Understanding Trichomes and Their Function in Cannabis

Understanding Trichomes and Their Function in Cannabis

There is much more to cannabis than just what you see. Those tiny crystals that smatter buds and leaves are of particular interest. Sticky, shiny, and with a delightful aroma, these little droplets are called trichomes, defined as “fine outgrowths or appendages on plants, algae, lichens and certain protists.” The word, translated from Greek, means “growth of hair,” and that is exactly what they are. 

These microscopic protuberances resemble mushrooms, a truly science fiction appearance. However, they are extremely valuable, according to the U.S. National Library of medicine, they are the very factories where hundreds of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids originate, and they are what make our favorite strains unique, effective, and potent. 

The Role of Cannabis Trichomes

When one types “dispensary near me” into their favorite search engine, they are not thinking about trichomes. However, they should. Many plants produce trichomes, not only cannabis. They all appear different and serve various purposes. In carnivorous plants, for example, trichomes help to catch prey. In cannabis, trichomes act as a defense mechanism. 

In the wild, when females start to produce flowers, they become incredibly vulnerable to a variety of factors. These include predators, such as many different insects and animals, and it includes environmental variables, such as UV rays. Because they are bitter and pungent, trichomes deter predators, who mostly find buds very unpalatable. They also protect against some fungi and high winds.

Different Cannabis Trichomes

Not all trichomes are the same. This is especially true in cannabis, where they are certainly not equal. They differ in both size and shape, as well as function. Bulbous trichomes are the littlest of all. You find them covering the entire plant, and they only measure 15 micrometers, at most, barely enough to comprise even a few cells. 

Capitate sessile trichomes are a little bigger. They have both a head and a stalk and are what resemble microscopic mushrooms. There are far more capitate sessile trichomes than there are bulbous ones, but they do not even compare to capitate-stalked trichomes, which are the biggest of all trichomes, visible even to the naked eye. They are also the most complex. 

Unlike bulbous and capitate sessile trichomes, capitate-stalked trichomes actually have their own stalk comprised of hypodermic and epidermal cells. These grow into a basal cell, which then attaches to a big gland head. This head serves as the epicenter for terpenoids and cannabinoid synthesis, and it lies safe and secure in a waxy cuticle layer. All trichomes produce cannabinoids, just some more than others.  

Production of Trichomes

When cannabis plants start flowering, trichomes begin synthesizing cannabinoids. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, when flowering draws nearer, trichomes form on the outer surface of the plant and start transporting plastids and vacuoles to the gland head. This triggers cells within to metabolize and develop precursors to cannabinoids. 

The development speed and concentration of trichomes hinges on both genetics and environmental conditions. Plants with naturally high levels of trichomes do not always produce the most cannabinoids and terpenes. Factors such as UV light can significantly influence terpene and cannabinoid production inside trichomes. Although often strain specific, plants exposed to full spectrum light produce more.

Lifespan of Trichomes

The lifecycle of trichomes mimics that of the plant on which it lives, providing farmers with a valuable monitoring tool. Trichomes can live analogous or parabola, where the apex characterizes maturation and the subsequent start of degradation. In most strains, trichomes display maturity on this parabola by turning cloudy white from their previous state of clear translucence. Later on, they turn amber. 

This color transition is what shows its peak ripeness. Farmers use these colors to decide when to harvest, since it is at the point when trichomes mature fully and then start the process of degradation. Not all stains behave in the exact same way. Some trichomes mature differently. Despite this, coloration of trichomes remains the deciding factor for most farmers about when to harvest. 

Furthermore, trichomes are extremely volatile, whether still alive or already harvested. They risk degradation, even complete destruction by many catalysts, which include:

  • Agitation or physical touch
  • Heat
  • Oxygen
  • Light
  • Time

Not only do trichomes themselves face risk when exposed to such factors, but the essential oils inside them risk degradation too. Handling buds very carefully during propagation and after harvest will help eliminate these risks, certainly slow degradation. Trichomes preserve very well, for lengthy periods too, when they remain untouched or agitated by human hands. 

Trimming, drying, and curing properly helps to lengthen the viability of trichomes, which helps to preserve the terpenoids and cannabinoids within. To extend their shelf life, many people are now extracting them. This involves either chemically or mechanically removing trichomes from their plants. There are many ways to achieve this, from dry sifting methods to solvents, and even carbon dioxide. Under perfect conditions, trichomes extracted with any of these methods, and others, store well, and store indefinitely. 

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The next time you see those glossy drops, sticky crystals, and dusting of snow, you know you are looking at trichomes, where all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids originate. When you search “dispensary near me,” you should also search for trichome-heavy strains. All are worthy of getting to know personally, and all produce their own unique effects, and have their own specific function.

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Comments (1)

  1. Avatar for Lindsay Lindsay September 18, 2019 / 10:02 pm / Reply

    If you want to understand why you get high and why weed is such a cool plant, then read this article.

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