What Are Cannabis Trichomes And Why Are They Important?

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Trichomes are a natural part of botany. The word is derived from the Greek word trichōma, which means “outgrowth of hair.” Most of the active compounds of cannabis exist in trichomes. They contain the flavonoids, cannabinoids, and terpenes of the plant. These compounds are responsible for the medical and recreational effects of cannabis use.

Trichomes arose as a way for cannabis to fight pests according to current theories. Through strong aroma and effects, trichomes deterred cannabis’s natural predators from consuming it. These structures are also thought to defend against winds and other elemental hazards.

The cannabis plant produces bulbous, capitate–sessile, and capitate-stalked trichomes. These three varieties are the glandular types of trichomes. They produce terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids. Cystoliths are non-glandular trichomes and don’t create these compounds.

Identifying Cannabis Trichomes

  • Bulbous stalked trichomes are microscopic and evenly cover the surface of the plant. They are tiny bulbs that give part of the texture to cannabis’s appearance. Their chemical composition is unclear.
  • Capitate-sessile stalked trichomes are also microscopic, but larger. Some appear to the unassisted eye. Their structure includes a longer stalk under the bulb. These trichomes concentrate on the underside of fan leaves and sugar leaves.
  • The most familiar of all trichomes are the capitate-stalked. These fat headed trichomes grow up to 50-100 micrometers. Compare that to the 10-15 micrometers of the bulbous stalked trichomes. Capitate-stalked trichomes are the most productive of the trichomes due to their size. Essential oils can concentrate on them better than any other trichome type. They appear on the surface of the flower most commonly. These trichomes have long stalks in addition to their large bulbs.

Enzymes within trichomes produce the active compounds in cannabis through biosynthesis. This process essentially starts with enzymes taking molecules, binding with them, combining these bound molecules, then passing them along for additional processing.  Another enzyme bonds with this processed molecule, and the process continues. In order, these steps are binding, prenylation, and cyclization.

This process results in the trichomes containing the compounds you love. Microscopic or visible to the naked eye, trichomes are the powerhouse of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.

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