When it comes to cannabis, there’s more to this plant species than what the naked eye can see. If you’ve ever seen a cannabis flower up close, you may wonder, ‘what are those tiny little crystals it has?’ These tend to cover the buds and leaves of the flower.
These shiny and sticky crystals emit amazing and unmistakable aromas. If you take a harder look at the cannabis flower, you’ll realize that these frost-like blankets are present in large collections. Those are trichomes. You may have already heard their name and wondered, “What are trichomes exactly?”
Trichomes are part of the cannabis compounds that might provide several therapeutic benefits to users. Research suggests that these compounds may help reduce anxiety, fight cancer cells, reduce inflammation, and stimulate appetite.
What Are Trichomes Then?
Trichomes’ name comes from the Greek word ‘trichōma’, which means “hair.” They are fine and clear appendages that grow on lichens, algae, protists, and certain plants like cannabis. Trichomes form all over the cannabis plant, and they serve a few biological functions. Made up of glandular hair, papillae, and scales, they are mainly present on the stems, leaves, and flowers of cannabis.
Trichomes are shiny and crystal-like, giving them a frosty-looking exterior. Each trichome has a unique mushroom-like shape when viewed through a microscope.
Trichomes play a part in producing CBD, THC, and the other cannabinoids of the cannabis plant. These resinous-rich buds also store essential oils. They contain secretory glands that produce resin, which gives cannabis leaves and flowers a sticky texture. The high concentration of trichomes on buds could translate into a higher strain potency.
What Is Inside the Trichomes?
Trichomes form once they protrude out of epidermal cells. They elongate, forming unicellular or multicellular structures. These structures come as a result of biotic or abiotic stresses.
Trichomes produce not only cannabinoids but also terpenes and flavonoids. These compounds are critical in the development of unique, effective, and potent strains of cannabis. Even though trichomes are tiny in size, they work as “factories” all over the cannabis plant. They are responsible for producing other compounds that give cannabis its signature properties. Those compounds are:
They are responsible for the flowers’ aroma and flavor. They interact with receptors within the body to provide therapeutic effects like relaxation, alertness, and stress relief.
These phytonutrients are responsible for the smell, taste, and color of the plant. Cannaflavins are unique to cannabis plants, and they work in conjunction with other flavonoids to provide a variety of effects. This compound has anti-inflammatory properties.
There are over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, including CBD and THC. They interact with the endocannabinoid system to provide various effects.
Major Types of Trichomes
There are three major types of trichomes, namely:
• Stinging Hairs
This type of trichomes have a bulb-like portion and contains a poisonous liquid. They can cause pain or irritation by injecting a chemical fluid into an animal’s skin. This fluid contains serotonin, histamine, and acetylcholine.
• Glandular Hairs
Lots of plants have glandular trichomes, which are responsible for the secretion of essential oils. The glandular cells in the hair tip are metabolically active. These trichomes are multicellular and consist of differentiated apical, stalk, and basal cells. They may secrete resin, mucilage, or oil.
• Peltate Hairs
Also known as scale, these hairs contain a plate of cells typically on the foot or stalk. They have thick walls due to the peltate’s number of ray cells.
Different Trichomes In Cannabis
There are three different trichomes in cannabis that have distinctive physical structures. They differ in shape and size but produce the same compounds. The trichomes found in cannabis plants are:
• Bulbous Trichomes
These are tiny bulbs that aren’t visible to the naked eye. You have to use a microscope to see them since they range from 10-15 micrometers. These trichomes distribute evenly on the cannabis plant’s surface. They give cannabis its sticky texture and frosty appearance. Bulbous trichomes can’t hold high CBD concentrations due to their size.
• Capitate-Sessile Trichomes
These are larger yet, still invisible to the naked eye. These contain abundant concentrations of compounds like terpenes than bulbous trichomes. They have large bulbs located on the undersurface of leaves. Their primary function is to synthesize terpenes and phytocannabinoids through their secretory cells. Capitate-sessile trichomes are mushroom-like with stalks and heads.
