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What are Trichomes: A Guide

Kirsten Thornhill |

What are Trichomes: A Guide

What are Trichomes in Cannabis?


Trichomes are primarily created on the flower, leaves, and bract of the cannabis plant. They have crystal-like, surgery appearances. 


A trichome is almost like an accessory on the surface of the cannabis flower, producing and holding the plant’s terpenes and cannabinoids. 


What is a Trichome?


Trichomes are the non-glandular and glandular “hairs” found on the surface of plants. They are responsible for producing cannabinoids and terpenes in the cannabis plant. 


The word trichome itself derives from the Greek word “trichoma”, meaning “growth of hair”. As these hairs are micro in size, you may need to zoom way in to see the resin blanket that coats cannabis buds to be able to see the fields and hairs of trichomes. 


Although it’s likely you weren’t familiar with trichomes, you've probably seen trichomes before. These tiny tiny hairs cover your cannabis, perhaps, giving it a surgery shine, maybe even a sticky feel. 


What are they made of?


Trichomes can consist of scales, hairs, glandular hairs, and papillae. They grow on the plant appendages, such as cannabis and algae. 


To be more cannabis specific, trichomes contain resin glands that are responsible for making terpenes, CBDA, THCA, and other cannabinoids well-known to cannabis. 

 

What are the Functions of Trichomes?


In the cannabis plant, trichomes can function as a defensive mechanism. 

When female cannabis plants start to produce flowers in the wild, they often become vulnerable and susceptible to various animals and insects. Trichomes can serve as a deterrent for animals due to their bitter taste and intense aromes, making them unappealing to our friendly creatures.


Trichomes can also function as a protector, keeping their plants safe from strong winds and varieties of fungal growth. 


During cultivation specifically, trichomes can act as a deterrent to keep away pests, predators, and or environmental stressors on the plant. They can assist in keeping the plant’s surface-level humidity optimal. This will help keep the plant from drying out and keep it in production mode for producing terpenes that repel insects and pests. The small bulbous glands can also act as a trap, confining small insects. 


Trichomes really do play a key role in cannabis, as they can be huge helpers when growing in difficult climate conditions. A layer of resin, thick or thin, can offer wonderful weed protection against damaging winds, from deserts to blizzards.


Trichomes can even be thought of as sunblock for the cannabis plant, as a protectant from the sun. They can protect the plant from harmful UV rays. 


What are the Different Types of Trichomes on Cannabis?


Trichomes can exist in various shapes and sizes. However, there are three types that appear most often on the cannabis plant.


1. Capitate-Stalked Trichomes


This type of trichome ranges from 50 - 100 micrometers wide. They are much larger and can be seen by our naked eye. Structure wise, capitate-stalked trichomes are composed of hypodermic and epidermal cells that work to build up a basal cell, attaching to a larger glandular head. This glandular head is held together by a waxy cuticle layer, serving as an epicenter for cannabinoid and terpenoid synthesis. 


2. Capitate Sessile Trichomes


Capitate sessile trichomes are slightly bigger and contain both a stalk and a head. These trichomes are more abundant than their bulbous sister, but can’t quite keep up with the size of the capitate-stalked trichomes. 


3. Bulbous Trichomes


These trichomes are the smallest of the trichome families, they appear on the surface of the entire plant. Bulbous trichomes are small, 10 - 15 micrometers, which is small enough to comprise only a handful of cells. 


How are Cannabinoids Created in Trichomes?


Cannabinoids are created within the trichome cells through a process called biosynthesis. During this process enzymes catalyze a series of chemical reactions, producing complex molecules from smaller molecules. 


Three important steps for this cannabinoid biosynthesis include: 


  • Binding 
  • Prenylation
  • Cyclization

Molecules bind to one or two molecule substrates then bind the substrates to one another. They then pass the connected substrate further down the assembly line to another set of enzymes that further process it. This cycles the small molecule through further changes. 


The most well-known enzymes responsible for producing cannabinoids are cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) synthase, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) synthase.

 

 

These enzymes take the central cannabinoid precursors, cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidivarin acid (CBGVA), and convert them into acidic cannabinoids, including CBDA and THCA. 


Next up, these cannabinoids may be altered through further decarboxylation. When this happens, it loses a carbon atom and two oxygen atoms, it then releases carbon dioxide. 


