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What are Trichomes, Cannabinoids, and Terpenes?

March 02, 2021

For cannabis growers looking to maximize the quality and quantity of their yield, understanding how the cannabis plant works is a must. Cannabis creates its psychoactive and therapeutic effects by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This complex cell-signaling system runs throughout the nervous system and regulates functions like mood, memory, and pain.

Cannabis-produced cannabinoids mimic endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the body) by binding to receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems. The quantity and quality of the cannabinoids, as well as the strength of their effects, are usually determined by the presence of cannabis trichomes, terpenes, and terpenoids. This guide will help you understand how these compounds differ and, ultimately, how they affect the potency, flavor, and taste of cannabis. 


Trichomes or Mold?

If you wonder whether the fuzz you see on a bud is trichomes or mold, those are trichomes you can use to make trichome treats. But what are trichomes? They are tiny hairs found on the surface of most plants, especially ones from the fungi and algae family. 


In cannabis, trichomes are responsible for their wide range of aromas and, to a certain extent, flavor. Although the trichomes visible to the naked eye grow on the cannabis flower, trichomes are also found on the leaves and stems. 

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Types of Trichomes

There are two main types of trichomes: glandular and non-glandular. Non-glandular trichomes, also called cystoliths, help maintain the plant's surface balance and protect the plant against adverse environmental conditions and pests. 


On the other hand, glandular trichomes are responsible for cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid production. A
mature female cannabis plant will typically have glandular trichomes on around 30% of its surface. Glandular trichomes are the powerhouse of the cannabis plant.  They are responsible for producing, holding, and secreting most THC, CBD, terpenes, and other minor cannabinoids. 


There are three types of glandular trichomes;

Bulbous trichomes: These are tiny bulbs or balls that evenly dot the entire surface of the cannabis plant. As small as 10-15 microns wide, they have limited functionality compared to the other types of trichomes and usually only take up a minimal number of cells. However, bulbous trichomes add to the stickiness and crystal-like sheen of the cannabis flower. Due to their tiny size, trichome microscopes are required to see them. 
Capitate sessile trichomes have a mushroom-shaped structure topped with a large bulb. They are primarily found on the fan and sugar leaves like bulbous trichomes. At about 20-30 microns wide, they are still invisible to the naked eye but tend to be larger and more abundant than bulbous trichomes.
Capitate-stalked trichomes are the largest and most abundant trichomes, at around 200-300 microns tall and 30-100 microns wide. They also look like a mushroom with a large bulb at the top, and you'll find them on the surface of cannabis flowers. Capitate-stalked trichomes produce the bulk of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids found in the cannabis plant.


Functions of Trichomes

As we've discussed, cannabis trichomes, specifically glandular trichomes, function as the plant's powerhouse, producing most of its cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid yield. In fact, glandular trichomes are the main component in cannabis products like kief, which consists of trichome heads. A cannabis plant with a high volume of trichomes will, in turn, produce high-quality cannabinoids and resins in increased volumes. 


Marijuana trichomes
, especially non-glandular trichomes, act as a deterrent against pests. These hair-like fibers have a bitter taste that wards off any animals that want to chow down on the plant. They also keep insects and animals away during the crucial flowering stage. 


Additionally,
marijuana trichomes function as a protective shield against adverse weather conditions and some varieties of fungi. For instance, simple unicellular trichomes that are non-glandular offer some protection against light and wind. OG Kush is famous for the potent, sticky bud it produces due to its many trichomes. As it is usually grown in places with a lot of sea salt in the air, the plant produces more trichomes to protect itself.

Trichome Stages for the Perfect Harvest

Trichomes develop in four stages: clear, cloudy trichomes, mixed, and amber trichomes. This can be seen on a trichome harvest chart. When planning your harvest based on trichomes, clear or translucent trichomes indicate that the marijuana has sub-peak concentration levels as the glands inside them produce resin and slowly fill up. This results in the translucent appearance of the trichomes. A harvest at this stage will most likely result in a yield with poor potency and flavor. Refer to your trichome harvest chart or use a trichome microscope to ensure you are harvesting at the best time for the best trichome treats.


Cloudy trichomes
or milky trichomes usually develop before harvest and indicate that the plant has achieved maximum cannabinoid levels. Experts recommend harvesting Sativa strains when there are 70% milky trichomes and 30% amber trichomes. At this stage, the plants have high THC and low CBD levels, which create the cerebral, uplifting, and creative high Sativa is known for. 


