Are you trying to understand all the convoluted online conversation about cannabis trichomes? What are they? How are they grown? How are they harvested? What’s the best way to consume them?
We gotcha! We’ll help you understand what the trichome buzz in the cannabis community is all about. This post will also help you wrap your mind around the biology of trichomes and their importance to you and to the rest of the cannabis plant. We’ll make sure you know what you need to about how trichomes are both grown and extracted so you can make well-informed decisions to optimize your cannabis consumption. We’ll break down the basics of a few traditional trichome consumption methods and also hook you up with a brief intro to dabbing to help you get started dabbling with trichomes!
Trichomes are totally the grooviest and gooiest part of the cannabis plant. Trichomes are the resin glands of the pot plant which contain THC, CBD and other active medicinal cannabinoids. Trichomes are literally the cream of the cannabis crop. Trichomes are the basis of the smokeless revolution in cannabis consumption which has saved the lives of countless medical marijuana users such as Charlotte Figi. Charlotte was cured from suffering over 300 seizures a week induced by Dravet syndrome with a tincture of trichomes from a CBD-rich strain of marijuana now known as Charlotte’s Web named after the girl’s miraculous recovery.
Extracting trichomes from the cannabis plant also preserves terpenes. Terpenes are the pungent oils that give the cannabis plant its distinct tastes and smells. Like the sweet, fruity taste of Pineapple Twist? That’s the terpenes. Love the skunky smell of Sour Diesel? That’s the terpenes. In fact, terpenes provide a wide range of tastes and smells including the more common citrus, berry, mint, and pine.
Terpenes also create an entourage of health benefits and help fully expose and express the ganja’s unique aromatic and euphoric character. Additionally, and maybe most importantly, certain THC dominant strains of concentrated trichomes can get you really, really high! This is why trichomes are the basis of the thriving cannasseur celebrity subculture that has come to be known as dabbing.
So what’s going on inside the gooey stuff on the ganja that’s fueling the modern medical marijuana and recreational reefer revolutions? Let’s find out.
THC and other medicinal cannabinoids are only found inside the heads of three different types of trichomes:
- Capitate sessile
Bulbous trichomes appear on the surface of the entire plant, but are so small (10-15 micrometers or microns) that you won’t see them without the aid of a microscope. For reference, the width of a human hair is 40-50 microns.
Capitate sessile trichomes are the next largest group. They are slightly larger than bulbous trichomes and are significantly more abundant. Capitate sessile trichomes start to take on the more familiar head-and-stalk shape.
Capitate-stalked trichomes are the most common of the bunch. They range in size from 50-100 microns which means they can be seen with the naked eye. Capitate-stalked trichomes are composed of a basal cell (stalk) topped off by a waxy gland head.
Scientists used to believe that essential cannabinoids such as THC were created in the calyxes, or green plant tissue, which serve as the womb from which the mushroom shaped trichome glands grow. Scientists now observe that the trichomes themselves create the cannabinoids and terpenes. Yes, the trichomes grow from the body of the calyx, but it’s the trichomes themselves that ultimately produce the cannabinoids.
The anatomy of the cannabis bud you typically smoke also contains pistils. These double strands of hair that grow out of the calyx material, catch cannabis pollen from male pot plants to facilitate reproduction and flower production.
Trichome is Greek for ‘growth of hair’. Trichomes serve as the pot plant’s phalanx of little shields responsible for the developing pot plant’s triumphs against fungus and pesky pot-loving insects that would otherwise destroy entire crops of cannabis plants. Trichomes are also the “sunscreen” of growing marijuana plants. Trichomes protect it from the sun’s ultraviolet rays as well as high wind and low humidity. Thick layers of sticky wet trichomes also help protect pot plants from hungry edible-loving animals such as rabbits and other rodents. That said, however, you’ll need a proper fence to keep an edible-loving animal such as “Sugar Bob”, the perpetually-stoned medical marijuana farm deer from Oregon, from munching on your personal marijuana stash!
Trichomes have their own cycle of growth within the overall marijuana plant’s lifecycle. The theory is that photosynthetic cannabinoid precursors are transported and transformed into THC, CBD, additional cannabinoids, and terpenes in the secretory vesicles of the trichome gland head as pictured above. Cannabinoids and terpenes accumulate between the outer cuticle of the trichome as the pot plant grow. The trichome gland head grows thicker and more bulbous as the secretory vesicles produce oil and push it towards the cuticle. The gland head eventually matures and falls off as the budding process nears completion.
If you’re going to harvest your marijuana plant for its full THC or CBD effects, you DON’T want the trichomes to fall off. If that happens, that means that you let the plant grow too long. The majority of the cannabinoids are now gone, you won’t enjoy the psychoactive or medicinal effects, and you’ll have to start growing a new batch of marijuana.
If you’re growing your own plants, keep an eye out for the following signs that your cannabis is nearing maturity. The gland heads of trichomes are typically clear or slightly amber at the beginning of the plant’s growth cycle. Prior to harvest, when cannabinoid levels reach their maximum, the gland head will turn cloudy or opaque. But just because your plant is covered in trichomes and the gland heads are bursting with oil, your bud won’t necessarily blast you off to the moon with THC. The trichome resin on your bud could also contain counter psychoactive CBD cannabinoids as well. The euphoric potency of the trichomes in cannabinoids is largely determined by the moment in time when the marijuana is harvested. You can tell the cannabinoids are reaching full maturity when the trichome gland heads go opaque. This is why many growers suggest harvesting the crop when half the trichomes on their plants are opaque in order to get the highest level of THC with the lowest level of CBD cannabinoids (which counteract the euphoric effects of THC). You could also try growing CBD-rich strains such as Charlotte’s Web for a more sober medical stoned feeling.
The little hairs that grow from inside the calyxes or the pistils are another clue that help you determine when to harvest your cannabis for the specific kind of chemical properties you want it to contain. The color of the pistils changes from bright white to rusty orange or brown at the end of the plant’s flowering phase. On one end of the spectrum, if you notice a higher ratio of white to red pistols, that means your pot will produce more of a euphoric THC high. On the other end of the spectrum, if you notice a higher ratio of red to white pistols, that means your pot will produce more of a sober, calm CBD stoned feeling. Squarely in between those two extremes, cannabis crops harvested in the middle of the flowering cycle when roughly half the trichome heads are opaque and the pistils aren’t yet brown should produce a more balanced THC:CBD blend of cannabinoids.
Getting the Groovey Gooey Stuff off the Ganja!
Resin farming, the separation of the trichome resin from the rest of the pot plant into cannabis concentrates, is the underlying essence of modern medical marijuana advances as well as contemporary recreational reefer revolutions. Concentrates such as oil, shatter and wax are made by using pressurized butane oil as a solvent to separate trichome resin from the plant. Butane hash oil or BHO is the most controversial form of cannabis concentrates due to the fact that it isn’t safe at all for amateurs to do at home. Professionally made BHO is however the most common cannabis concentrate on legal marijuana markets. It’s the most common because it’s the simplest, least labor-intensive method available. But the simplicity belies the dangers that reside there. First and foremost is the very high chance that the butane will explode—even a small spark is enough to set it off. Add to the combustion risks the fact that toxic butane molecules can remain in solution and eventually end up in your lungs, and you can see why BHO might not be your best option.
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