THCA and CBDA decarboxylate into THC and CBD, respectively. This process must happen to exhibit their characteristic effects. This can be considered a degradation process, as it does not require enzymes and occurs only after the plant has been harvested. 


How are Trichomes Produced?


Within the trichome, the cannabis synthesis begins as the cannabis plant itself moves into the blooming phase. As the plant begins to bloom flowers, trichomes also begin to form along the outer surface of the plant vegetation, transporting vacuoles and plastids from the stalk into the glandular head. Cells within this glandular head soon metabolize, forming precursors for what will soon become cannabinoids. 


The concentration and rate at which cannabis produces individual trichomes depends on both environmental and genetic factors.


Plants containing higher concentrations of trichomes may not always produce the highest concentrations of cannabinoids or terpenes, so to speak. For instance, variables such as UV light will greatly affect cannabinoid and terpene profiles within the trichome head. In a general sense, plants that receive more light may produce higher concentrations of cannabinoids, although, in some instances, they may react depending on their specific strain. 


What is a Trichome’s Life Cycle?


A trichome’s life cycle is very similar to that of the mother cannabis plant, making it a super value for farmers to monitor. The life of trichomes can be compared to parabola, where the apex is the point at which maturation goes beyond and degradation starts. Trichomes typically display maturation on this parabola through opacity changes, from a clear translucent state to a murky white, and amber hue. 


This color transition within the granular trichome head represents its peak ripeness and farmers commonly use this as a signal for harvest. This is the point where the trichome has reached full maturation and will start to degrade from the point forward. 

 

 

It’s important to note that not all cannabis strains are equal. Some trichomes will display maturation differently. However, trichome coloration remains the key standard for determining appropriate harvest time for most cannabis strains. 


Whether the cannabis plant is alive and well or being harvested, trichomes are super flexible and risk degradation and destruction at the hands of many volite factors, including: 


  • Light
  • Oxygen
  • Time
  • Heart
  • Physical contact

The trichomes risk severe damage when exposed to these elements. There are ways to slow trichome degradation by carefully handling cannabis flowers during both propagation and harvest. By limiting physical agitation to the flowers, trichomes can be preserved on the plant for longer periods of time. Proper cutting, drying, and crying techniques can aid in keeping the trichomes viable for longer, which will help preserve cannabinoids and terpenes within the cannabis plant itself. 


Cannabis Trichomes: Final Thoughts


The cannabis plant trichomes truly deserve cheers all around! Their essential role in protecting the whole plant from potential environmental harms is a kudos in itself. 


Experienced cannabis farmers are no strangers to growing with intentions of preserving their trichomes. With proper care, detail, and continued dedication, farming trichomes will continue to shed light into the vast mysteries of their medicinal and therapeutic qualities they may add to the cannabis plant. 

 

 

Sources

Andre, C. M., Hausman, J. F., & Guerriero, G. (2016). Cannabis sativa: The plant of the thousand and one molecules. Front Plant Sci, 7, 19. 

Huchelmann, A., Boutry, M., & Hachez, C. (2017). Plant glandular trichomes: Natural cell factories of high biotechnological interest. Plant Physiology, 175, 6-22.

Wang, X., Shen, C., Meng, P., et al. (2021). Analysis and review of trichomes in plants. BMC Plant Biology, 21, 70.


*DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is for educational purposes only. It does not exploit or provide medical advice of any kind. Therefore, any reliance you place on the information below is strictly at your own risk. Please check with your medical provider before starting or changing a CBD routine.

 

Nanocraft CBD
Content Writer | Physiologist | Researcher
Kirsten is currently in pursuit of a PhD in Health Sciences at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMUoHP) in Northern Utah, specializing in Human Performance. She is a Research Assistant at RMUoHP in the Human & Sport Performance Laboratory as well as a Research and Development Writer for Nanocraft CBD. With a background in holistic care as an Exercise and Rehabilitation Specialist working with chronic pain patients, Kirsten’s desire to further her education and career in lifestyle medicine and cannabidiol research has been nothing short of a fruitful and passionate pursuit. Kirsten enjoys educating and informing people about the importance of lifetime movement as well as the influence of cannabis and CBD in sport. Her passion for plant and lifestyle medicine enables her to strive when promoting health, education, and holistic practice.

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