Amber
trichomes, as the name suggests, have a dark red or amber color. For Indica growers, trichomes of this color indicate that it is prime time to harvest. THC levels are at their peak, and harvesting your crop at this stage will ensure the cannabis creates the body high and couchlock effects Indica is known for. Couchlock refers to strong physical sedation that makes you so relaxed, you are stuck or "locked" to your couch. 


Once a majority of trichomes turn amber, don't waste any time. The THC will soon start deteriorating. You can use a magnifying glass, jeweler's loupe, or smartphone magnifying camera lens to monitor the trichomes as they change color.


How to Increase Trichome Production

Because of their protection against pests and harsh weather and their impact on cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, increasing trichome production will ultimately positively affect the volume and potency of your yield. 


Start by investing in the correct
grow lights, such as sodium-vapor and HPS lamps, which are the best for cultivating cannabis indoors. You could also opt for CMH/LEC lights, which have a broader light spectrum that includes UV-B rays. These rays are present in sunlight, and they have been found to increase trichome production. If you can grow outdoors with direct sunlight, it can also increase trichome production. 


Make sure the plant has the
proper nutrition it needs during each stage of development to maximize resin production. Female plants need micronutrients, vitamins, amino acids, and macronutrients during the flowering stage, especially potassium and phosphorous. You can supplement these nutrients to boost resin production. 


Your grow room's temperature and humidity will also significantly affect glandular trichome production (which impacts resin and cannabinoid production). Lower temperatures will prevent proper plant development, while higher temperatures will impair resin production and quality. 


Similarly, low humidity will impair plant development, and high humidity will promote mold growth. We
recommend maintaining a relative humidity of around 50%, which can be lowered to 30% during the last few weeks to boost trichome production. Clones and seedlings will grow efficiently in temperatures between 68-77°F with high humidity. Young plants in the vegetative state prefer moderate humidity of 70%, temperatures between 68-77°F, and slightly cooler temperatures (not less than 59°F) during the night.  


During the flowering stage, the plant will be comfortable at room temperature (under 82°F) with low humidity.
Higher temperatures will slow bud growth and cause terpenes to evaporate, impacting the overall potency, taste, flavor, and even color of your yield. Keeping an eye on the trichome stages will indicate when to adjust the humidity, temperature, and nutrients. Correspond this with the developmental stages, and you'll ultimately boost the overall quality and quantity of your yield.

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids, specifically THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), are the compounds responsible for marijuana's effects. The cannabis plant produces over 100 cannabinoids, with THC and CBD being the most abundant. Cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are produced through biosynthesis within the trichome cells. 


When you ingest,
smoke, or vape cannabis, these cannabinoids mimic the natural endocannabinoids produced by your body and bind with receptors throughout your nervous system. Cannabis-produced cannabinoids bind with CB1 receptors in the brain and CB2 receptors in the body to bring forth a wide variety of psychoactive and therapeutic effects.


Generally, symptoms like pain and nausea throw the body's internal balance out of whack, and cannabinoids kick-start and boost the endocannabinoid system to reduce and ultimately eliminate them.


Types of Cannabinoids

Of the more than 110 cannabinoids that cannabis produces, the two most well-known cannabinoids are THC and CBD. However, recent research has discovered a host of minor cannabinoids at very low levels (such as THC-8), making it difficult to accurately detect them. 


Benefits of Cannabinoids

Due to their likeness to the body's endocannabinoids, cannabinoids bind with receptors throughout the body. This allows them to create a wide variety of therapeutic effects, such as:

Reduced anxiety and stress
Reduced nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy
Reduced muscle tightness caused by multiple sclerosis
Tumor and cancer cell inhibition
Prevention of seizures caused by pediatric epilepsy
Increased appetite and aid in weight gain in people with cancer and AIDS



CBD is the primary medicinal compound in cannabis. It has shown remarkable results as an anti-seizure, reducing seizures by as much as 36% per month in a
2016 study. A CBD-based drug called Epidiolex has also been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat seizures caused by Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. 


Researchers are also looking into CBD's neuroprotective capabilities. Due to its potent anti-inflammatory properties, CBD may treat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease.


Trichomes are entirely responsible for producing THC, CBD, and minor cannabinoids. As a grower, your cannabinoid yield is directly tied to the volume and health of the trichomes on your plants.


What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are produced by every plant and some insects. Like cannabinoids, terpenes are produced in glands within the trichomes, and they are majorly responsible for cannabis' strong aroma. 


Terpenes are also referred to as terpenoids, although the two differ slightly. Terpenes exist in their natural form in the plant as hydrocarbons containing only carbon and hydrogen. They are converted into terpenoids when they are oxidated, often during the
drying and curing of cannabis.

