TRICHOMES – The Source of Cannabinoids

Cannabis hides many elements that we cannot see with our naked eye. Anyone that has ever carefully observed cannabis they could see little crystals covering the buds and leaves. We call them trichomes, which are the shining, sticky parts of cannabis. They have a very special function, which you can read about in this article.

The word trichome originates from the Greek word “Trichoma” which means “growing hair”. They are the fine outgrowths on plants, algae, lichens, and certain protists. These microscopic mushroom-looking protuberances look like something out of science fiction. In reality, trichomes are the ones that produce hundreds of known cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.


We can observe the production of trichomes in various plant species in nature. They can be shaped differently and have different purposes as well. For example, trichomes found on some carnivorous plants help the plant catch the prey.


In cannabis they serve as a defense mechanism. When female plants start blooming, they often become vulnerable to various insects and animals. Additionally, potentially harmful UV rays can also affect them. Trichomes serve as a deterrent for animals as their bitter taste and strong aromas make cannabis flowers unpalatable. Furthermore, they also protect the plant from harmful winds and even against some types of fungi.


Trichomes are produced in different shapes and sizes. We can separate them to glandular and non-glandular. Only glandular ones produce cannabinoids, while non-glandular serve as a plants defense system. There are three glandular trichomes that are most often present on cannabis:

  1. Bulbous Trichomes – the smallest of the bunch. They appear on the surface of the entire plant and grow from 10 to 15 micrometers in size. They are so small that there are built only by a handful of cells.
  2. Capitate Sessile Trichomes – are slightly larger than bulbous and contain a head and a stalk. They are more abundant compared to the first category but cannot compare to the third one.
  3. Capitate Stalked Trichomes – they grow from 50 to 100 micrometers in size, which means they are much larger than others and can be seen with a naked eye. Their structure includes a stalk comprised of epidermal and hypodermic cells, which are the building blocks of the of the basal cell that attaches to the large gland head. The head serves as an epicenter of cannabinoid and terpenes synthesis.
Capitate Stalked Trichome (left), Capitate Sessile Trichome (middle), Bulbous Trichome (right); Source: Samuel Lab/UBC


Cannabinoid synthesis in trichomes begins once cannabis starts its blooming phase. When it starts blooming, trichomes are produced in the surface of above-ground vegetation and start to transport vacuoles and plastids from the stalk into the gland head. At this point cells within the gland head will begin to metabolize and form precursors for what will eventually become cannabinoids.

The level and concentration of cannabis trichome production depends on genetics and some environmental factors. However, plants that produce larger amounts of trichomes do not necessarily contain larger concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes. Factors such as UV light strongly affect the synthesis of cannabinoids and terpenes in trichome heads. Usually, plants that receive a broader light spectrum produce larger concentrations of cannabinoids. In many cases these reactions will depend on the cannabis strain.

Color Transition

Trichomes life cycle is parallel to cannabis plant life cycle. That is why it is important to control it. Trichomes life cycle can be analogous to parabola, where the peak is represented by the point when maturation exceeds, and degradation begins. In most cases trichomes display their maturity on parabola with the changes in opacity, from clear translucent to cloudy white, and later on amber hue.

Trihomi - prosojnost

This trichome color transition represents their maturity and growers use it as a sign to harvest. This is the point when trichomes achieve their full maturity and start degrading. However, it is important to understand not all strains of cannabis are the same. Some trichomes will display maturity in a different way. In most strains the color of the trichomes will remain the standard of determining cannabis maturity.

Alive living on the plant or already harvested, trichomes are very sensitive. There are a number of factors that can damage them including:

  • Physical contact and irritation,
  • Heat,
  • Light,
  • Oxygen, and

Not only that the risk of damage occurs when exposed to these elements, but essential oils in the plant are also at risk of degradation. However, we can slow down the degrading process by carefully handling the cannabis flowers during growth and harvest.


Trichomes in cannabis are key to protecting the plant, as well as producing hundreds of known medicinally and therapeutically beneficial compounds, unique to this plant. With correct handling and dedication, the production of trichomes will remain the future of solving a range of uncovered medicinal and therapeutic effects of cannabis.

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G. D. C.

09. 12. 2021

Dragon Cannabis