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What Are Trichomes? Exploring The Science Behind Cannabis

No doubt, as a cannabis lover, you’ve taken note of the trademark frosty coating on cannabis flower. These amazing structures are trichomes, tiny crystalline appendages that cover the surface of the cannabis plant’s stem, leaves, and flower.

But they aren’t just for looks! Trichomes play a crucial role in cannabis cultivation, quality, and product development. In this article, we’re unveiling the science behind these minuscule but mighty structures.

What Are Cannabis Trichomes?

The word is derived from Greek, meaning “hair growth.” They are microscopic, hair-like outgrowths found on the cannabis plant’s surface, giving it a frosty appearance.

These structures are a critical aspect of the plant, contributing to its biochemical properties, and play a vital role in both its survival and our usage of the plant. These microscopic structures are the biochemical factories responsible for producing cannabinoids and terpenes, which give cannabis its unique medicinal properties and distinct aroma and flavor profiles, respectively.

There are three primary types of trichomes present in the cannabis plant: Bulbous, Capitate-sessile, and Capitate-stalked. Each has a distinct structure and role:

Bulbous Trichomes

The smallest of the three types, they’re so small that they are almost impossible to see without the use of a magnifying glass or microscope. Bulbous trichomes are spread across the surface of the entire plant, giving it a frosty appearance.

Despite their near-microscopic size, they actually consist of two parts: a stalk and a glandular head, where cannabinoids and terpenes are synthesized. The contribution to the plant’s overall cannabinoid and terpene production is relatively low.

Capitate-Sessile Trichomes

Larger than bulbous trichomes, capitate-sessile trichomes are much more abundant on the plant. They also have a stalk and a glandular head, but in this case, the head is much larger and contains more secretory cells.

This means that they can produce more cannabinoids and terpenes than bulbous trichomes. They are usually found on the underside of the sugar leaves and fan leaves, as well as the plant’s stems.

Capitate-Stalked Trichomes

These are the largest and most abundant of the three types of trichomes and are large enough to be visible to the naked eye. They have a sizeable glandular head, where the production of cannabinoids and terpenes takes place, sitting on a multicellular stalk.

They appear during the flowering phase of the cannabis plant, mainly on the plant’s flowers and sugar leaves. Their large size and high density mean that they are the main producers of the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes.

Cannabis plants in the grow room.
Cannabis plants produce a huge variety of cannabinoids in the trichomes.

The Biochemistry of Cannabis

Trichomes are essentially tiny biochemical factories, producing a wide variety of cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, the compounds responsible for the cannabis plant’s therapeutic and psychoactive effects. Also, they synthesize aromatic compounds known as terpenes, which lend distinct flavors and scents to different strains.

The Role of Trichomes in Plant Defense

Beyond their role in cannabinoid and terpene production, trichomes are the cannabis plant’s primary defense mechanism. The resinous, terpene-rich secretions protect the plant from predators, environmental threats, and even UV radiation.

Cannabis flower during the harvest phase.
Harvesting at the perfect time takes expert cultivation knowledge.

Trichomes in Cultivation and Harvesting

There’s a direct correlation between trichome density and cannabis potency: the denser they are, the higher the cannabinoid content, and thus, the stronger the product. Though, this is not the only factor that determines potency.

Color is a crucial factor in determining if the plant is ready for harvest. When trichomes are ready for harvest, their appearance changes, transitioning from clear to cloudy or milky and, eventually, amber. It’s important to note that some strains are harvested earlier in the trichome color development, depending entirely on the desired potency and effects.

Amber trichomes signify the ripest of the stages in cultivation. The heads also swell, indicating a peak in THC production. By closely observing the stages of development, expert growers can determine the perfect harvest time.

An engineer packing cannabis concentrates into jars.
Trichomes make concentrates like live resin and hash possible!

Trichomes and Concentrates

These structures are hugely important in the production of cannabis extracts like live rosin and live resin. Since they are the primary source of cannabinoids and terpenes used to create concentrates and edibles, the extraction process centers around removing the resinous structures from the plant material without damaging the fragile terpenes. There are two essential methods for extraction:


This method involves the use of a hydrocarbon solvent to strip desirable compounds from the plant material in a closed-pressure system. Extraction Technicians then purge the solvent from the final product under heat and pressure, resulting in a potent cannabis concentrate called resin.


Solventless extraction uses natural, chemical-free methods of stripping trichomes from plant material. Typically, the cannabis flower is soaked in an ice bath and made into bubble hash, then pressed under intense pressure and relatively low heat. The end product is a 100% clean and natural concentrate product called rosin.

