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Cannabis Trichomes: What Are They & What Do They Do?

Close up of cannabis bud

If you’ve seen marijuana flower, chances are, you’ve seen trichomes. You know those little crystals you see on the leaves and flower? You guessed it. Those are trichomes. In this guide, we’ll answer: 

  • What Are Trichomes?
  • Why Does The Plant Need Trichomes?
  • What Types Of Trichomes Are There? 
  • How Are Trichomes Different From Terpenes?
  • Are Trichomes Only In Cannabis? 
  • FAQs About Trichomes
     

What Are Cannabis Trichomes?

Cannabis trichomes are resin glands that decorate the surface of marijuana leaves and flower buds. They’re sticky and shiny, and they usually have a strong aroma that can be pungent, sweet, woodsy, and more. While they look like little hairs, they’re actually tiny factories that produce all of the incredible cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that contribute to the entourage effect. This effect describes the way that all three of these molecules and compounds work together in the human body and with the endocannabinoid system to produce your experience when you consume marijuana.
 

Why Does the Plant Need Trichomes?

Plants of all species, including cannabis, have grown in the wild longer than we can even imagine, and a plant that has lived and thrived that long developed a few defense mechanisms along the way. That’s what trichomes are.

They create bitter-tasting compounds and an unappealing scent that drives away the insects or animals that might have thought to make the cannabis plant their meal. Trichomes can even create molecules like THC that protect the plant from anything from fungus and UV rays. Interestingly, some carnivorous plants use their trichomes to detect prey and, in the case of the Venus fly trap, clamp shut.
 

What Types of Trichomes Are There?

Not surprisingly, not all trichomes are the same. First of all, there are two categories of trichomes: glandular and non-glandular. When it comes to cannabinoids, only glandular trichomes can actually produce those molecules. Non-glandular trichomes are typically seen as defense mechanisms in plants that kill small bugs. But glandular trichomes? They can be divided into three different types:

  • Bulbous trichomes: Don’t go looking for these right away unless you have a microscope. These itty-bitty bulbs are all over the surface of the plant, and they’re the ones responsible for making your marijuana flower a little sticky. While it’s unclear if these do or do not produce cannabinoids, we do know they play an important role in protecting the plant. For example, they help to keep water close to the surface so the plant doesn’t dry out in low humidity or high wind weather.
     
  • Capitate sessile trichomes: Another microscope-required trichome, capitate-sessile trichomes have a mushroom shape and they’re much more abundant than bulbous trichomes. But that’s a good thing, because these trichomes actually initiate cannabinoid and terpene biosynthesis.
     
  • Capitate-stalked trichomes: If you can see trichomes on your flower, these are the ones you’re looking at. Capitate-stalked trichomes are the only ones viewable with the naked eye, and they look like little mushrooms. They’re also the most abundant of the three types of trichomes. This is where the majority of terpene and cannabinoid synthesis occurs.

In addition to the types of trichomes, there are also trichome stages, including clear, cloudy, amber, and mixed. Cannabis producers can use the different stages of trichomes as an indicator of when to harvest certain strains.
 

How Are Trichomes Different From Terpenes?

There’s a big difference between trichomes and terpenes: trichomes make terpenes. The reason cannabis trichomes can have such a strong aroma is because the terpenes are actually being made inside these resin glands. In fact, trichomes can be harvested for their terpenes, which are then turned into anything from perfumes and scents for cleaning supplies to candles.

Fascinated by terpenes? We are too! That’s why we created this guide to cannabis terpenes.
 

Are Trichomes Only In Cannabis?

Nope! While trichomes that produce cannabinoids are exclusive to cannabis, other plants do have trichomes. Certain types of algae and lichen have trichomes, along with cyanobacteria, Venus fly traps, stinging nettle, ferns, and even potatoes.
 

FAQs About Trichomes

Trichomes and the entire topic of cannabis plant anatomy can be confusing! Here are some of the most common trichome questions we see.

Do trichomes have THC?
Yes! In fact, trichomes are where cannabinoids like THC are made in the cannabis plant.
 

What do trichomes look like when ready to harvest?
Trichome coloring is one of the best ways to gauge whether or not cannabis flower is ready for harvesting. If trichomes are a milky white color, your flower is ready. If the trichomes are clear, the plant needs a bit more time to develop. (Pro tip: you’ll need a magnifying glass to check!)
 

Do male cannabis plants produce trichomes? 
Male cannabis plants can have trichomes, but in much smaller amounts than a female cannabis plant. This is because the male plant doesn’t produce the cannabis flower, the part that is chock full of trichomes. 
 

THC Trichomes

Trichomes play an important role in many plants, including cannabis, and continue to be studied to better understand both how they work and the potential qualities of the compounds inside of them. Learn more about trichomes at your local dispensary.
 


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