What Are Cannabis Trichomes?
The effects of cannabis are clear to anyone who has ever tried the plant. Exactly how those effects come into being, however, is more of a mystery — a tale that begins to be untangled by observing trichomes, one of the most-important and least-understood components of the cannabis plant.
What are trichomes, and why do they serve such a vitally important role in cannabis? Learn all the details in this guide to what trichomes do and what can happen when they become damaged.
Anatomy of cannabis 101
To understand what trichomes are, we must first briefly examine the various components of the cannabis plant, focusing on their constituent compounds:
The roots of the cannabis plant are not commonly used, but extracts may have beneficial properties.
The stalk of the cannabis plant is the primary component used in hemp fiber production. It is very rich in fibrous compounds but does not contain cannabinoids or any other bioactive ingredients.
The branches of the cannabis plant mainly serve as support for its leaves and buds. They do not have considerable practical utility.
The leaves of the cannabis plant take in energy to be used in bud production. They do not, however, contain many trichomes.
The buds of the cannabis plant contain vast numbers of trichomes, oil sacs that contain cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.
Zoom in on cannabis buds
What’s going on in cannabis buds that makes them so fascinating from a biochemical perspective? Let’s take a closer look:
If you zoom in on a cannabis bud using a microscope or a magnifying glass, one of the first features you might notice are long, orangish hairs called pistils. These hairs are designed to collect pollen from male plants, so they’re spindly and somewhat resemble spider legs.
Trichomes are the component of the cannabis plant that contains almost all of its active compounds. These oil sacs look like transparent, crystalline mushrooms under a microscope.
What are trichomes?
Trichomes are oil-filled sacs found on many plant species. They often serve reproductive purposes and contain potent bioactive compounds. In the context of cannabis, trichomes are the primary component of the plant that contains cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, making them a major target of research into cannabis and its beneficial properties.
What do trichomes contain?
We now know that trichomes are the oil-filled sacs that show up on cannabis buds with a mushroom-like appearance. What do trichomes contain, though, that makes them so important? Three main categories of compounds are involved:
Exclusive to cannabis, cannabinoids have incredible properties that go above and beyond the benefits of similar categories of compounds. The cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has potently intoxicating properties, for instance, while the non-intoxicating cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) is being seriously looked at as a treatment for many debilitating chronic conditions.
Terpenes also occur in other plants, but it’s the exact ratio of terpenes in cannabis that provides individual strains with their specific effects. Without terpenes, cannabis would lack flavor, and the power of the entourage effect would also be diminished, which is a form of synergy that occurs between cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active cannabis compounds.
Flavonoids are similar to terpenes, but their chemical structures are more diverse as are their roles in human biochemistry. While terpenes can only have aromatic and culinary properties, some flavonoids also have associated pigments. The flavonoid anthocyanin, for instance, is responsible for the purple coloration in “purple” cannabis strains. Water-soluble flavonoids like anthocyanin, though, are often found in the plant material, not the trichomes, of cannabis buds.
Why are trichomes important?
Why do trichomes matter in the context of cannabis? We can think of a few good reasons:
First of all, trichomes are a visually verifiable sign of cannabis potency. The more trichomes there are on the surface of a cannabis bud, the more potent it is. This rule almost always holds true, but trichome health is also important. Lower concentrations of higher-quality trichomes may be a more convincing sign of cannabis potency, for instance, than larger concentrations of low-quality or damaged trichomes.
Cannabis growers should be aware that trichomes are a key indicator of plant health. If your cannabis plants are not expressing trichomes in the flowering phase, something is wrong. Harvested cannabis buds with low or no trichomes should also be subject to heavy skepticism.
When growing cannabis, the size, color, and plentifulness of trichomes can all be indicators that a cannabis plant is ready to be harvested. The exact meaning of these indicators varies from strain to strain, however, requiring a practiced eye to discern the difference.
Can trichomes be damaged?
Yes, the trichomes present on the surface of cannabis buds can be damaged. These spindly oil glands consist of bulbous sacs tenuously suspended on crystalline stalks, after all, so even the lightest breeze can send them tumbling. Here are some of the factors that can damage cannabis trichomes more commonly than others:
As cannabis ages, its trichomes become more brittle and fall off. Also, Murphy’s law indicates that, the longer you leave something delicate around, the more inevitable it is that it gets damaged.
Trichomes are often lamentably damaged during the cannabis drying and trimming process. Lack of knowledge regarding the anatomy of the cannabis plant can lead workers to accidentally brush them off or otherwise damage trichomes during processing.
Freezing makes trichomes fall off. It’s that simple. It’s possible to take advantage of this fact when making extracts like bubble hash, but never freeze cannabis buds if you don’t want its trichomes to break away.
Trichomes: The most important component of cannabis
Without trichomes, cannabis would not have any effect. There’s no way around this fact — all of the components of the cannabis plant are important, but none are as fragile or as vital as trichomes. Now that you understand trichomes better, you’ll be able to preserve and appreciate them along your cannabis journey. Crystalline, microscopic, and mushroom-like, trichomes emphasize just how magnificent — but also how delicate — cannabis can be.
Cannabis trichome FAQs
What more is there to learn about trichomes and their role in cannabis? Find out below:
How do you see trichomes?
If you squint hard enough, it might be possible to make out trichomes on cannabis with the naked eye. Usually, though, you’ll need at least a magnifying glass — the small, inexpensive handheld microscopes available from online vendors being the standard option. Cannabis trichomes can be observed best by using a full-blown laboratory microscope.
What do good trichomes look like?
Upon closer inspection, trichomes look more like miniature water towers than mushrooms. There’s a crystalline “stalk” that leads to a cap that’s more like a bulb. That bulb is where the most cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids concentrate, but it’s also the portion of a trichome that’s most likely to accidentally get knocked off.
Do more trichomes mean cannabis is more potent?
Yes, usually the presence of more trichomes is a good indicator that cannabis is more potent than a sample featuring fewer trichomes. The quality of trichomes also matter, with lower concentrations of intact trichomes sometimes offering more potency than higher concentrations of damaged trichomes.
Are there different types of trichomes?
Yes, trichomes can come in various different shapes and sizes. The types of trichomes found on cannabis buds are called “capitate” for their bulbous heads. Other types of trichomes, though, include uniseriate, pilate, barbellate, and plumose.