known as being “frosty”, that it must have a lot of THC. This is actually not the case. The abundance of trichomes isn’t a good indicator of the cannabinoid content or flavor of a particular plant. Cannabinoid content will depend on a variety of factors such as genetics, environment, stressors, nutrition, and the overall skill of the grower. Trichomes are the reason for cultivating cannabis since the resin inside is the source of cannabinoids. Concentrates are the product of extracting that resin from the trichomes and separating it from the rest of the plant matter. These little guys are what started it all, so take a closer look at your cannabis next time you visit the dispensary. And as always, please consume responsibly. 

Topics: trichomes

Rio Kaplan
Written by Rio Kaplan

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