Trichomes Explained: What Are They & How Do They Work?

February 23, 2023

Trichomes make cannabinoids and terpenes; protect the plant from outside influences, like creepy crawlies and windy days; and contain compounds researchers are studying as potential treatments for medical conditions. So whether you’re new to cannabis or you’ve been around the cannablock, you should get to know trichomes. 

What are Cannabis Trichomes?

Cannabis trichomes are the tiny glands on marijuana plants responsible for creating cannabinoids and terpenes. They’re the little sticky things that coat your fingers when you hold premium bud, and they give marijuana its glossy finish. Because trichomes create terpenes, they provide an array of aromatic experiences, including sweet, fruity, earthy, diesel, dank, sour, and spicy.

How Do Trichomes Work?

Trichomes work by producing terpenes and cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. They start this process during the bloom phase of the marijuana plant. As the cannabis plant creates flowers, trichomes pop up across the entire surface of the plant, transporting little vacuoles and plastics up their hair-like stalk and into the glandular head. Once there, those important resources are metabolized and eventually become cannabinoids and terpenes.

What Do Trichomes Look Like?

The actual appearance of trichomes depends on the type of trichome. Some are like bulbous beets while others are more flower-shaped with a stalk and head. If you’re looking at a marijuana plant with your naked eye, the latter is the only one you’ll have a chance to see. This is likely why some people describe trichomes as hair-like (“trichome” is actually the Greek word for “hair”).

You’ll likely be able to see trichomes with your own eyes because they form a glossy, sticky, clear-to-white layer around the cannabis flower buds. 

Why are Cannabis Trichomes Important?

Cannabis trichomes serve a variety of important purposes for different people, including:

  • Cultivators: The appearance of trichomes indicates the cannabis plant is starting to bloom. When those trichomes turn from clear to a cloudy white or even amber, it’s time to harvest.

  • Manufacturers: Trichomes are nature-grown gold. Everything customers love about marijuana (the cannabinoids and terpenes) is found in the trichomes, making the harvesting of those crystal glands an important process. From them, we create anything from hash to concentrates like budder and shatter.

  • Cannabis Consumers: Everyone has a different reason for consuming cannabis. Some love the flavors and aromas of the terpenes. Others want to bask in the entourage effect from the combination of terpenes and cannabinoids. And then there are some people that just want a certain cannabinoid, like THC or CBD. All of those reasons require the production of trichomes.

Of course, trichomes are also crucial to the marijuana plant itself. They serve as protection against things like bugs, critters, and environmental factors like wind and sun.

What are the Different Types of Cannabis Trichomes?

Not all trichomes are created equal. In fact, there are three trichome types that show up on the marijuana plant, all varying in size and cannabinoid production. They are:

Bulbous Trichomes:

Stop looking because you’re never going to see these tiny trichomes with the naked eye. They’re as little as 10 micrometers (one micrometer is one millionth of a meter), and they cover the entire surface of the cannabis plant. 

Capitate-Sessile Trichomes:

If this was Goldilocks, the capitate-sessile trichomes would be “just right.” That’s because they’re a medium sized trichome with a tiny stalk and chunky head, like a dandelion when it’s time to make a wish. This type of trichome is even more abundant than its smaller counterpart. 

Capitate-Stalked Trichomes:

If you can see trichomes on your flower, you’re likely looking at this one. Ten times the size of bulbous trichomes (100 micrometers), the capitate-stalked trichomes are the biggest type of trichome. They have a long stalk and big, globe-like heads, and they serve as ground zero for the creation of cannabinoids and terpenes. 

Understanding Cannabis Trichome Production & the Trichome Development Timeline

Cannabis enthusiasts love trichomes for the cannabinoids and terpenes they contain, but farmers love trichomes because they are key to the development and harvesting timeline of marijuana. The lifecycle of the trichome starts when a marijuana plant begins to bloom; trichomes form across the entire plant and initiate the process of creating what will one day become cannabinoids. 

The second growers see those trichomes glisten, they start to really monitor their cannabis crop. They’re looking for the trichomes to turn from translucent and clear in color to just a little cloudy and amber-toned. This is the point when trichomes are at their ripest—an indicator that it’s time to harvest the plant. If a grower waits too long, the trichomes will turn completely amber and, eventually, black. 

While not all strains follow the same growing pattern or trichome stages, their trichomes are always crucial to the harvesting process.

Answering Cannabis Trichomes FAQs

If the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, the trichomes are the powerhouse of the cannabis plant. Here are just some of the questions we get and the answers our expert budtenders give about these unique little glands:

Are trichomes cannabinoids?
No, trichomes are not cannabinoids, but trichomes do contain cannabinoids among other compounds. 

What is the function of the trichome?
While we love them because they contain cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, trichomes are actually a crucial part of the marijuana plant’s defense against things like bugs, animals, and even the sun’s UV rays. Some of the very things we breed marijuana plants for, like taste and aroma, keep animals and bugs from eating them. Plus, because trichomes grow like a sticky, crystalline shield, they can also prevent sun damage, wind damage, and in some cases, fungal growth.

What’s the difference between trichomes and kief?
Nothing. Kief is just dried trichomes that have broken off from the marijuana flower. 

Do grinders crush trichomes?
If you’re using just a standard grinder, yeah, you’re going to destroy your trichomes. If you want to preserve those little bundles of cannabinoids and terpenes, you should get yourself a grinder with a kief catcher. That way, your trichomes won’t go to waste.

When do trichomes appear?
Trichomes appear on the marijuana plant during the flowering stage.

Experiencing Cannabis Trichomes

The best part about trichomes is that you literally can’t walk into a dispensary and not see them. They’re decorating the top-shelf flower, packaged in with the concentrates, or even enhancing a pre-roll as kief. If you’d like to get to know trichomes on a personal level, view our menu and then head over to one of our dispensaries. We’re happy to introduce you to trichomes at any of our locations

Please consume responsibly. This product may cause impairment and may be habit forming. There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product.  State laws impact what dispensaries can and can’t sell to recreational customers and medical marijuana patients. Not every type of product, consumption method, dosage form, or potency mentioned on this blog will be permitted in all locations.

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