Trichomes is a term that’s thrown around a lot when talking about cannabis. But what does it really mean? Three chomes? Not exactly.

According to the University of Kentucky, a trichome is an epidermal cannabis trichomes“hair” that can be singular or numerous. The technical definition is “fine outgrowths or appendages on plants, algae, lichens, and certain protists.” The word “Trichome” comes from “Trichoma,” a Greek word that means “growth of hair.”

Plants have trichomes as part of their defense against insects. This defense is dual. The chemicals a trichome produces at its tip deters an insect from sitting down to dinner and the trichome itself can physically block the bug from reaching a plant’s leaves.

But trichomes aren’t all about security – they also help produce fragrances in flowers or mint. And they’re used to shade the plant in hot and arid climates

Trichomes on carnivorous plants like the Venus Fly Trap (let’s all join in a stirring rendition of “Suddenly Seymour”) are used to help capture prey. They drive away animals as well because of their bitter taste. And they protect plants from wind and certain types of fungi.

Trichomes deter invaders and that includes humans. Their stinging nettles can cause rashes on people who touch or rub up against them. This rash is technically the result of the trichome injecting chemicals into the skin. Poison Ivy is a plant well known for its trichomes – they’re what causes people to itch.

The shape of a trichome varies by plant and, because of this identifying aspect, the trichome is used to determine one plant species from another.

Trichomes and Cannabis

Trichomes on weed almost resemble frost when looked at with the naked eye; under a microscope, their appearance is more mushroom-like. They’re a highly important part of the marijuana plant because they house most of the resin that creates the cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids that make cannabis special.

Cannabis usually contains one of three types of trichomes:

Bulbous Trichome: These trichomes are the tiniest and grow all over the plant. They’re so small that they’re only made up of a handful of cells.

Capitate Sessile Trichome: These trichomes are bigger than Bulbous and cover more ground. They involve a head and a stalk too.

Capitate Stalked Trichome: These trichomes are visible to the naked eye and the most abundant on the cannabis plant. They’re made of a stalk and a large gland head. This gland is where the magic happens; it’s the main “warehouse” where cannabinoid and terpenoids are made.

Cannabinoids are produced by all types of trichomes, but Capitate Stalked cannabis trichomeTrichomes produce the most and the highest concentration. Yet a plant with more Capitate Stalked Trichomes won’t automatically produce more cannabinoids than a plant with less. The rate of production relies on genetics and environment – the old “nature versus nurture” works for weed too!

UV light has a major impact on both cannabinoid and terpenoid synthesis. Often, plants that receive the most light will produce higher concentrations of cannabinoids. This does differ by strain, however.

Farmers and growers can use the appearance of a trichome to determine when a plant is ready for harvest – they change color from clear to cloudy white to amber

But, again, this can be strain-dependent and different plants may display maturity in different ways. Some may possess trichomes that change colors and some may – who knows – get a 401K and a dental plan.

Not everyone agrees that growers should wait for the amber hue before harvesting and there’s quite a lot of talk about “amber as a myth.” Some growers suggest waiting for the cloudy white only, at which some amber is usually inevitable. Others try to avoid amber altogether.

Trichomes are fragile and many things can hurt them. Heat, light, oxygen, or physical contact can do it. Time can as well. But it’s not only the trichomes that degrade – the oils do too. This is why growers have to handle cannabis very carefully – it preserves the trichomes for as long as possible. Growers who practice proper trimming, drying, and curing will keep their trichomes viable for longer periods. As a result, the cannabinoids and terpenoids will stay viable.

Trichomes Versus Mold

In Weed 101, everyone learns that trichomes are good and mold is bad – you don’t want to smoke moldy marijuana any more than you want to eat moldy bread. While many people can determine between the two easily – especially with a magnifying glass – some novices might struggle.

One of the best ways to tell the difference is the appearance, naturally. Trichomes look like mushrooms made of glass or sappy-like appendages while mold looks like a white or grey mass (it may also resemble cotton candy or spider webs).

Trichomes, when looked at without magnification, almost look like tinsel on a Christmas tree while mold is nowhere near that pretty – it looks like a pulled-apart cotton ball. Mold also grows on the trichome.

Mold doesn’t cover the cannabis plant evenly, either (at least not hopefully). Trichomes won’t be entirely even – Mother Nature is not that anal retentive – but they will be distributed throughout.

Mold’s texture is fur-like, while trichomes have a resin texture

And mold sometimes contains an odor. It may smell musty or like urine. It may also smell like a locker room. But sometimes it smells like lavender, interesting since lavender is an appealing aroma to most.

If you’re new to growing and struggling to decide if the whitish stuff on your marijuana plant is friend or foe, you can always solicit the help of a budtender or someone who’s been growing longer. You can also upload pictures to certain sites where growers will give you their opinion. They’ll give you their two cents on your potential dime bag.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.