Research

Trichomes: The Key That Controls Cannabis Potency

December 10, 2019 03:22 pm ET
Trichomes: The Key That Controls Cannabis Potency

There have been a couple of theories as to what is the key to potent and fragrant cannabis. Luckily for us, we now have an answer. A study done on the 4th of November 2019 by the University of British Columbia handed us the key: Trichomes. Trichomes are microscopic mushroom-shaped hairs, which are the key to potency and fragrance. The quantity of the trichomes covering the plant determines its’ cannabinoid potency and fragrance. These hairs are the richest source of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) metabolites and fragrance giving terpenes

How Cannabinoids and Terpenes Are Stored

THC and CBD metabolites are small molecules that are formed for metabolism. The researchers from the University of British Columbia state that the foundation of their study was to understand how the trichomes make and store their products. They were able to study the trichomes because of the ultraviolet light they were exposed to. They found that under the light, the stalked trichomes emitted a bright blue color and that they contained a large, pie-shaped disc of cells. The stalked trichomes produce the THC and CBD metabolites and fragrance giving terpenes. 

Co-author, Sam Livingston (Ph.D. candidate) said that they also found out that the stalked trichomes came from a precursor which are sessile (flat) shaped. These precursor, sessile-shaped trichomes emitted a red color, did not have a stalk, had smaller secretory discs and produced fewer fragrant terpenes. The stalked trichomes grew out of its’ precursor and underwent a dramatic change that could be visualized using a microscope. 

The ultraviolet light assisted the researchers to monitor trichome maturity on the flowers, or buds, as well as informing the optimal harvest times. Mr. Livingston explained that metabolites were stored in the cell walls of the trichomes. He was also astonished to find out that the high levels that are stored should be toxic to the cells, so the researchers plan to investigate how the cell walls manage this. The earliest stage that your plant will be ready for harvest for the best possible potency, is when your trichomes reach at least 50% cloudy with the rest having turned a shade of amber. 

Why Trichomes Exist

Trichomes grow on the plant as a defensive mechanism and are bitter and acidic tasting to smaller creatures. This defense mechanism is what we consume for medicinal and recreational use. Timing is essential. Harvesting your plant at the right time is of most importance for the best strength and fragrance of your buds for the cannabinoids. Understanding the difference between milky (clear to cloudy) and amber trichomes (yellowish orange) is important for harvesting at the right time. Trichomes are also the most reliable way to tell when your crop is ready to harvest.

Milky vs Amber Trichomes: 

  1. Clear trichomes: these start to grow on your plant as it leaves the vegetative stage and begins its’ flowering process. The cannabinoids are still busy forming and are definitely not ready for harvesting. 
  2. Cloudy trichomes: this stage is when the trichomes start towards the desired outcome, however, they are still not mature enough to harvest. This is when you want to start monitoring your plants more closely. When 50%-70% of your plant has turned cloudy and the rest have turned to amber, you should harvest it if you are looking for a stronger, more euphoric and intense effect. Most harvesters harvest the plant when 50% are cloudy and the rest are amber. 
  3. Amber trichomes: these trichomes are all ranging from amber to brown color. This is when the plant has reached its’ full maturity. By this stage, most of the THC has naturally converted to cannabinol (CBN), which has very relaxing, sleep-aiding and couch-locking properties. 

When looking at your plant’s trichomes to determine when to harvest for the optimal potency, remember to have your strong magnifying glass or jewelers’ lens handy. Trichomes are tiny and are almost impossible to identify with the human eye. Yes, your buds (or flowers) will have longer hair-like structures that also change the color however, those are pistils. If you had your suspicions that trichomes are the key to potency, congratulations on being proven right. 

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