For years, most people only associated THC with cannabis (the ingredient that gets you “high”). However, as we know, cannabis is a complex plant with hundreds of compounds — including cannabinoids and terpenes — many of which have therapeutic (and recreational) value. But, where do these compounds come from? Trichomes!
If you look at the cannabis plant carefully, you’ll notice little hair outgrowths that look like tiny microscopic mushrooms. These are known as trichomes. Trichomes have a strong smell, and appear on the leaves, buds, and the plant’s stem (they're basically made up of a stalk and a head).
What Function Do Trichomes Serve?
One of the primary functions of trichomes is that they act like “key factories” that are necessary to produce cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes — the key components of the plant that give it its therapeutic and psychotropic properties.
Trichomes also act as a perfect defensive mechanism for various plants, and cannabis is no exception. Trichomes make the plant less appealing to hungry predators, they protect against the growth of fungus and bacteria, and protect the plant from strong winds or arid climates. Moreover, as cannabis plants mature, they become vulnerable to many insects and other risky things. Trichomes prevent their damage because they assist in keeping the prey away from the flowers. They have a vigorous and pungent smell that keeps away the enemy. Another aspect that keeps the insect and other animals from the cannabis plant is the bad taste of these hairy mushrooms. They have a poisonous taste that kills some insects that try to attack the plant.
Trichomes also signal maturity to the growers: their color changes to brown when the female cannabis matures. When these plants are entirely clear without any hairy substances, it is a clear indication of immaturity.
The other function is that they play a huge role in reducing the heating effect of direct sun rays. Excess sun heat can cause severe damages on the surface of the plant’s leaves. These hairy outgrowths cover the surface of the leaves efficiently to prevent these damages from occurring.
Piles of trichomes on the leaves of a cannabis plant also assist in controlling the rate of transpiration. There is less moisture released into the atmosphere due to these coverings. Therefore, the plant remains strong and productive even during dry seasons.
Production and Lifecycle of Trichomes
Immediately after cannabis plants start producing flowers, trichomes begin to form in large numbers. This is the stage where metabolism of cells and the transportation of vacuoles commence to the grand head from the stalk.
Environmental factors and the genetic type of the cannabis plant are the key determinants of the rate which the trichomes will be produced. The rate of synthesis of terpene and cannabinoid is also determined by the strength of the ultra-violet rays.
The cannabis plant determines the lifecycle of these tiny mushrooms. When the color changes, it indicates the maturity of the plants and the farmer should harvest them at that stage. After that, they begin to degrade.
Types of Trichomes
Three different types of trichomes appear on cannabis plants. The sizes and shapes of these tiny hairy things vary in each plant. They include:
Microscopic, these are the smallest type of trichome, they usually cover the entire surface of the plants where they reside.
Capitate sessile trichomes
More prominent and larger than bulbous trichomes, capitate sessile trichomes are more visible. If you look closely, you can see a tiny head and a stalk on these puppies!
The largest type of trichome, they can be easily viewed without any magnification. They have a gland head attached to the stalk by the waxy layer.
Generally, we give the most attention to the leaves and buds on our favorite plant, but it’s the trichomes where the bounty of therapeutic and psychotropic properties actually reside. This is where THC and CBD actually live! You wouldn’t be able to do much with cannabis if not for trichomes!