When looking at a cannabis bud, there is a lot to appreciate. The smell, the colors, the taste. So there so much to admire about the plant. We’ve learned through research that chemicals called cannabinoids are responsible for giving cannabis its psychedelic effects. We now understand that trichomes contain glands that hold a lot of terpenes and cannabinoids, including THC and CBD.
When it comes to trichomes; the more, the merrier definitely applies. Conventional wisdom has always said that the frostier a buds look, the more potent it is. We’d patiently wait for our crops to grow, watching the buds ripen and develop these precious little trichomes that contain most of the plant’s active ingredients.
However, we have begun to learn that there is more than just one type of trichome out there. And not all are equal. The trichomes that are tallest and most visible, therefore the most impressive looking, may not always be the most desired. We’ve learned that stalks that are too tall have smaller and less plentiful glands.
Before we look deeper into this, and what it can mean for cannabis breeding going forward, lets first understand trichomes better. What is their importance, and why are they so desired by growers and consumers alike?
What are trichomes?
Trichomes are the silvery-white, frosty-looking, sticky, little resin glands found all over the plant. However, they are found in greater concentration on the buds and the leaves of cannabis.
These resin glands contain the most amounts of cannabinoids, terpenes, as well as flavonoids found in the plant. These are the active ingredients that play a very important role in the plant’s health and defense mechanism. The aroma and flavor they emit protect the plant against its natural predators such as insects. They also serve as the plant’s natural defense against pathogens such as viruses, fungus, and bacteria. Additionally, they also protect the plant against the sun’s UV rays.
Ironically, what serves as a defense for other species is the exact thing we are after, as THC produces a typically relaxing high when consumed by humans. However, psychoactive effects are not all that we get from cannabis. Its ingredients also activate certain pathways necessary for maintaining our normal health. Their effects on the human body also help us fight disease and control symptoms.
Why are they desired?
Buds covered by a generous layer of trichomes are typically more desired and preferred by both growers and consumers. It’s no wonder why, either. Frosty looking buds are always more aesthetically appealing. The amount of trichomes helps indicate a level of potency. However, if you want a potent flower, you shouldn’t concentrate solely on the number of trichomes alone. Instead, you have to look at the color and shape of them. Not only can their appearance tell you the best time to harvest, but they can also give you some idea of their effects.
The development of trichomes has four stages. As the resin gland grows, it appears thin and very clear. It isn’t very potent at this point since it contains little amount of the active ingredients.
As the harvest window nears, the resin glands grow fatter and develop a sort of bulbous, mushroom head. The active ingredients, especially THC, accumulate in the gland, and oil is produced by the secretory vesicles. Trichomes, at this stage, appear translucent and clear. They also typically have a more mental and energizing effect that stimulates and revitalizes.
As the trichomes mature, the resin glands appear milkier or whiter in color. The effects become more physical, too. Instead of stimulating you, they produce a more relaxing effect. Some growers believe that this stage is the perfect time to harvest Hybrid strains.
Now, as the trichomes fully develop, the milky white color of the resin glands turns more amber or yellowish in color. This signals the end of the harvest window. The THC content also starts to degrade and converts into other cannabinoids like CBN. At this stage, the buds will produce more potent physical effects such as deep body relaxation and the couch-lock effect. Amber-colored trichomes are known to be pretty sedating and can make you feel very sleepy. Some growers say that this is the perfect time to harvest. Others prefer to cut them down sooner.
As the trichomes or resin glands develop, they change in color and appearance. From clear and translucent, they turn white and milky and then finally yellow and amber. The effects of the trichomes also change as the resin glands mature – from more of an energizing mental effect to a sedating and relaxing one.
How to tell if the trichomes are ready?
Trichomes are pretty small and their development can’t be easily seen with a naked eye. But since they serve as a good gauge for the plant’s maturity, you can use some items to get a pretty good look at them.
You can use a magnifier, for one. This can definitely make them look bigger. You can also use your phone’s camera. Just take a good photo of the trichomes, making sure that you hold the phone steady so it won’t move a lot and capture blurry photos. Once done, simply zoom in on the trichomes. You will need to play around a bit with your camera’s settings. If you want better lighting, take the photo in natural light. And don’t use filters, of course, since filters affect the colors of the trichomes.
Does the amount of trichomes matter?
It absolutely does. After all, in theory, the more trichomes that cover the buds, the higher the concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes, and the more potent the bud becomes.
However, in reality, this is not always the case. In fact, the number of visible trichomes can be deceiving at times. Some buds covered in thick layers of trichomes may look very appealing, but if you were to look at the stalk under a microscope, they’d appear long and thin. Long and thin stalks have little cannabinoids and terpenes in them.
Farm House Genetics
If you are interested in learning more about trichomes, I cannot recommend following Farm House Genetics on Instagram. I’ve recommended them before and for good reason. They have an endless wealth of information regarding cannabis breeding, specifically targeting the ideal trichome shape and size. They are very honest in their discussion about genetics they have experimented with but decided not to keep working on, due to the of lack of desireable trichomes. Strains that other growers may decide to put out on the market early, because of their visual appeal, despite the lack of terpenes and cannabinoids.
As they explain in one post regarding trichomes size and shape, “Since all the cannabinoids and terpenes are produced and reside in the glands, breeding for larger glands means higher entourage potency. So more terps, & more cannabinoids, not just more THC…” they continue, “the stalks.. they only bring vitals up to the glands from the plant, in order for the gland alone to make the cannabinoids and terps. So those extra looong stalks are adding useless weight. (Its just a longer trip to the entourage factory) & that weight is bringing the entourage percentage down since that’s how we determine potency.”
So when choosing buds, look at the trichomes’ shape and color instead. Shorter and fatter trichomes, although they don’t look as appealing, contain the most amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes. They are also more potent than the long and thin stalks. As for color, experts say that clear and translucent trichomes are more stimulating and energizing, while milky and amber ones are more relaxing and sedating.
Trichomes are highly desired for their high concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes. But if you want maximum effects, the appearance and the color of the trichomes should matter, not just the amount that covers the flowers.