Trichomes: The High Notes of Cannabis

Trichomes are without a doubt one of the most important parts of any cannabis plant, and in this article we will cover every crucial aspect related to these tiny, but precious outgrowths. 

Before we get into the more convoluted stuff, we should start off by explaining what exactly are trichomes, and what is their function within the cannabis plant. 

What are Trichomes?

Cannabis trichomes are generally defined as miniscule mushroom-like appendages. They are sticky and glistening, and when viewed with a naked eye trichomes look like a coating of crystalline frosty matter.

The most fascinating thing about trichomes is that they are responsible for the production of all known cannabinoids (including THC and CBD), as well as all cannabis terpenes (like myrcene, limonene and caryophyllene).

Cannabis trichomes  are tiny, mushroom-like outgrowths responsible for the production of all known cannabinoids, including THC and CBD.

But, not all trichomes are capable of producing cannabinoids. Trichomes are divided into two distinct classes, glandular and non-glandular.

Glandular trichomes are in charge of cannabinoid production, while non-glandular trichomes (also known as cystoliths) only serve a purpose of guarding the cannabis plant from various threats, which we’ll cover in more detail later on.

Trichomes are found in large quantities on the buds and sugar leaves of cannabis, and since they are really tiny, some sort of a magnifying device is required to see them in all of their beauty.

Besides providing all cannabis strains with potency and flavour, trichomes are also the essential ingredient in every cannabis derivative and concentrate, including hash, shatter, BHO, budder and wax

Trichomes provide all cannabis strains with potency and flavour.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, we can move on to the function of trichomes on cannabis plants.

Why Does Cannabis Produce Trichomes?

The main function of trichomes is to defend the cannabis plant. When a female plant begins flowering in the wild, it becomes exposed to various threats including pests and predators, but also environmental factors like detrimental winds and damaging UV rays from the sun.

The main function of trichomes is protecting the cannabis plant.

A layer of trichomes protects cannabis flowers from animals. Trichomes’ pungent taste and potent aromas act as a deterrent for predators, while some insects and specific types of fungi aren’t capable of penetrating the thick trichome barrier.

Trichomes also help to maintain optimal humidity on the surface of the plant, which is extremely beneficial if the cannabis plant is experiencing harsh weather conditions.

Finally, a coating of trichomes also acts as a primordial sunblock, and it’s capable of protecting the plant from harmful UV rays.

Where are Trichomes Located?

There are three distinct types of trichomes on cannabis plants.

    1. The smallest are called bulbous trichomes, and once a cannabis plant starts flowering, they cover the entire surface of the plant. Bulbous trichomes are really microscopic, and they are composed of a very small number of cells.
    2. Unlike bulbous trichomes, capitate sessile trichomes have both a stalk and a head, and they are also considerably larger than their bulbous counterparts. 
    3. The most important type of trichomes are known as capitate-stalked trichomes. They are the only variety that can be observed without any equipment, and they only appear on the buds during the blooming phase.

Capitate-stalked trichomes are made up from epidermal and hypodermic cells which lead up to a basal cell that connects to the large head gland, where the cannabinoid and terpene synthesis occurs.

Capitate-stalked trichomes are the biggest and most important type of trichomes, since they produce the largest amount of cannabinoids and terpenes.

Since capitate-stalked trichomes are by far the largest type, they produce the biggest percentage of both cannabinoids and terpenes.

When Do Trichomes Appear?

As we previously mentioned, the formation of trichomes (and the synthesis of cannabinoids/terpenes within them) starts happening when a cannabis plant enters the flowering stage.

The production rate and the overall concentration of trichomes greatly depends on the genetics of the strain, but it’s also dependent on a couple of environmental factors.

Higher concentration of trichomes is not a guarantee of higher concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes, since their production is dependant on other factors, as well.

Plants with a high concentration of trichomes don’t necessarily contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes, since the quality of UV light immensely impacts the synthesis of cannabinoids and terpenes within the trichomes.

Cannabis plants gradually evolved in outdoor conditions for aeons, and therefore natural sunlight perfectly suits their photon requirements, since it provides the plant with a broad spectrum of light.

Even though sunlight works great for trichome production, modern indoor lighting does a fantastic job of mimicking the sun’s light spectrum, which helps to increase the concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes.

How are Trichomes Formed?

When a cannabis plant starts producing buds, trichomes begin to form all over the above-ground surface of the plant. Once they are formed, trichomes start transporting vacuoles and plastids towards their head glands.

