Trichomes on cannabis plants: what are they and why are they important?
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Most cannabis users will agree that a healthy coating of trichomes is a good sign that they’re enjoying some great weed. But why exactly is that? What is it that makes the tiny, frosty particles on your weed so special?
Trichomes are tiny, microscopic crystal-like particles that grow on cannabis. They are what give some buds that frosty appearance, and are treasured by both recreational and medicinal users for harnessing the power of cannabis.
The word trichome is derived from the Greek word Tríchōma which means “growth of hair.” When looked at at under a microscope, trichomes do slightly resemble hairs or mushrooms. To the naked eye, however, they look more like tiny crystals.
Trichomes are known for making particularly potent weed feel sticky and giving off a strong aroma. That is because trichomes are actually responsible for storing the highest concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes that give cannabis its unique aromas, flavours, and effects.
TYPES OF TRICHOMES
Trichomes might look the same from afar, but they actually exist in all kinds of weird shapes and sizes. There are 3 main types of trichomes that you’ll usually find on cannabis plants:
These are the smallest trichomes found on cannabis, ranging between 10-15 micrometers. They tend to appear on the surface of the entire plant and cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Capitate sessile trichomes
These trichomes are slightly larger and have a more mushroom-like appearance that features a head and a stalk. Capitate sessile trichomes are found more abundantly than bulbous trichomes.
These are the largest and also most abundant trichomes found on cannabis. They usually range from anywhere between 50 to 100mm in width, making them visible to the naked eye (unlike bulbous trichomes). These trichomes also feature a stalk and head, the latter of which serves as the center of terpene and cannabinoid production.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF TRICHOMES?
Trichomes are the powerhouse that produce the cannabinoids we love and treasure. They tend to produce these compounds as a plant matures and reaches its bloom cycle.
As a plant matures and begins to develop flowers, activity inside the trichomes begins. Vacuoles and plastids are transported from the stalks of the trichomes to the heads, where they are used to help cells metabolize and eventually form into molecules which serve as the precursors to cannabinoids.
Scientists and researchers haven’t quite figured out why cannabinoids and terpenes are produced and stored in the trichomes. Some suggest that this helps the cannabis plant protect itself from herbivorous predators, both by producing a potent aroma and intoxicating effects that may deter predators from eating the plant.
As trichomes mature, they tend to change colour. Most cultivators use this to measure the maturity of their plants and while deciding when to harvest. Trichomes are extremely volatile and can be damaged easily by light, heat, physical contact or agitation, and oxygen. They can also die off after a certain time.
HOW TO SEPARATE TRICHOMES FROM CANNABIS
When consuming regular cannabis flowers, you obviously want to make sure you keep as many trichomes on your plant material as possible. However, separating the trichomes from plant material allows users to make cannabinoid-rich concentrates that are much more potent than regular flower.
In fact, the art of removing trichomes from regular plant material is the basic principle behind the booming concentrate market. From kief and hash to BHO and oil, all concentrates are made by separating trichomes from cannabis plant material and essentially extracting the key components of the plant.
There are a couple of ways to remove trichomes from cannabis plant material. Here are some of the most popular:
Dry sifting involves gently rubbing dried cannabis flowers against a fine sieve. This will produce a fine powder commonly referred to as kief. Kief is possibly the oldest type of cannabis concentrate and is what original Moroccan hash is made from.
By gently moving dried flower around a sieve, you’re able to separate some of the fragile trichomes from the plant surface. You can then collect this powder, sprinkle it in a joint or bowl, or process it further into hash by heating and pressing it.
This method of separating trichomes from the cannabis plant actually uses live cannabis buds instead of dried plant material. It involves gently rolling buds between the palm of your hands for prolonged periods of time. This breaks the trichomes from the plant material and also helps excrete some oils from the plant.
This mixture of trichomes and oils builds up on the surface of the hands in the form of a black, tar-like substance. This is then collected and pressed together to make “finger hash” or “charas.”
As the name suggests, this process basically involves pressing dried cannabis buds between two hot surfaces to heat the trichomes and separate them from the plant material.
The simplest way to do this is to wrap a bud in some parchment paper and press it between the two hot irons of a hair straightener. The combination of heat and force helps separate the trichomes from the cannabis plant matter to produce a small amount of oil known as “rosin”.
Solvent-based extraction methods, as the name suggests, use solvents to separate the trichomes from the cannabis plant. Some common solvents-based extraction methods include:
This involves packing cannabis buds and trim into a container and filling it up with alcohol. The mixture is left to sit for prolonged periods of time and agitated on a daily basis to help the alcohol separate the trichomes from the plant material. The mixture is then filtered and heated to remove as much alcohol as possible.
This usually involves packing cannabis buds into a container and blasting them with liquid butane. The butane helps separate the trichomes from the plant material, and the resulting mixture is then heated to remove as much of the solvent and leave behind as much of the cannabinoids and terpenes as possible.
Ice water extraction
This is similar to the alcohol extraction method. It involves placing cannabis in a container with ice and cold water, stirring or shaking the mixture, letting it sit, removing the plant material, and then filtering the remaining mixture through progressively finer sieves. This method is commonly used to make “ice water hash” or “bubble hash.”
CO2 extraction is the most advanced form of separating trichomes from the cannabis plant. It involves turning CO2 into a supercritical liquid and using that liquid to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes from weed. This process is highly technical and requires professional lab equipment.