Understanding trichome development has a direct influence on cannabis product development, allowing for customized creations to meet varying consumer needs.

Future Research

Over the years, our understanding of trichomes has definitely improved, but there is still a lot left to uncover. For instance, the specific environmental factors that affect development and the ways we can manipulate them to increase potency and yield are still under investigation. As our knowledge deepens, so does the potential for advancements in the cannabis industry. However, one thing is certain: trichomes are the heart of cannabis potency, aroma, and flavor, the key determining factor of product quality and appeal.


Characterization of the Cannabis sativa glandular trichome proteome

Trichomes of Cannabis sativa L. (Cannabaceae)

The Role of Trichomes in Cannabis and Nature

When to harvest marijuana plants according to trichome ripeness


General Cannabis FAQ

Cannabis, often referred to as marijuana, is a plant that has been used for thousands of years for various purposes, including medicine, textiles, and recreation. The plant contains compounds known as cannabinoids, with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) being the most well-known. THC is primarily responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects, while CBD is recognized for its potential therapeutic benefits without causing a “high.”

Many countries and U.S. states have decriminalized or legalized the use of marijuana for medical use, recreational, or both. The legal status changes frequently as legislation evolves.

In the U.S., states vote to regulate marijuana use on an individual basis. While it remains illegal at the federal level, numerous states have legalized it for medicinal and/or recreational use.

The following states have legalized medical, recreational, or both:

  • Alaska – Medical
  • Arizona – Legal
  • Arkansas – Medical
  • California – Legal
  • Colorado – Legal
  • Connecticut – Legal
  • Delaware – Legal
  • District of Columbia – Legal
  • Florida – Medical
  • Hawaii – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Illinois – Legal
  • Louisiana – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Maine – Legal
  • Maryland – Legal
  • Massachusetts – Legal
  • Michigan – Legal
  • Minnesota – Legal
  • Mississippi – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Missouri – Legal
  • Montana – Legal
  • Nevada – Legal
  • New Hampshire – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • New Jersey – Legal
  • New Mexico – Legal
  • New York – Legal
  • North Dakota – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Ohio – Medical (Possession decriminalized)
  • Oklahoma – Medical
  • Oregon – Legal
  • Pennsylvania – Medical
  • Rhode Island – Legal
  • South Dakota – Medical
  • Utah – Medical
  • Vermont – Legal
  • Virginia – Legal
  • Washington – Legal
  • West Virginia – Medical


Outside of the U.S., countries like The Netherlands, Canada, and, more recently, Thailand have legalized cannabis on a national level.

Always check local laws and regulations in your specific location.

In states where marijuana has been legalized, you can purchase products at licensed dispensaries. Revolution products are available at Enlightened, Revolution, and partner dispensaries in Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and Maryland. Find a dispensary near you.

Keep in mind that dispensaries may cater to medical patients, recreational consumers, or both, depending on local laws.

Always ensure that you are buying from a reputable and licensed establishment to guarantee product quality and safety.

The effects of cannabis vary widely depending on the strain, dosage, method of consumption, an individual’s endocannabinoid system, and more.

Some commonly reported effects include:

Psychoactive Effects: Euphoria, mood elevation, cerebral stimulation, stress relief, calming effects, and relaxation.

Physical Effects: Pain relief, body buzz, anti-inflammation, anti-nausea, energy boost or sedation, and appetite stimulation

*Medical Benefits: Cannabis is believed to have a range of therapeutic effects and alleviation of symptoms related to conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, and more.

*Marijuana is not approved by the FDA to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

The primary difference lies in their intended use:

Medical Cannabis: Used as a treatment and alleviation of symptoms for specific health conditions. Medical strains might be cultivated and processed to have higher CBD content or other therapeutic compounds. Medical cannabis requires a physician who usually prescribes or recommends it as a treatment option.

Recreational Cannabis: Used without a medical justification but for personal enjoyment and fulfillment.

The process varies from state to state but typically involves the following steps:

Doctor’s Recommendation: Schedule an appointment with a physician who is authorized to recommend medical marijuana. Discuss your health conditions and reasons for seeking cannabis as a treatment.

Application: Once you have a doctor’s recommendation, you’ll usually need to apply for a medical marijuana card through a designated state or country agency.

Proof & Identification: Provide necessary identification and proof of residency as required by your jurisdiction.

Fee Payment: Most jurisdictions require a fee for the application and issuance of a medical marijuana card.

Card Issuance: Once approved, you will receive your medical marijuana card, allowing you to purchase cannabis at designated medical dispensaries.

If you’d like more detailed information, please read our state-specific medical card guide here.