The Cannabis Workhorse: Trichomes –– SEPTEMBER 2022 Cannabinoid Monthly Playbook

There’s no doubt about it, cannabis is the most recognizable plant in the world. Either through pop culture, propaganda, or religion most people can identify its signature leaf. The reason for this is simple, humans love the feeling that comes from ingesting the unique compounds found in cannabis.

It’s ironic though. That famous leaf produces very little of the compounds that get you high. That function is the responsibility of a much lesser-known part of the plant, the trichome. Trichomes are tiny hair-like structures that coat cannabis flower. They’re what make great weed look “frosty,” feel sticky and smell unique. Broken down, they are tiny chemical factories that focus on one thing: making cannabinoids and terpenes.

Trichomes are far from unique to cannabis, however. More than 30% of plants have trichomes. Go check the tomatoes you’re growing on the patio. Did you see them? All over the leaves, stems, and in some cases, the tomato fruit itself. Nearly any herb you cook with has trichomes on the living plant. Pine trees have specially designed trichomes referred to as resin ducts inside their needles. Trichomes are everywhere in the plant world and serve various plants with various functions. Some trichomes protect the plant from insect invaders. Others provide a way to send signals to their neighbors. Others help with attracting animals that help with pollination and seed dispersal.

Let’s start with the basics. Plants perform photosynthesis. To refresh a 7th-grade biology class, plants turn carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen. Trichomes generally don’t do this. Trichomes take sugar from their neighboring leaf cells and turn that sugar into special chemicals, like terpenes and cannabinoids. Its because of these tiny special cells that the global cannabis industry exists.

To recap: trichomes = good. Great, you’ve got the basics. As the cannabis market has matured, so have its consumers. While compressed trichome products, like hashish, are likely as old as written history, the past decade has seen an explosion of consumer products focused on trichomes. Starting with the rise of BHO (butane hash oil) in the legacy market of the early 2000s, trichome concentrates now makeup>20% of legal cannabis sales. With that growth has come great innovation in producing concentrated cannabis products.

One of the concentrate segments that has seen massive growth over the past two years is solvent-less rosin. Flower, or isolated trichomes (hash), is pressed between two heated plates to produce a waxy concentrate used typically for dabbing or vaporizing. This is a product that is considered more of an art than an exact science.

Science does play a part though. As this product has exploded in popularity, rosin producers have identified which traits make for exceptional rosin quality. The most referenced plant trait for rosin production is the trichome cuticle. Where the bigger the cuticle, the higher the rosin quality. To supply superior cultivars for rosin production, breeders have now turned their attention toward breeding for bigger trichome cuticles.

While the cannabis flower (and its leaf) get the credit for a multi-billion-dollar industry, the trichome is the true workhorse that should garner the spotlight and will continue to drive innovation in consumer-focused cannabis products.

Editors’ Note: This is an excerpt from our Monthly Playbook. If you would like to read the full monthly playbook and join the thousands of others you can sign up below.

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