Whether considering the recreational or medical benefits of cannabis, therapeutic value is derived from cannabinoids and terpenes, the “miracle molecules” that deliver relief for everything from depression and gastrointestinal problems to cancerous tumors and epilepsy.
But from where are these compounds derived?
Both cannabinoids and terpenes are manufactured in small resin glands present on the flowers and main fan leaves of late-stage cannabis plants called trichomes. Derived from the Greek word trikhōma, which means “growth of hair,” trichomes are nearly microscopic, mushroom-like protrusions from the surface of the buds, fan leaves, and — in lower numbers — even on the stalk. While relatively complex, trichomes are comprised primarily of a stalk and a head. It is within the head that the actual production of cannabinoids like THC occurs.
There are actually three types of trichomes: Bulbous, capitate-sessile, and capitate-stalked. Bulbous are the smallest and barely visible to the naked eye, whereas capitate-stalked, the largest variety, is what most people notice when viewing cannabis flowers, either with the naked eye or under magnification. While more research is necessary to reveal how these types differentiate from one another, it is believed that all trichomes manufacture all types of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Chemicals called vacuoles and plastids (which contain terpenes) are manufactured in the stalks of the trichomes and travel up to the head of the gland. Once in the head, ultraviolet (UV) light combines with them to help create cannabinoids. While a highly simplistic definition, this model illustrates why plants that have received light of the proper wavelength, intensity, and duration produce a greater volume of cannabinoids. When that cannabinoid happens to be THC, the euphoric potency of the plant obviously increases.
However, it should be noted that a blanket of sugary trichomes on a particular cannabis sample doesn’t ensure potency in the form of strong medical efficacy or mind-bending euphoria. While a bounty of resin glands is certainly a good sign, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those glands contain a high percentage of THC, CBD, or other effective cannabinoids and terpenes.