The Anatomy of a Cannabis Trichome and Why It's Important
Cannabis enthusiast and student of the art of solventless extraction
Know why good cannabis looks like it’s covered in a sugar-like coating of tiny crystals? That lovely layer of sparkling goodness is actually thousands of little appendages that hold the magic of the cannabis plant. These resin-producing glands are called trichomes, and they contain the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids in highly concentrated amounts. Growers think about cultivating cannabis in terms of flower production, but another way to think about it is through the lens of farming terpenes. At the end of the day, it’s the trichomes we’re after. We want to grow big, juicy flowers for trichome explosion that quality cannabis grown in the right environment will express.
But what exactly is so special about trichomes? Trichomes are the factories inside which the best therapeutic compounds in cannabis are produced. What’s more, these trichomes can actually be isolated and collected using solventless techniques in order to create pure and highly potent cannabis concentrates. Thanks to techniques like ice water extraction and pressing rosin, we can separate trichome heads from the rest of the plant material, which equates to getting the best and leaving behind the rest.
Although there are smaller amounts of THC and other cannabinoids in all parts of the cannabis plant, the concentration is highest within trichomes. Learn more about trichomes and their importance in Guide To Trichomes and Solventless Extraction.
Let’s take a look at the anatomy of cannabis trichomes and how that relates to solventless extraction.
Parts of Cannabis Trichomes
There are several different types of trichomes, but the most common on the cannabis plant is the capitate stalked trichome, which is composed of a long, skinny stalk that supports a round, bulbous head on top. Capitate stalked trichomes are also the largest types of trichomes and are visible to the naked eye. Look closely at a mature cannabis flower and you will likely be able to make out the stalks and the heads of trichomes.
The stalks are primarily made of two types of cells, the epidermal cells and hypodermal cells. Epidermal cells form the outside of the stalks and provide the structural strength needed to support the head that rests on top. The hypodermal cells make up the interior of the stalks and transport nutrients up to the glandular head.
At the very tip of the stalk is a single cell, known as the basal cell, which is the connector between the stalk and the head. This basal cell is the glue that holds the two parts of the trichome together, and it becomes weaker as the trichome matures. The ripest trichomes release their heads easily thanks to a mature basal cell.
Moving on to the trichome head, a layer of cells called stripe cells line the bottom of the head. These stripe cells support secretory cells, which play an important role in metabolizing cannabinoids and terpenes. The secretory cells are thought to be transporters, moving precursor nutrients up to the secretory vesicles located higher up in the gland head. Cannabinoids and terpenes are then made within the secretory vesicles.
Finally, the entire inside of the trichome head is surrounded and protected by a clear membrane called a cuticle. This cuticle is a waxy substance which keeps the head intact and self-contained, protecting the cannabis resin located inside. As the plant matures, the resin is pushed to the outside of the trichome, meaning there is valuable oil located within the cuticle as well. There is also resin in the stalks, though not as much as the head.
What Is the Best Component of a Trichome for Extraction?
We see that cannabinoids are found in some amounts in all parts of the cannabis plant, and also in both the heads and stalks of trichomes. However, most of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that we desire are in the trichome heads.
In ice water extraction, the trichome head is knocked away from the stalk with the help of an ice water vortex. Cannabis material and ice water are mixed together either by hand or in a washing machine, and the spinning motion of the ice water and cannabis slurry helps the trichome to separate into two parts. The heads are then filtered out of the water using a series of sieves called bubble wash bags. Learn about the full process in How To Wash Bubble Hash.
The resulting collection of trichome heads are called bubble hash, and it’s one of the most desirable cannabis products available. Anything other than trichome heads is considered contamination in bubble hash. Even the trichome stalks, although they do contain some therapeutic compounds, are not desirable in bubble hash, as they add unneeded lipids into the product. The heads are filled with the most resin and therefore are the most potent.
Certain strains of cannabis produce trichome stalks with skinny “necks” or the region around the basal cell, that will easily break away from the head. Other strains for trichomes with stronger, thicker connections between the stalk and head. The best strains for washing hash are those that produce copious amounts of stalked capitate trichomes with fragile connections between the head and stalk once the trichome is ripe. This also means that the cannabis must be handled with care so the heads don’t fall off before extraction.
Pressing rosin is a different mechanism for separating trichomes from cannabis. Like washing hash it allows us to isolate the resin produced inside the trichome heads, but it uses heat pressure rather than ice water. Pressing rosin breaks open the trichome heads and causes the compounds inside to liquefy and flow out of the material. This flow of cannabis oil passes through a filter, known as a rosin filter bag, which holds back pieces of plant contamination and even parts of the trichome like the stalk and cuticle that could diminish the flavor of the rosin.
Both dried cannabis flowers and bubble hash can be used to press rosin. Learn more in How To Press Flower Rosin and How To Press Bubble Hash Rosin.
Additionally, the dry sift method is the earliest form of hash making. This is similar to ice water extraction in that a series of filters are used to sieve the material, but everything is completely dry. Dry sifting allows us to isolate and capture trichome heads. You can read more about dry sifting in The Ultimate Guide To Dry Sift.
Trichome heads are the most desirable components of the cannabis plant. They contain the highest concentrations of therapeutic compounds like cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Trichomes are the fruits of the cannabis grower’s labor, and solventless processes like ice water extraction and pressing rosin allow us to isolate and capture the goodness of these resin glands.
Trichome heads can also tell us when the plant is in prime ripeness and ready for harvest. Read more in How To Harvest Cannabis for Peak Trichome Ripeness.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is a cannabis trichome head?
The trichome head sits on top of the stalk and contains the highest concentrations of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids produced by the cannabis plant. The trichome head is the most desirable element of the cannabis plant.
What is a cannabis trichome stalk?
The trichome stalk supports the head and brings nutrients to the cells that metabolize cannabinoids.
What is the trichome cuticle?
The cuticle is the membrane that surrounds the trichome head.
What is the basal cell in a trichome?
The basal cell is at the very tip of the trichome stalk and connects the head to the stalk. This connection weakens as the trichome matures and ripens.
How can you isolate and collect cannabis trichomes?
The most common ways to isolate and collect trichome heads is through ice water extraction, pressing rosin, or dry sifting. These are ideal methods because they don’t use solvents, and the resulting concentrates are known as solventless cannabis extractions.
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