A Beginner’s Guide to Cannabis
If you are reading this article, you have probably decided to try cannabis for the…
Trichomes are tiny crystal-like hair structures that give cannabis flowers their frosty appearance. They are the driving force behind marijuana becoming a multi-billion dollar industry in today’s world. As a general rule, the more trichomes the bud has, the stronger the weed. It is also believed that they contribute to a strain’s particular effects – but the know-how of it is something we are yet to fully understand. What we do know about them, however, is mentioned below.
Trichomes, coming from the Greek word ‘trikhoma,’ which means hair, are the building blocks of cannabis compounds. These are resin glands that cover the surface of the marijuana leaves, branches, and flowers.
A cannabis plant without trichomes is like a car without an engine – it might look nice, but it won’t get you very far. These tiny structures on the plant’s surface are the site of cannabinoid and terpene production. They hold the true essence of marijuana – including scents and flavours. THC, CBD, CBG, myrcene, limonene, pinene – any cannabis-related chemical you have heard of – are all synthesized and held inside terpenes.
With their complex chemistry and biology, trichomes are the source of the plant’s many therapeutic and recreational effects. The earthy scent of Northern Lights, the incredible head rush of Bruce Banner, are all driven by their trichomes.
Trichomes can be considered a result of evolution; they are present in all plant species, not just cannabis. Their main function is to ensure healthy growth, survival, and successful reproduction.
There are two types of trichomes seen in nature: glandular and non-glandular.
Non-glandular trichomes offer physical protection to the plant from external stressors like humidity, temperature, and radiation.
Glandular trichomes, meanwhile, are where the real action happens. These produce and hold the metabolites the plant needs for survival and, in our case, the reason to consume cannabis.
There are three types of glandular trichomes: bulbous, capitate-sessile, and capitate-stalked.
These are the smallest and least well-known type of glandular trichomes found on cannabis plants. These are tiny (size ranging from 10-15 microns), spherical structures that are found all over the plant.
These are slightly bigger than bulbous trichomes and have a very small stalk, with the glandular head almost directly attached to the plant surface. They are found all over the plant, from the stems and leaves to the flowers. Their width is 20-30 microns.
These are the biggest of the bunch and can be seen by the naked eye. This variant is most commonly seen on the plant; the trichomes on a properly cured cannabis flower fall under the capitate-stalked category. They have a glandular head, which has a ball-like shape, supported on a long stalk. The head has a waxy layer, giving the sticky feeling we know so well. They have a width range of 50-100 microns and can be 200-300 microns tall.
All glandular trichomes produce and store cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavinoids, but it is the capitate-stalked that are responsible for the bulk of the synthesis and storage.
Here is a quick recap of what we know:
So, does it mean that certain types of trichomes – depending on what kind of terpenes and cannabinoids they hold – can produce specific effects? This is a question that scientists are just starting to answer.
One such attempt has been made in a paper published in the Plant Journal. It notes that sessile and stalked trichomes have different terpene profiles, which implies that a flower rich in only sessile trichomes can theoretically produce different effects than those abundant with stalked ones.
Of course, it is not just the trichomes that contribute to the effect – genetics of the plant also plays an important role. However, trichomes are a universe of wonder, and their better understanding can unlock a bigger world of therapeutic applications.
Terpenes appear on the cannabis plant during the flowering stage; usually 6-8 weeks after the plant has been vegetatively grown.
The best time to harvest the flower is when the plant’s trichomes are at their peak ripeness. This can be identified by their crystal, milky-white, and amber colouration. The plant is at its peak potency when the trichomes are primarily milky-white. In contrast, amber trichomes indicate that the plant is ageing and the cells inside the trichomes are starting to die.
This lifecycle of trichomes varies across different strains. That’s why keeping a close eye on the flower is essential. When trichomes turn crystal clear to milky white, the plant is reaching maturity – the transition from this milk-white hue to amber marks the start of degradation.
It is believed that crystal-clear trichomes offer an energetic head high, while a mix of amber & milky white offers a well-rounded experience. If the majority of trichomes are amber-coloured, it means you are in store for a heavy body high.
Cannabis flowers must be handled carefully during the harvesting and curing stages as trichomes are fragile and will break easily. Catalysts like heat, oxidation, and time also contribute to the damage. You can also extract these trichomes from the flowers to make extracts like hash oil, wax, and kief – but they require utmost care and special extraction techniques.
Increasing marijuana’s THC levels is directly tied to increasing its trichomes quantity. There are several techniques which can make this happen:
In addition to these environmental conditions, the genetics of the seeds also play a huge role in the production of trichomes.
Our understanding of trichomes is limited – with research growing gradually. However, knowing that trichomes are where the goodness of cannabis is stored is enough to respect, value, and cultivate it. When buying marijuana flowers, trichomes can be a key indicator of their quality – a crystal-covered bud will provide a good experience, while a flower with no trichomes may give you little to mediocre high.