Getting Technical About Trichomes

If you've ever seen cannabis up close you've no doubt noticed the little crystals covering the surface of the bud

These crystals are called trichomes (Greek for 'growth of hair') but that's a bit of a misnomer.  Under a microscope trichomes start to look a lot more like little space mushrooms.  Lucky for us, the gland at the very top of these hair like protrusions are a one-of-a-kind manufacturing facility for hundreds of known therapeutic compounds called cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.


But ......How ?

Little Chemicals called vacuoles and plastids are manufactured in the trichome's hair like stalk.  When they are good and ready, they make the voyage up the stalk to the head of the gland where they meet with ultraviolet (UV) light resulting in the birth of our favorite medicinal compounds, cannabinoids.  Over the course of this manufacturing process, the trichomes will begin to change color from clear to a milky white or amber shade.  The color is important because it’s like a secret language signaling the perfect time to harvest. 

I See Lot's of Crystals and Hairs. How Many Kinds Of Trichomes Are There? 

Many!  Trichomes are not unique to cannabis.  They grow all over the place and they have many different uses.  For example, some carnivorous plants have trichomes or 'trigger hairs' that help them catch their pray.  You can see that in action here:

There are three kinds of trichomes in particular that like to grow on cannabis:

  1. Capitate-stalked trichomes are the largest trichomes producing the lion's share of compounds.  These trichomes can even be seen by the naked eye.  Their structure consists of a stalk that ends in a little bulb (or basal cell) which attaches to a large gland head.  The bulb at the top of a trichome serves as a sort of headquarters for cannabinoid and terpenoid synthesis. 

  2. Capitate sessile trichomes are slightly smaller and contain both a head and a stalk.  They tend to be abundant but they are not quite as productive as their Capitate-stalked buddies.

  3. Bulbous trichomes are the smallest of the bunch comprised of just a handful of cells.  Nevertheless, you can find the frosty looking bulbs all over the surface of the plant.  

Oddly enough, the fact that cannabis trichomes produce the very compounds that act in the endogenous cannabinoid system to create such a dreamy buzz is just a happy coincidence, as far as science is concerned.  Trichomes evolved as the first line of defense to protect baby buds from insects, animals, fungal growth, and environmental dangers. 

Whatever the reason may be, I'm not mad they're here. 




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I'm Mary J Poppins, herbalist, cannabis connoisseur and founder of the Sativa Science Club. Keep an eye on my blog Cannabis for Curious Creatures for nifty new products reviews, DIY tutorials, and scientific insights.  


full disclosure

This information has not been approved by the FDA in any way and is not meant to treat, cure, or diagnose what ales you.  it is, however, intended for adults 21 years of age and over who are of rational and sound mind.  please note that I do not condone the illegal use of cannabis, but i do encourage you all to join the fight to end prohibition in your state. research your local laws today.