Cannabis trichomes are the appendages on the surface of cannabis flowers that produce and hold the plant's cannabinoids and terpenes. While trichomes appear across the entire plant, they are primarily produced on the flower, bract, and leaves of the cannabis plant. They have a sugary, crystal-like appearance that will probably look familiar to many cannabis consumers.

Though you may not have known what they were, you've probably noticed trichomes as the tiny hairs that cover your cannabis, giving it a crystal-like sheen and sticky feel.

cannabis plant trichomes Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

What are trichomes made of?

Trichomes may be made of hairs, glandular hairs, scales, and papillae. They grow on the appendages of plants, such as cannabis, as well as algae and lichens. 

What is the difference between trichomes and root hairs?

While trichome comes from the Greek word for hair, trichomes are different. They cover different parts of the plant and serve different purposes. 

Root hairs are secondary and tertiary roots that look like fine hairs. They take in moisture and nutrients from the surrounding soil or grow medium to feed the plant. Trichomes, on the other hand, are found on the portions of the plant that are above ground, mostly on buds and sugar leaves. They secrete terpenes and cannabinoids that provide pest and disease protection for plants. Small bulbous trichome glands can even trap and confine tiny insects. Terpenes also help the plant maintain optimal surface-level humidity so it doesn't dry out. 

close up cannabis plant Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Different types of trichomes: glandular trichomes vs non-glandular trichomes

Trichomes fall into two categories: glandularand non-glandular. Only glandular trichomes produce cannabinoids. Nonglandular trichomes are called cystoliths and serve primarily as a defense mechanism for the plant by impaling small insects. Glandular trichomes can be further separated into three categories, as outlined below.

Bulbous trichomes

Bulbous trichomes are tiny bulbs that dot the surface of the plant. They cannot be seen without a microscope. While their production of cannabinoids is still in question, they add a crystal-like sheen to the cannabis plant and contribute to the stickiness of the flower. Bulbous trichomes are evenly distributed throughout the plant's surface. 

Capitate-sessile trichomes

Capitate-sessile trichomes are also only visible with a microscope but they are more abundant than bulbous trichomes. They have large bulbs with a classic mushroom-like shape. They also have secretory cells at the base, which initiate cannabinoid and terpene biosynthesis. Capitate-sessile are the trichomes found primarily on the underside of the sugar and fan leaves.

Capitate-stalked trichomes

Capitate-stalked trichomes are shaped like mushrooms and contain a large bulb at the head of a stalk. The bulb on the end of capitate-stalked trichomes contains secretory cells at its base, and nutrients are transferred to the trichome head through the multicellular stalk. Before they fully form, capitate-stalked trichomes look identical to sessile trichomes. They are the largest and most abundant trichomes in cannabis, and their shape is most familiar to consumers because they can be easily seen with the naked eye. Capitate-stalked trichomes are primarily found on the surface of cannabis flowers and are rarely seen on fan or sugar leaves.

When do trichomes appear?

On healthy plants, cannabis trichomes typically appear early in the flowering stage. As trichome heads age, they go from being completely clear to opaque, milky white, and, eventually,  amber. 

If trichomes have turned a visible amber hue, the cannabis plant has probably aged past peak potency. This trait makes trichomes a good indicator of when a plant is ready for harvest. Most growers pay close attention to the state of the plant's trichomes and try to harvest buds right when the trichomes are milky white before they have degraded to amber.

Turning cannabis flowers into concentrates

Concentrates are among the hottest products on today's market, popular with both medical marijuana patients and recreational consumers looking for exceptionally high levels of THC. Plants with more trichomes will, by definition, have more cannabinoids. Many growers and producers, therefore, focus specifically on cultivating cannabis strains with good genetics, high trichome levels, and fat buds covered in milky resin heads. Cannabis buds like this are ideal for producing very strong concentrates.

Cannabis concentrates harvest the plant's desirable compounds from its trichome glands. There are several different extraction techniques available to producers, but the two primary modes of separating trichomes from the cannabis plant material are physical separation and chemical extraction. 

Physical separation, also known as mechanical separation, involves breaking and removing trichomes from plant material via a physical action such as shaking or pressing. Think of it like shaking a fruit tree to release the ripe fruit. Dry sift, kief, and bubble hash are examples of physical separation. These concentrates are all made by shaking cured cannabis through a series of increasingly finer screens to ensure nothing but trichome glands make it into the final product.

Chemical extraction, also known as solvent-based extraction, utilizes a chemical solvent to dissolve the trichomes, separating them from the plant. Solvent-based extraction is the most efficient method for removing trichomes from the cannabis plant and it's preferred by commercial concentrate producers.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on July 23, 2021.