What Are Trichomes and What Do They Have to Do with Cannabis?
Good things come in small packages, especially when it comes to the elements of cannabis. In fact, some of the smallest compounds of the plant pack the largest punch in terms of cannabinoid and terpene concentration.
Named after the Greek word Tríchōma, which means “growth of hair” trichomes are delicate, sticky and gooey crystals that look more like mini mushrooms than actual hair.
So, what exactly are trichomes, and what is their purpose?
Trichomes play a very important role in botany. They serve as a deterrent from pests, fungus, UV rays, humidity, and other hungry critters—and the good news is cannabis is loaded with them.
They come in different shapes and sizes, but the heads of the trichomes are where all the terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids live. In the world of plants, there are many different types of trichomes, but in the world of cannabis there tends to only be three types: bulbous, capitate-stalked, and capitate-sessile.
The largest of the three types, the capitate stalked trichomes are visible to the human eye and are comprised of a stalk and head— where all the good terpenes and cannabinoids are created. These types of trichomes are helpful to growers who can usually look at them and determine if they are ready to be harvested or not.
While capitate-sessile trichomes are smaller than the capitate stalked trichomes, they are larger than the bulbous trichomes which we will discuss in a minute. Most of the capitate-sessile trichomes do resemble mushrooms with a notable globe-shaped head and single stalk where they secrete terpenes and cannabinoids.
In order to see these little bulbous trichomes, you will definitely require a magnifying glass as they are about the width of a human hair. Bulbous trichomes pop up all over the surface of the plant. However, these are the least prolific out of the three trichomes and they do not produce cannabinoids or terpenes.
In the early stages, trichomes are a translucent or clear color, but as the plant grows and matures, so do the trichomes. They begin taking on color and each stage will result in a different color. In the beginning they are clear, then cloudy, then finally they turn an amber color. Cloudy trichomes indicate that the trichome is fully matured and cannabinoids are at their peak. When they start turning amber, they start to lose terpene and cannabinoid potency. The THC and CBD begin to degrade at this point, which is why most growers begin to harvest when half of trichomes are cloudy to ensure potency levels.
Harvesting itself is a very delicate business. The trichomes and their essential oils can be easily damaged by heat, light, oxygen, touch, and even time during the trimming and curing process. This is why all growers and trimmers are not created equal.
Isolating the Trichomes
Even though trichomes are extremely fragile, extracting or separating them is relatively simple. There are a few ways to do this, however the easiest way is via a three-chamber grinder and collecting the keif that accumulates in the pollen catcher at the bottom.
For a more concentrated type of extraction method, trichomes can be isolated through both solvent-based and solvent-free methods— however they are much more labor intensive than using a grinder. Ice water extraction requires cannabis to be soaked in ice water to separate trichomes from the plant, then sifting it through several micron screens which will deliver a very clean and pure final product. Using a high-proof alcohol is another method to extract trichomes from the plant after soaking it for 30-60 days to produce a high-quality tincture.
What We Learned
Once extracted, trichomes can be consumed several different ways—vaping, dabbing, tinctures, or sprinkled on top of your bowl or joint. No matter the method you choose, trichomes are a fun and potent way to enjoy cannabis and all of its benefits.
For a DIY trichome extraction method we recommend using a grinder, the ice water extraction method, or using a simple solvent like alcohol. The more in-depth extraction methods to make shatter or wax for instance really should be left to the professionals because they can be very difficult and very dangerous to pull off. Hit up a reputable dispensary that supplies these types of concentrates to save you time, frustration and possible injury.
To learn more about trichomes in a fun and informative video—check out what our friends over at Dank Network have to say on the subject!
Breckenridge Organic Therapy carries a variety of cannabis products that are naturally sourced and high quality. Feel free to stop by or contact us with any questions you may have and we will be happy to help!