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Cannabis Trichomes: What Are They and What Do They Do?

If you've ever seen marijuana flowers, chances are you've seen trichomes as well. You know those small crystals visible on the leaves and buds? You guessed it. Those are trichomes. In this article, we'll answer:

  • What are trichomes?
  • Why does the plant need trichomes?
  • What types of trichomes are there?
  • How are trichomes different from terpenes?
  • Are trichomes only found in cannabis?

What are Cannabis Trichomes?

Cannabis trichomes are resin glands that adorn the surface of marijuana leaves and flower buds. They're sticky and shiny, usually exuding a strong aroma that can be sharp, sweet, woody, and more. While they appear hair-like, they are in fact tiny factories that produce all the incredible cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids contributing to the entourage effect. This effect describes the way all three of these molecules and compounds interact with the human endocannabinoid system to create the marijuana consumption experience.

They produce bitter-tasting compounds and an unattractive smell that wards off insects or animals who may have thought to make the cannabis plant their meal. Trichomes can even produce molecules like THC that protect the plant from fungi and UV rays. Interestingly, some carnivorous plants use their trichomes to track prey and, in the case of the Venus flytrap, to ensnare.

What types of trichomes are there?

Unsurprisingly, not all trichomes are created equal. Firstly, there are two categories of trichomes: glandular and non-glandular. When it comes to cannabinoids, only glandular trichomes can actually produce these molecules. Non-glandular trichomes are typically viewed as defensive mechanisms in plants that kill small insects. But glandular trichomes? They can be divided into three different types:

  • Bulbous trichomes: Invisible to the naked eye unless you have a microscope. These tiny bulbs are found all over the plant's surface and are responsible for marijuana buds' slight stickiness. Although it's unclear whether these cannabinoids produce or not, we know they play an important role in protecting the plant. For instance, they help to keep water near the surface so the plant doesn't dry out in low humidity or strong wind.
  • Capitate sessile trichomes: Another microscope-required trichome, capitate sessile trichomes, have a mushroom shape and are much more common than bulbous trichomes. But that's a good thing since these trichomes actually initiate the biosynthesis of cannabinoids and terpenes.
  • Capitate-stalked trichomes: If you can see trichomes on the bud, it's these. Capitate-stalked trichomes are the only ones visible to the naked eye, and they look like little mushrooms. They are also the most common of the three types of trichomes. Most of the terpene and cannabinoid synthesis occurs here.
  • In addition to the types of trichomes, there are also trichome stages including clear, cloudy, amber, and mixed. Growers can use the different stages of trichomes as an indicator of when certain strains should be harvested.

How are trichomes different from terpenes?

There's a major difference between trichomes and terpenes: trichomes make terpenes. The reason why cannabis trichomes can have such a strong aroma is because the terpenes are actually made in these resin glands. In fact, trichomes can be harvested for their terpenes, which can then be turned into anything from perfumes and scents for cleaning supplies to candles.

Are trichomes only found in cannabis?

No! While trichomes that produce cannabinoids are exclusive to cannabis, other plants have trichomes. Certain types of algae and lichens have trichomes, along with cyanobacteria, Venus flytraps, nettles, ferns, and even potatoes.

Trichomes play an important role in many plants, including cannabis, and will continue to be studied to better understand both how they function and the potential properties of the compounds contained within.