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Trichomes: What Are They And Why Are They Important?

Philip Ghezelbash
trichomes, THC, cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes, health benefits, cannabis strains, medical cannabis, medical benefits

Cannabis trichomes are rich in medicine and psychoactive experience.

You’ve probably seen the tiny crystals on cannabis flowers, but you may not know that these crystals are where THC lives. But what are these shiny and sticky crystals? What do they do and why are they important for the health of the plant and its medicinal properties? These crystal-like structures are called trichomes, which are small hairs that grow out of the epidermis (the surface of the plant’s skin).

These trichomes are where hundreds of terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids are found, which differentiate the potency and effect of various cannabis strains. These also tell growers when a plant is ready to harvest.

So, without further ado, let’s outline the different types of trichomes found on cannabis plants and why they’re important.

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The Different Types

Trichomes on the cannabis plant come in different shapes and sizes. There are three distinct types found on all cannabis plants, which produce cannabinoids, terpenes, and various other phytochemicals. These ensure the unique nature of each cannabis plant.  

  1. Bulbous

Bulbous trichomes are the smallest on the cannabis plant. These are just 10-30 micrometers in length, which makes each nigh impossible to see. Each one is made up of a few cells comprising of a small stalk that secretes resin with a small bulbous at the top, hence the name.

  1. Capitate-sessile 

Capitate-sessile trichomes are of medium-size. These are more abundant on cannabis plants. This type has a single-cell stalk with a larger round gland at the top of the stalk. The gland measures between 25-100 micrometers in length.

  1. Capitate-stalked 

The capitate-stalked is the largest trichome and can reach lengths of 50-500 micrometers. This type is the most abundant on cannabis plants and appears during the flowering phase to cover the entire outer layer of the bud. These are the trichomes growers look for when harvesting crops.

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Why Are Trichomes Important For The Cannabis Plant?

Trichomes aren’t unique to the cannabis plant. These crystals come in different physical forms on a variety of plants, and serve a number of different purposes.

In cannabis specifically, trichomes serve as a defense against the threat of both of predatory animals and environmental threats. As female cannabis plants begin to flower, they become increasingly vulnerable to insects and other animals that wish to consume them. Environmental factors, such as strong winds, also become a threat. Trichomes help to shelter the plant against these risks.

Think of it like the bitter flavor of some raw vegetables. The naturally bitter taste deters insects and other animals from consuming the plant. Trichomes serve a similar purpose and give a bitter taste to the plant to fend off animals.

Why Are These Hairs Important Medically?

In comparison to the rest of the cannabis plant, trichomes contain high concentrations of cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Trichomes also contain terpenes and flavonoids. Flavonoids are important phytonutrients that contribute to the cannabis flower’s color, taste, and smell, while promoting some potential health benefits. Both terpenes and flavonoids contribute to flavor and aroma, but terpenes are shown to also work with cannabinoids to enhance medical benefits through what’s called the “entourage effect”. This effect stimulates a range of effects, including altering the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin

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How Do Trichomes Indicate When A Plant Is Ready To Harvest?

The best time to harvest a cannabis plant depends primarily on the purpose of that particular yield. For example, trichomes are close to their highest THC concentration they have a translucent color. THC is at its peak while CBD is still in lower quantities. Many growers harvest at this point to maximize the ideal psychoactive effect without the more sedating effects of a CBD-rich product. Of course, this will also depend on strain.

Many growers observe trichomes with a microscope to identify when a plant is ready for harvest. Later into the flowering phase of the plant’s growth cycle, these crystals will start to display a mixture of a milky color and amber color. This signals to the grower that the effects of the bud will be more sedating and relaxing. This point in the plant’s maturity cycle would be more ideal for harvesting product with maximum medicinal effects, rather than intoxicating.

These crystals are also an essential part of the plant that is a focus point for growers seeking to grow a cannabis plant with a specific purpose in mind, whether that be to maximize THC content or deliver a specific medicinal effect. Like an actual diamond mine, trichomes are small but mighty treasure-troves of medicinal value, flavor, scent, and protective qualities. 

Its worth note, too, that some cannabis grinders contain “Kief catchers;” small grate-like apparatuses which trichomes and kief slip through into a separate part of the grinder, so that they can be collected for extra strong or medicinal effects. Don’t forget to empty your kief catcher, and enjoy the medicinal benefits of those trichomes!

Philip Ghezelbash

Philip Ghezelbash is an ex-personal trainer with a science background who currently operates New Zealand's only health specialized writing studio. He is passionate about presenting complex science in an easy to digest manner and is a firm believer that cannabis has substantial potential to be used as a medicine for degenerative disease.

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