Everything You Need To Know About Trichomes

You've likely heard of trichomes before, but most people have no idea what they do. Trichomes, despite their low public profile, contain the most important compounds in marijuana plants. Here's the full rundown on cannabis trichomes.

Cannabis Trichomes

If you've ever done research on all the things that make marijuana what it is, we bet you've come across the term "trichome" before. While it sounds like one of the many chemical compounds in cannabis, such as cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes, trichomes are actually their source!

Performing key tasks throughout a cannabis plant’s life, trichomes are also a vital factor in the quality of any strain. Before you go out and look for the strain with the "best trichomes", though, you should learn about each type and their exact role in cannabis. Let’s dive in!

What Are Trichomes?

WHAT ARE TRICHOMES?

If you're looking at a mature weed plant, trichomes are the tiny white hair-like growths sticking out of the buds and sugar leaves. Interestingly, the word comes from the Greek term “tríchōma”, which simply means "growth of hair". From a distance, though, trichomes appear like a layer of frost over the flowers. Ever heard someone equate “THC crystals” or resin to harder-hitting weed? What they’re referring to here, whether they know it or not, is an abundance of trichomes. These little hairs, subtle as they are, hold a much higher concentration of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes than any other part of the plant.

And while we've only been talking about cannabis, trichomes happen to exist on many other plants. They look different and serve different purposes, but they're all trichomes. To prevent any confusion, we'll only be discussing them in the context of cannabis.

What Are Trichomes For?

WHAT ARE TRICHOMES FOR?

Like many similar growths on plants, trichomes serve more than one purpose. They contain a lot of desirable compounds—often in the form of a viscous resin—but they also play important roles in plant defence.

Trichomes For Protection Against Non-Living Elements

During the flowering stage, female cannabis plants become fragile in the face of the elements. Factors such as heat, UV light, and wind all pose a threat to an unprotected plant. Thanks to the trichomes, though, they're safe from all these factors. They cover enough of the plant's surface area to keep it cool, and are biologically engineered to fend off UV rays. Simultaneously, they serve as a protective layer against winds that could damage the integrity of the plant.

Trichomes For Protection Against Animals And Pests

As the trichomes fight off the forces of nature, they're also fending off the animal kingdom. Like many other flowering plants, cannabis can be enticing to pests and other animals that want to take a bite. Thankfully, the compounds in trichomes are the exact thing these pests and animals hate. They give off a bitter taste and a very strong aroma, making the plant all but inedible.

Types Of Trichomes

TYPES OF TRICHOMES

We haven't made distinctions thus far, but there are many different types of trichomes. Some are more common on cannabis plants than others, but they all play an important role. First, we have to form a distinction between glandular and non-glandular trichomes.

Glandular Trichomes

In short, glandular trichomes are ones that secrete substances inside their "head", aka their gland. There are three main kinds of these present on cannabis plants.

  • Capitate-stalked trichomes

Measuring between 50–100 micrometres wide, capitate-stalked trichomes are the largest of the three. In fact, these are the ones you'll usually notice when looking at some high-quality bud. As the name suggests, each one boasts a relatively large stalk, upon which rests a sizable cannabinoid and terpene-rich gland.

  • Capitate-sessile trichomes

These are smaller than their fellow capitate trichomes, but important nonetheless. They grow to 20–30 micrometres wide, and they, like the aforementioned trichome, have a stalk. It's much shorter, though, and the gland contains proportionally fewer compounds in turn.

  • Bulbous trichomes

Lastly, despite the name, bulbous trichomes are essentially microscopic at 10–15 micrometres wide. They don't have a stalk like the others, but cover the entire surface of the plant. Their small size also means that, while they contain the same compounds as the others, they have minimal capacity.

Non-Glandular Trichomes

These trichomes, as you might suspect, are distinguished by their lack of gland. This means they don't contain the cannabinoids and other compounds we love trichomes for. They still serve many uses, though, and shouldn't be ignored entirely.