• Capitate-Stalked Trichomes
These trichomes are more abundant and larger than the previous two. They are visible to the naked eye and measure around 50-100 micrometers. Found on flowers, they consisting of a large glandular bulb sitting on a multicellular stalk. The epicenter of phytochemical production is within the bulb, making them the powerhouse for cannabinoid and terpene production.
Functions of Trichomes
With the rapid expansion of the cannabis field, it is more common than ever before to hear people asking, ‘what are trichomes? What do they do?’. Well, for starters, they produce chemical compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes, which offer us many potential health benefits.
The primary function of cannabis trichomes during cultivation is to act as a defense mechanism. Insects love flowering plants. Trichomes deter them and predators by giving the plant a strong aroma and bitter taste. They also protect cannabis plants from environmental stressors like harmful UV rays and the wind.
Glandular trichomes produce terpenes that pests find unpalatable, while non-glandular ones trap and impale tiny insects. Trichomes also protect the cannabis plant from fungi by inhibiting their growth. Also, they help to maintain optimal humidity on the plant’s surface so that leaves don’t dry.
However, the main function of trichomes in cannabis is the production of phytochemicals. Biosynthesis in the trichome cells leads to the production of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. Enzymes catalyze to produce complex molecules through a series of chain reactions. The biosynthesis of cannabinoids through binding, prenylation, and cyclization helps convert cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabigerovarin acid (CBGVA) into the acidic cannabinoids CBDA and THCA. Through decarboxylation, those acidic compounds end up becoming CBD and THC.
What Do the Different Colors of Trichomes Mean?
Like many other plant appendages, they rely on color to signal the completion of biochemical activities. Hemp and cannabis cultivators track the plants’ development through color changes in them. They mature by changing from clear to cloudy, and finally amber.
This is an indication that chemical compounds, which include cannabinoids, haven’t started oxidating. At this stage, the plant is barely starting to grow. The production of terpenes and THC is at its highest, while CBD production is low. You’d experience strong psychoactive effects if you use compounds harvested at this stage.
This is when most cultivators harvest their flowers. Most agree it is the right time to harvest. Here, the production of cannabinoids that have potential pain-relieving, stress-reducing, mood-enhancing, and euphoric effects is underway.
Here, the cannabinoids produce a relaxing effect. This is ideal for growers of medical flowers. It may be able to help with insomnia, pain, and other medical conditions. However, growers need to act fast when they turn amber or brown since they begin to degrade in quality. Amber-colored trichomes offer the most abundant yield with a tiny drop in potency.
Harvesting of trichomes is a cautious undertaking. They and their essential oils are delicate and, thus, easy to damage. Factors like agitation, heat, light, oxygen, touch, and time can contribute to their deterioration. Carefully handling the flowers is the best and safest way to deal with cannabis trichomes. Proper trimming, drying, and curing can make sure they remain intact.
Trichome isolation can happen in different ways. Extraction is one of the methods used to isolate them. The simplest way to remove them is to remove them from the flower mechanically. That is the least refined extraction method and easily done by using a grinder.
It is also possible to harvest and transform theminto more refined concentrates through solvent-based and solventless methods. This is more costly and labor-intensive than mechanically removing them.
Ice water extraction is one of the simplest ways to make concentrates from them. Here, you dip cannabis into ice-cold water, then shake it to detach the trichomes from the flower. You’ll have a clean final product once you filter the materials through micron screens.
What Are Trichomes? – The Takeaway
CBD products became very popular all over the world rather quickly. As people continue to learn more about CBD, the question ‘What are trichomes?’ pops up frequently.
Well, they are the actual chemical powerhouses within the cannabis plant. They are responsible for producing the chemical compounds, including cannabinoids, that provide the therapeutic and medical benefits the plant is famous for. People suffering from the likes of chemotherapy, insomnia, pain management, and inflammation would not be able to experience the effects of cannabis and hemp were it not for them.
As the popularity of cannabis continues to grow, more and more people will want to know the inner workings of the plant. Just how is it that it is capable of seemingly so much for a single plant? As research only continues to delve even deeper, one thing is certain – we are going to hear more and more about cannabis, trichomes, and the myriad of benefits they potentially have to offer us.