What Are Trichomes and Why Do They Matter?

Posted by Burgess Powell on

Your favorite herb gets its distinctive smell, taste, and potency from trichomes. In fact, you’ve probably taken a close look at weed trichomes without even realizing it. For beginners, trichomes are the sticky crystals that cover your bud. It turns out, these trichomes do much more than gunk up your fingers: Terpenes, cannabinoids and other goodness come from the trichomes. And there’s a lot more that you should know about them.

There are 3 Types of Weed Trichomes

These are the small, crystalline growths that look just like hairs and produce the resin that determines a strain's effects, strength and even scent. It turns out, lots of different types of plants and even algae has trichomes. They vary a lot between species and can vary a lot between species. If you want to nerd out on cannabis trichomes, you should know that there are actually three different kinds of glandular (resin-producing) trichomes:

  1. Capitate-Stalked: These are the most common that you’ll find on weed. Growers pay close attention to capitate-stalked trichomes because they give your blend its potency. They’re actually so big that you can usually see them with the naked eye -- especially with really sticky icky weed. These are named after the form they take: They are typically small glandular stalks.
  2. Capitate-Sessile: Similarly named, capitate-sellile examples are smaller than capitate-stalked, though also cover much of the cannabis plant. They have a similar shape: a stalk with a large gland on top.
  3. Bulbous Trichomes: Smaller than the other two types, bulbous trichomes are hard to see but have their signature bulbous head that secretes resin.

Trichomes Vary in Form and Function

Though we care most about those small crystals that give weed its potency, it’s important to know that plants have all sorts of types of trichomes. Though they’re all technically outgrowths, they can vary in density, length, and can be unicellular or multicellular.

Glandular vs. Non-Glandular

Some have hair (pubescent) while some do not. Some secrete oil (glandular) others don’t. In fact, the glandular kind found in weed in only prevalent in 30% of species, according to research. This includes cannabis.

What’s the point of non-glandular trichomes? These are meant to protect a plant from UV rays and insects (see the New Zealand Journal of Botany). They can be found in climates with intense heat and low humidity.

Trichomes Determine Weed Flavor and Potency

In the cannabis plant and otherwise, trichomes secrete all sorts of metabolites, meaning compounds that help a plant digest and survive. In the case of cannabis, these include:

  1. Flavonoids
  2. Ketones
  3. Terpenoids
  4. Acylsugars
  5. Phenylpropanoids
  6. Cannabinoids

Do flavonoids, terpenoids and cannabinoids sound familiar? Terpenoids are chemicals that contain oxygen molecules. Terpenes are considered a subset of terpenoids, though they’re used inter-changeably often. The truth is: There is a lot that the scientific community has yet to understand about cannabis due to its legal status in the majority of countries.

In short, terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids give weed its flavor and strength. Trichomes are the mechanisms used to produce them.

What Are Terpenes?

Ever notice that certain strains smell different (we hope you have)? That is because different strains contain trichomes that produce terpenes in varying amounts. A terpene is an oil that makes a plant smell or taste unique (cannabis is far from the only plant with them).

What Are Trichomes? Image of a Sunflower

Some research also postulates that terpenes determine cannabis’ effect. Wonder why a strain is more relaxing than another? That may be due to how much myrcene or limonene, two of hundreds of terpenes.

Though smokes might feel this way, trichomes don’t produce delicious, relaxing and energizing terpenes just for our benefit. They’re actually supposed to attract pollinators or repel insects, which can hurt a female cannabis plant while it’s flowering.

10 Terpenes Produced by Trichomes

We know about hundreds of terpenes, though we’re only starting to investigate their effects. Here are 10 you should know about:

  1. Linalool
  2. Alpha-bisabolol
  3. Myrcene
  4. Bisabolol
  5. Trans-nerolidol
  6. Alpha-pinene
  7. Beta-pinene
  8. Caryophyllene
  9. Eucalyptol
  10. Limonene

Trichomes Produce Cannabinoids

Ever heard of CBD or THC? These are cannabinoids, which means active compounds found in the cannabis plant (though not restricted to it). Active effects do not just mean that they produce a high, like THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). It may also mean that they reduce pain, anxiety, inflammation and more when they interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Resin glands on trichomes are responsible for the creation of cannabinoids and terpenes. They are produced through biosynthesis: when cell enzymes produce a complex molecule by converting or joining other molecules (see this study to learn more). This includes oils, such as terpenes, and cannabinoids.

Trichomes Matter to Cannabis Potency

8 Cannabinoids

  1. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): The main active cannabinoid found in cannabis, THC is through to be largely responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects, i.e. the ability to make someone feel ‘high’.
  2. Cannabidiol (CBD): The second-most prevalent cannabinoid, CBD is known for its therapeutic effects and potential for pain, anxiety, depression, and inflammation reduction. CBD flower is increasingly popular because it may let users experience weed’s therapeutic effects without a high.
  3. Cannabinol (CBN): Another psychoactive cannabinoid, though with milder effects. It may have antibacterial effects, according to research
  4. Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA): Though similar in name to THC, THCA is found in plant matter in non-dried cannabis and actually does not produce psychoactive effects. Only after the plant trichomes have dried may THCA convert into psychoactive THC.
  5. Cannabichromene (CBC): A non-psychoactive cannabinoid like CBD, CBC does not connect well with the body’s cannabinoid receptors. These are the cell membranes that exist within the human body and interact with cannabinoids (hence their name) to produce a variety of therapeutic effects.
  6. Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA): A cannabinoid found in high-CBD strains. CBDA is eventually converted into CBD with heat exposure.
  7. Cannabigerol (CBG): Only approximately 1% of a plant, CBG converts into other cannabinoids over time.
  8. Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV): Though similar to THC in structure, THCV may produce effects such as reducing appetite, according to some research.

Keep in mind that cannabinoid, trichome and terpene research is in its infancy. In other words, the above information is for educational purposes and is subject to change as scientists spend more time and resources investigating cannabis and hemp applications.

Trichome Flavonoids, Explained

The third element to pay attention to is flavonoids. These are exactly what they sound like: compounds that affect how we smell and taste cannabis. But keep in mind that new research suggests that they do more than alter the smell of weed: They may also produce anti-oxidant effects, making them crucial to cannabis and hemp’s therapeutic applications, according to this scientific overview.

From the plant’s perspective, though, flavonoids are crucial in attracting pollinators, defense against plaques, and more.

Hydroponique Pipe

The Best Way to Enjoy Weed Trichomes

Though trichomes exist throughout the plant, they are delicate. Even wondered why weed trimming and cutting was such a skill or why old weed is less potent and flavorful? In both cases, there is a loss of trichomes -- and the essential oils they contain that make weed as great as it is.

The best way to deal with trichomes is to limit the amount that cannabis is handled or agitated, reduce heat and exposure to the sun, and smoke it while it’s fresh. It also means grinding your weed and saving the resin in one of the best weed grinders.

If that isn’t enough, some forms of dabs (or cannabis extracts) may contain more concentrated amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes, though these are much more potent than dry herb.

Our favorite way to enjoy trichomes is with a smoking accessory that amplifies their potency. Check out the Hydroponique, a water pipe made in America.

← Older Post Newer Post →