  • Unicellular trichomes

Unicellular trichomes serve to protect the plant from extreme temperatures and water loss. They start out covering the seedling, later appearing on the undersides of the leaves. As their name suggests, they're single-celled and can't be seen without a microscope. Look closely, though, and you'll notice similarities to short hairs.

  • Cystolithic trichomes

Cystolithic trichomes also appear early on in a cannabis plant's life. They look similar to their unicellular peers, except they're larger and have a special outgrowth on their cell walls. This leaves them rough to the touch; it's suspected they protect the young plant from predators.

  • Antherial sessile trichomes

Lastly, antherial sessile trichomes are only found on the anthers and surrounding calyx of cannabis plants. They're about 80 micrometres wide, making them the largest of the sessile trichomes. The ones found on the calyx, however, are a bit smaller than the ones on the anthers.

The Trichome Life Cycle

THE TRICHOME LIFE CYCLE

Like the plant they grow on, trichomes have their own development process. It syncs up with the cannabis growth process, with the first real changes occurring 3–4 weeks into the flowering stage. From there, you have to pay attention to figure out when exactly to harvest. We recommend using a jeweller's loupe or micro lens that can zoom in 120x to observe them.

Determining Harvest Time

As harvest time approaches, you'll see the trichomes in one of three hues: clear, cloudy, or amber.

If they're clear, it simply means the plant isn't yet ready for harvest. It's still producing resin to push into the glands, and the glands are not yet filled. In turn, if you were to harvest, you wouldn't feel much from smoking it.

Once they become cloudy, though, they've hit peak resin capacity. If you're looking for a strong head high after smoking the buds, this is your harvest time. Those growing sativas should make sure they don't wait much longer. It doesn't mean the strain is inherently strong, but it means it's now as potent as it can be.

Trichomes: When To Harvest

Trichomes - When To Harvest

Trichomes - When To Harvest

That stage will pass, though, and the trichomes will turn from cloudy to amber. If you're growing an indica, this would be the best time for you to harvest. Amber trichomes indicate the high will be more relaxing and sleepy than uplifting and stimulating. However, it also indicates that the THC levels have begun to decline. If you desire this type of effect, wait until about 50% of the trichomes have turned amber.

As a side note: Before you even start, you can take certain steps to maximise how many trichomes are there in the first place.

Trichomes - When To Harvest

Isolating Trichomes

How To Isolate Trichomes To Make Concentrates

Since they contain all the resin we love cannabis for, you might want to figure out how to isolate trichomes from the rest of the plant to make hash or concentrates. Thankfully, you've got a few options if you want to unlock this next level of high.

Mechanically (With A Grinder)

Now, you might be thinking, "Wait, you mean that type of grinder?". Yes; if you have a three-chamber grinder, you already know how to mechanically isolate trichomes! Just throw your weed in there, grind it up, and check the bottom tier for your prize. "But that's just kief!". Exactly, dear reader! Kief is, plainly, an accumulation of trichomes in powder form. You won't get 100% of what's on your bud, but it's still a sizable amount. 

Solvent-Based Extraction

If you want to get closer to harnessing all the trichomes, you could try solvent-based extraction. To do this, pressurised butane oil is used to separate cannabis plant matter from its trichomes. This, given the potentially explosive nature of the butane oil, isn't normally safe to do at home. However, many of the concentrates on the legal marijuana market are created using this method. Even with the potential safety risks, it's the cheapest effective method out there, and is only dangerous when conducted by an amateur. If you don't want to use butane, some Everclear should also do the trick. We also have some nifty devices in our online store that can simplify the process. 

Solventless Extraction

Lastly, solventless extraction is the safest and most effective method available. To do this at home, just add your cannabis to some ice water, and shake it up to begin the trichome separation. The process is rather detailed, so we recommend checking out our guide if you're looking to try it. By the end, though, you'll have some potent, clean bubble hash. Just remember to use high-quality filter bags, and make sure you've got a reliable rosin press on hand.