Common Cannabis Terpenes

The most common terpenes found in cannabis are:


Myrcene

This is the most common terpene, with some varieties producing up to 60% myrcene. Its aroma has been described as earthy, herbal, and musky. Myrcene increases the maximum saturation levels of the CB1 receptors in the brain. It may also lower the resistance across the blood-brain barrier, making the passage of chemicals through the barrier much easier and faster. Thus the effects of cannabinoids like THC and CBD will kick in quicker.


It is a potent anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, analgesic, and antimutagenic.
Studies have found it capable of inhibiting gastric and duodenal ulcers. Myrcene also has sedative and relaxing effects that work in concert with THC and CBD to relieve chronic pain and insomnia.


Pinene

Pinene is probably the most abundant terpenoid in nature, often found in conifers like pine and fir and some non-coniferous plants. The terpene is a known anti-inflammatory, expectorant (promotes secretion of sputum by air passages), bronchodilator (eases breathing by widening the bronchi in the lungs), and local antiseptic. Pinene has also been found to lessen the effects of THC.

Limonene

Limonene is formed from pinene's reactions with other chemicals. It is usually found in fruits with strong citrusy smells like limes, oranges, lemons, rosemary, juniper, citrus fruit rinds, and peppermint. Limonene has high bioavailability and aids in the absorption of other terpenes. It is a known antifungal agent, aids in weight loss, and has shown great promise in inhibiting the growth of various cancers. 


Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene is the only cannabis terpene known to interact with the endocannabinoid system, selectively binding with the brain's CB2 receptor. Studies have shown it to be a possible agent to prevent the poisonous effect on the kidneys (nephrotoxicity) caused by certain chemotherapy drugs.


Caryophyllene is the major component in black pepper oil, a known antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antinociceptive (preventing sensory neurons from detecting pain).


Linalool

This terpene has a floral, lavender scent, and it creates calming, relaxing effects. Studies have found it quite capable of boosting the immune system, reducing lung inflammation, and restoring cognitive and emotional function. 


Terpinolene

Mostly used in soaps and perfumes, terpinolene has a piney aroma with herbal and floral undertones. A powerful central nervous system depressant, the terpene can be used to combat insomnia and to reduce anxiety and stress. 


Camphene

Camphene smells somewhat like fir needles. It is usually a minor component in essential oils like turpentine, camphor oil, ginger oil, and citronella oil. This terpene is also used as an ingredient in fragrances and as a food additive for flavor. 

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Terpineol

Terpineol is often found in varieties of cannabis with high levels of pinene. It has antibiotic, antioxidant, and antimalarial properties, and it creates calming, relaxing effects. 


Phellandrene

First discovered in eucalyptus oil, phellandrene emits a pepperminty aroma with a slight citrus undertone. It can also be found in herbs and spices like garlic, cinnamon, dill, and ginger. It is easily absorbed through the skin and is also used to flavor food products. 


Are Terpenes Illegal?

The legality of terpenes depends on where they are extracted from. For instance, marijuana sourced terpenes are considered illegal at the federal level due to marijuana's status as a controlled substance. However, states that have legalized recreational marijuana and some medical marijuana states also allow cannabis-derived terpenes. On the other hand, non-cannabis-derived terpenes are permitted in all 50 states.


Keep in mind, terpenes are in many plants; however, cannabis has a very high concentration of terpenes, making them a useful source.


Increasing Terpene Yield

Similar to increasing trichomes in weed, increasing the terpene yield requires mindful growing practices from day one. For starters, when selecting seeds to purchase, choose those with a terpene profile that most aligns with what you are looking for. Make sure the soil or substrate they are grown in is of high quality. You can also add nutrients to boost the plants' resin-making capabilities. 


Defoliation or trimming the leaves will also boost terpene production. It opens up space in the canopy and allows more light to reach the flowers, which your plant needs. This also stresses the plant, which boosts trichome production. Be sure to create the ideal environment as explained above to boost resin production. You should also make sure to harvest at the correct time to prevent the resin and
cannabinoids from deteriorating.


Growing the best marijuana can be complicated, but it is definitely a rewarding experience.
A Pot for Pot Complete Grow Kits provide everything that you need to grow the best at-home marijuana.  For additional in-depth growing tips on maximizing your trichome, terpene, and cannabinoid yield, visit the  Trichome Institute, I Love Growing Marijuana, and Green Bud Guru, or email Help(at)aPotforPot.com. 

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