What Are Trichomes?
Trichomes give cannabis its unique characteristics. Most importantly, they play a key role in the psychoactive effects of marijuana.
You know those sticky little crystals that cover cannabis nugs? They’re called trichomes, and their function is vital to weed. These little structures protect the plant from UV damage. They also play a crucial role in cannabis’s psychoactive effects. In fact, without them, we’d have no reason to consume weed.
Many users associate visible trichome crystals with higher quality and increased potency. While that assumption is accurate, it’s also not quite as simple as that. In this article, we’ll go into the details and give you everything you need to know about trichomes.
What Is A Trichome?
A trichome is a small resin gland found on cannabis flowers and leaves. If you viewed one under a magnifying glass, it would look like a tiny hair with a round, bulbous structure commonly called a “trichome head” at the very tip of the hair.
But to the naked eye, resin glands look like shiny crystals covering the outside of a bud. They’re what make those super fire buds you see people bragging about on Instagram so beautiful.
As for effects, trichomes are to thank for all of the cannabis’s best properties. They help give marijuana its unique smell, taste, and most of all, potency.
The stalk of the trichome is responsible for the production of terpenes, which give an individual strain its unique smell and flavor profiles. Meanwhile, the psychoactive qualities of cannabis come from the trichome head. That’s where cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBN and more are produced.
Given all this, it seems intuitive that more trichomes would equate to more potent bud. And in fact, this is exactly what a lot of people assume. In reality, though, that’s not always the case.
Just because a nug has a lot of trichomes doesn’t mean it’ll have a lot of cannabinoids or terpenes. Rather, it depends on the type of trichome present, as well as the quality of the trichome a flower produces.
Trichomes: Built-In Cannabis Plant Protection
When a female cannabis flower begins to bloom, trichome production begins. And while the coating of crystals makes the plant look beautiful, that’s not the only thing they do.
In reality, trichomes serve some important functions that help keep the plant safe, healthy, and productive.
For starters, trichomes protect cannabis plants from being eaten. The bitter taste and strong smell of trichomes deter insects and animals that might otherwise want to munch on the plants.
Similarly, a cannabis pant’s resin glands protect plants from damaging winds and some varieties of fungal growth.
Put simply; trichomes are extremely helpful to a cannabis plant. And since they also play a fundamental role in giving weed its psychoactive properties, they’re also a pot smoker’s best friend.
It’s a beautiful relationship. The plants get protection while we get high. Thank you trichomes.
Trichomes and Cannabinoid Production
One of the primary functions of a trichome heads is cannabinoid production. The synthesis of cannabinoids begins after a cannabis flower goes through the bloom phase. As cannabis flowers grow, the plant’s trichomes form a thin layer on the surface of the plant.
Then, the stalk of each trichome gland transfers the required materials for cannabinoid production to the head. Finally, the head metabolizes the materials into raw materials for cannabinoids.
The number of trichomes created will depend heavily on genetics as well as the surrounding environment. For example, UV light can be damaging to terpene and cannabinoid synthesis.
In cases like that, a plant can have lots of trichomes, but the environmental factors prevent it from producing high amounts of cannabinoids resulting in a lack of potency. That’s one reason why it’s not always safe to assume that more trichomes equal better bud.
On the other hand, plants that get a broad spectrum of light produce higher concentrations of cannabinoids. The stage at which a plant is harvested also affects the quality and potency of trichomes.
If the bud is harvested too early or too late, it won’t be as potent. But when it’s harvested at peak maturity, those trichomes will be sparkly white and full of powerful cannabinoids.
Different Types Of Trichomes
Trichomes come in a few different shapes and sizes. Typically, they’re classified into three categories. And while capitates tend to be the most productive, all three types produce cannabinoids. The three most important types of a trichome are:
These are the smallest trichome. They cover the surface of the entire cannabis plant, and they’re only 10 to 15 micrometers in length.
A step up in size, capitate sessile trichomes are more common than their smaller brethren.
These are the big daddy ones that are 50-100mm in width. These are the crystals that are large enough to be seen by the naked eye and that give nugs that distinctive frosty look. They also contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids like THC.
The characteristics and potency of any given cannabis flower comes down to the types and combos of trichomes it produces, rather than simply how many it has.
How Trichomes Help Growers
If you’re planning on planting cannabis you need to pay attention to the trichomes your plant produces. Trichomes give growers clues about when it’s time to harvest. A flowering trichome, for example, will take on a milky white appearance. And as the plant matures, the trichomes will start turning a brownish hue.
The color and shape of a cannabis plant’s resin glands tell experienced growers the whole story. An up close look at the resin glands can reveal what stage of growth the female plant is in.
Most importantly, the color and shape of the stalks and heads can hint at when a flower has reached maximum potency. Be careful, though. An abundance of shiny crystals doesn’t mean it’s time to clip your buds just yet. Early on, all those trichomes still contain low percentages of THC.
If you want the greatest psychoactive effects, don’t harvest buds until you’ve thoroughly examined them under a magnifying glass. When the glands appear to be cloudy or white in color the trichome heads are packed with THC.
Later on, in the blooming cycle, the color turns amber or brown, and the cannabinoids deliver more of a body high. However, depending on the strain there are exceptions to this rule.
Farmers tend to use the transition between white to brown as a time to harvest. The color change is a sign of the plant reaching full maturity. The more the plant matures, however, the more the cannabinoids begin to deteriorate.
Because trichomes are so critical to the entire cultivation process, experienced weed farmers know to grow with trichome preservation in mind. That means maintaining certain conditions while avoiding physical contact or agitation during the growing phase.
Trichomes and Hash
The larger, capitate-stalked trichomes have two main parts: the stalk and the gland head. To put it simply, gland heads are the best of the best when it comes to THC potency, which is why hash makers attempt to isolate them from the rest of the plant.
To do this, expert hash makers start by dry sifting or ice washing plant material to harvest trichomes. They then use different sized screens to separate the stalks from the heads.
By working only with trichome heads, hash makers produce some of the purest, most potent cannabis products in the world.
An isolated trichomes head with no residuals is considered full melt hash. Full melt is the ultimate cannabis connoisseur’s hash of choice and is perfect for dabbing. Simply put, there is no higher quality concentrate out there.