The Different Kinds of Cannabis Trichomes

Cannabis enthusiasts love the sticky crystals on their bud, but very few actually know the true power of trichomes. The frosty coating on cannabis, known as trichomes, serves many purposes, including preserving the plant from excessive sunlight and predators while also producing the cannabinoids that are responsible for getting you high. Trichomes are certainly not unique to the cannabis plant, and they can serve different functions depending on the plant. Some carnivorous plants even use trichomes to capture prey.

Types of Trichomes

Cannabis Trichomes Macro Black Background
Photo by: Gleti/Shuttertstock
Cannabis trichomes are broadly classified into two categories, glandular and non-glandular, along with multiple sub-categories for each. Non-glandular trichomes are responsible for protecting the cannabis plant. They serve a variety of functions, including keeping harmful animals and insects away, preventing mold and fungus from forming on the cannabis plant, and helping the plant retain its moisture. Non-glandular trichomes can be unicellular or multicellular. They are found on a plant’s leaves, petioles, and stems, and to some extent on the flowers themselves. Non-glandular trichomes act as a defense shield from intense UV rays that could be damaging to a plant, helping to keep a cannabis plant healthy and vibrant even on a dry summer day.

Non-glandular unicellular trichomes are the first to develop on a cannabis plant. These tiny hairs help the plant retain moisture in extremely hot temperatures. Also found early on in the plant’s development are cystolythic trichomes, which are slightly larger than the unicellular trichomes. Cystolythic trichomes are found on the leaves and are believed to stop predators of various kinds.

Glandular trichomes produce and store resin, and are the source of a cannabis plant’s terpene profile and its content of cannabinoids like THC and CBD. They are found in ample supply on healthy female cannabis plants: the ones we smoke, dab, eat, or vape to enjoy the medicinal effects of marijuana. As opposed to their non-glandular counterparts, glandular trichomes are always multicellular.

There are three sub-categories of glandular trichomes. Capitate-stalked trichomes are the most important to our cannabis experience, as they carry the most cannabinoids, terpenes, and other essential oils. Capitate-sessile trichomes also produce cannabinoids, but to a much lesser extent than capitate-stalked trichomes. Bulbous trichomes are tiny and virtually invisible to the naked eye, and they are not a source of cannabinoids and terpenes.

Trichome Colors

Trichomes mature during the different phases of a cannabis plant’s growth cycle, and their color is one of the primary indicators of when to harvest a plant. In the beginning stages of growth, trichomes are clear. When they turn a more cloudy or milky shade, this is signaling the peak of cannabinoid production. As the trichomes begin to turn towards an amber shade, this signals that it is time to harvest the plant. It is recommended to harvest quickly after a noticeable quantity of the trichomes have turned amber, because waiting too long could actually cause the quality of the trichomes to degrade substantially, which results in a less-than-optimal harvest. To put it simply, your bud will be at its dankest point when all the trichomes are milky and less than 10% have just started to turn amber.

Keeping Bud Hydrated

Closeup Cannabis Trichomes Mango Kush
Photo by: Roxana Gonzales
Dried-out herb can be problematic because the trichomes cannot continue to store the cannabinoids and terpenes that make cannabis feel and taste great. While it is crucial for a plant to have a healthy coating of trichomes during its development for protective purposes, it is also highly beneficial to keep cannabis humidified even after it’s ready to be smoked so that heat, light, and oxygen don’t degrade the trichomes and make the flower less potent. For this reason, cannabis consumers are turning to humidity regulators to preserve the freshness of their herb long after the initial harvest.

The Integra Boost is one example of a humidity regulator that can be placed into a jar of flower to keep it moist and prevent mold from forming on the buds. These small packets also ensure a smooth smoke, as opposed to the harshness of taking a big puff of some dry herb that has been sitting in a jar for weeks or months. Integra Boost keeps the terpenes from losing their pungency, resulting in a flavorful smoke similar to right after the plant has been harvested. Packets of Integra Boost are typically sold for around $4 apiece, well worth the price of preserving the freshness of your favorite strain. They include Replacement Indicator Cards that signal when it’s time for a replacement Boost.

Kief, Please

Many cannabis lovers extract the trichomes from a cannabis flower in order to produce kief, the powder that comes from dry resin glands. Kief contains a high concentration of terpenes and cannabinoids. Essentially, you are smoking a powder made from the trichomes without inhaling the rest of the plant, which amplifies the taste and medicinal qualities of the marijuana. Kief can be obtained through mechanical dry sifting, and many cannabis enthusiasts use a 3-piece herb grinder that will store the kief so that it can later be sprinkled on top of a bowl of flower for enhanced effect. Trichomes can also be processed into hash oil for dabbing purposes. It’s a key element of the cannabis plant, and no 420 lover should overlook the sticky resin crystals known as trichomes.