What Are Trichomes?
When growers say they want to make cannabis buds “sparkle” with trichomes, what are they talking about? The answer is: that ‘frosty’ quality that makes bud look like it might be too potent. As cannabis plants mature in the flowering stage, their buds become covered with what looks almost like a dusting of glitter or frost, which can improve their overall appearance.
When you look really closely at cannabis buds, you can see what looks like thousands of tiny translucent mushrooms. In nature, these glandular stalked trichomes are believed to be used by the plant to repel insects, protect the buds from UV damage and produce essential oils that have various effects.
The “glitter” that grows on buds is called trichomes and they contain THC and other cannabinoids. They give cannabis its unique mental and body effects.
Trichomes that are long and thin without a “head” are actually cystolithic hairs and do not contain significant levels of cannabinoids.
Many other types of plants besides cannabis produce trichomes, including many aromatic herbs like mint and rosemary. These plants produce essential oils in their trichomes which are used to deter insects and protect the plants from other stressors, just like cannabis plants!
Several different types of flowers, as well as many aromatic herbs like mint and rosemary use trichomes to produce essential oils that attract/repel certain bugs and otherwise protect the plant. In this picture, the flowers and leaves of meadow sage (salvia) are covered in trichomes.
As a cannabis grower, you can actually look at the trichomes on your buds and get a good idea of when they have reached peak potency. The color and shape of the trichomes allow you to harvest your cannabis at the exact right time to achieve the effects you’re looking for.
With marijuana plants, the trichomes tell you when to harvest!
The color and shape of trichomes on cannabis buds give you information about when to harvest, because harvesting at different times actually changes the effects and potency of buds.
In order to achieve the effects you’re looking for, it will serve you well to understand how trichomes look like at different stages of development, so you can harvest buds at the best possible moment!
About Using Pure Trichomes…
Unlike buds, pure trichomes don’t need to “cure” before they can be smoked. Curing mainly affects the green plant matter in buds, and has much less of an effect on trichomes. So hash that collects on scissors/fingers (or kief collected via a screen) can be used right away even if the plant was just harvested.
However, cured plant matter actually contributes to the effects of buds. That means the effects from pure trichomes will be different from regular cannabis buds. Although different, most growers agree they’re both good .
Kief or hash (basically words for pure trichomes) can be smoked right away because trichomes don’t contain green matter. This kief was collected from extra cannabis leaves after harvest using the dry ice hash method (click for a close-up!)
Learn the 4 Stages of Trichome Development
(When To Harvest Cannabis)
Not Ready to Harvest – Trichomes are clear and thin. At this point buds have very little potency.
Beginning of Harvest Window (Focus on Mental Effects) – Mushroom “heads” start to get fat and trichomes start to turn milky white. As more trichomes turn white, the levels of THC and psychoactive effects tend to increase, giving a more “soaring” effect.
End of Harvest Window (Focus on Body Effects) – After most of the trichomes have turned white they will start turning amber/yellow which is a sign that the THC is starting to convert to different cannabinoids. As trichomes turn amber the mental effects of buds are slightly reduced, but buds get more of a “couchlock” effect, with lots of body relaxation.
Buds Have Passed Peak (Makes You Sleepy) – After most of the trichomes have turned amber, the trichomes will start to wither and die. Buds harvested at this point tend to have smaller mental effects, and tend to make you feel sleepy.
How to See Trichomes on Buds
Here’s a quick primer on how to get a good look at the trichomes on your buds.
Jeweler’s loupe or small magnifier
Take a picture and zoom in
Camera phone attachment
1.) Jeweler’s loupe or small magnifier
Although these do make trichomes appear bigger, the main problem with loupes/magnifiers is that they don’t magnify things quite big enough for some people. At least with my eyes, I have trouble seeing trichomes well enough to determine the color under a loupe. That being said, lots of growers use these without a problem!
2.) Take a Picture & Zoom In
If you take a clear picture of your buds with a phone or camera and zoom in, you can often see the trichomes clear enough to identify their color.
3.) Camera phone attachment
Some phones have products that let you attach a small lens to your phone in front of the camera to magnify the image and take closer pictures. You can make these yourself by taking the lens out of a laser pointer and DIY attaching it to your phone, but the professional ones often are easier to use, and they cost less than $15.
4.) Digital microscope
A digital microscope is probably the easiest way to see the trichomes. They zoom in very close and allow you to take a video so you can really look at the trichomes after the fact.
When you see really nice pictures or videos of trichomes, it’s often because the media was taken with a digital microscope. These go in much closer than most magnifiers or cameras.
How to Increase Number of Trichomes on Buds
Trichomes are what make buds potent, so most growers are interested in making sure their cannabis plants produce as many trichomes as possible.