As soon as this happens, the cells in the head glands begin forming precursors of future cannabinoids. 

Cannabinoids are created in the trichomes via biosynthesis, where a myriad of enzymes trigger a series of reactions that ultimately produce complex compounds from simpler molecules.

Three crucial steps are involved in cannabinoid synthesis: binding, prenylation, and cyclization.

Cannabinoid are created in the trichomes through biosynthesis.

The enzymes responsible for the production of well-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) synthase and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) synthase.

These enzymes transform main cannabinoid precursors cannabigerovarin acid (CBGVA) and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) into acidic cannabinoids like THCA and CBDA.

How to Tell When Trichomes are Ready?

Since the maturation of trichomes determines when a cannabis plant needs to be harvested, it is crucial for growers to pay close attention to their development.

A thin line separates the point where trichomes are done maturing and begin to degrade, and their development is best observed by the changes in their opacity. 

Trichomes begin their journey in a completely translucent state, afterwards they transition into an opaque cloudy white hue, and finally they express a brownish amber colour.

The changes in trichomes’ colour remains the most common method of determining the stage of their development.

Once trichomes reach the amber stage, cannabis growers use this signal to start harvesting their plants, since the trichomes will begin degrading from this point on.

It’s important to mention that there are subtle differences in trichome maturation between various strains of cannabis, but despite that observing the changes in their colour remains the go-to method of evaluating their progression.

When to Harvest Trichomes?

As we previously stated, observing the colour of the trichomes allows us to determine the precise stages of their development.

The first trichomes will appear when a cannabis plant starts blooming, and they will be completely translucent. If the trichomes on your plant are utterly clear, this means that they are still immature and that they need to develop further.

Make sure not to harvest your plants if the trichomes are translucent, since the clear phase is only the first stage in their growth.

Once the translucent phase is completed, the trichomes will change colour and feature a cloudy milky appearance. The cloudy stage lasts for about two weeks, after which the trichomes will enter their final developmental stage.

When the flowering stage of the plant is almost complete, the trichomes will change colour for the third time, and feature a distinct amber hue. This final change is a clear signal that the trichomes are finished with their development, marking the perfect time to harvest your plants.

Trichomes and Concentrates

Trichomes are by default extremely delicate, and the cannabinoids and terpenes contained within them can be easily damaged (or even destroyed) by a wide range of factors, including heat, physical agitation, light and oxygen. 

Various methods like curing, drying and trimming all help to preserve the overall “health” of the trichomes, but the ultimate way to extend the shelf life of trichomes is by extracting them from the plant.

Trichomes can be extracted and preserved using different techniques.

Trichomes extraction techniques are generally divided into two separate classes, physical extractions (also known as mechanical or solventless extractions), and chemical extractions (sometimes referred to as solvent-based extractions).

Physical Extractions

Physical extractions entail removing trichomes from the plant through physical actions like shaking and pressing. 

Cannabis concentrates produced through physical extraction include: 

    • Hash (where the plant material is sieved and then pressed),
    • Kief and dry sift (where trichomes are separated by shaking cured cannabis through micron screens), and
    • Ice-water extraction (where the buds are placed in icy water, and afterwards the trichomes are separated and filtered via micron screens).

Chemical Extractions

Cannabis concentrates created through chemical extractions are made by utilizing light hydrocarbons like butane and propane to separate the trichomes from the plant material.

Using solvents for the production of concentrates is by far the most efficient method, and because of that it’s also the preferred technique in the commercial cannabis industry.

Concentrates produced through solvent-based extractions include:

If they are stored properly, trichomes that have been isolated through such methods can be stored indefinitely.

References

  1. https://www.leafly.ca/news/cannabis-101/what-are-trichomes-on-cannabis
  2. https://www.royalqueenseeds.com/blog-cannabis-trichomes-importance-n430
  3. https://weedmaps.com/learn/dictionary/trichome
  4. https://potguide.com/blog/article/what-are-trichomes/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichome
  6. https://honestmarijuana.com/trichomes/

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Disclamer

1. Please consume responsibly.
2. When canning any food at home (e.g. cannabutter or canna-oil) you should be very careful since there can be a risk of the appearance of toxin that can lead to botulism, a very serious illness. This happens when food is canned, processed, stored or handled. Bacteria that cause botulism can very quickly grow in cannabis edibles that are made at home. Bacteria can cause botulism poisoning which is a very serious illness that affects the body’s nerves and produces serious health consequences.

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