Trichomes, Cannabinoids, Terpenes & Terpenoids: The Ultimate Guide

Medically reviewed by Alexander Tabibi, MD
October 8, 2021
Trichomes cannabis and terpenes hq
Trichomes cannabis and terpenes hq

What are trichomes, terpenes, terpenoids, and cannabinoids? These components of cannabis are important in developing a strain’s unique cannabinoid profile. The hairs on the plants’ surface are called cannabis trichomes. They produce substances that have many effects that we will discuss later on. Particular trichomes have resin glands that produce phytocannabinoids like THCA or CBDA, flavonoids, and terpenes. Cannabinoids refer to chemicals found in the marijuana plant; they are THC, CBD, and others which have their specific effects. Terpenes and terpenoids produce flavors and scents that can vary based on what they are derived from. All these play a role in determining their potential effects on users.


As we have mentioned above, trichomes are those tiny hairs that you can see not only on cannabis but also on many other plants. They make marijuana look fluffy and shiny and feel sticky. They are also responsible for creating certain cannabinoids and directly influencing the cannabinoid profile.

Trichome Functions

As mentioned before, these crystal-like hairs have therapeutic, psychoactive, protecting, and intoxicating effects.

  • Psychoactive and therapeutic effects take place when trichome cells are involved in the composition of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids with the help of a process named cannabinoid biosynthesis when enzymes catalyze certain chemical reactions to produce complex molecules from simpler ones. The end products have not only intoxicating effects but also certain therapeutic ones proved by recent research.
  • Their protective effects can be described as those that protect cannabis plants from animals and insects, making the plant unappealing and not tasty to consume. They function as a deterrent, making the plant taste bitter, while animals or insects might also consider it toxic. Thus, plants are able to thrive and produce many, many cannabis buds protected from adverse environmental conditions.

Types of Trichomes

First of all, we will define glandular trichomes and non-glandular. Non-glandular trichomes do not produce the same psychoactive substances in comparison to glandular ones. They are evenly spread around the plant’s body to maintain balance and additional protection against animals or other negative impacts. They are also called cystoliths.

Glandular trichomes are the ones that produce cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. There can be distinguished three types of glandular trichomes: bulbous, capitate-sessile, and capitate-stalked.

Bulbous Trichomes

As it comes from their name, bulbous trichomes are in the form of smallish bulbs and are evenly distributed around the plant. They cannot be seen without a microscope. Bulbous trichomes play an important role in the development of cannabis products. They are the ones to “blame” the cannabis plant for being sticky and shiny. They are responsible for the production of essential oils, which give cannabis flowers their distinct aroma and flavor. These oils also contain therapeutic benefits, such as pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties, making them a popular choice for medical marijuana patients.

Capitate-stalked Trichomes

Capitate-stalked trichomes are built in the shape of mushrooms but are also visible only with the help of a microscope. They are mainly found under fan leaves (big typical marijuana leaves) and sugar leaves (the ones that support the cannabis flower). These are the most abundant type of trichomes found on the cannabis plant. These structures consist of a stalk and a bulbous head, which contains the highest concentration of essential oil and cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. The essential oils found in these trichomes are responsible for the unique aromas and flavors of each cannabis strain, making them an essential component of the cannabis plant.

Capitate sessile Trichomes

Capitate sessile trichomes are mushroom-shaped and are the largest and most abundant trichomes that can be seen with our eyes. Capitate sessile trichomes are a type of glandular trichome found on the surface of the cannabis plant. These trichomes are characterized by a large head and a short stalk, in contrast to capitate-stalked trichomes which have a long stalk. The head of capitate sessile trichomes contains high concentrations of essential oil, terpenes, and cannabinoids, making them an important component of the cannabis plant’s medicinal and recreational properties.

Trichomes Color & Harvest Stages

Trichomes happen to be one of the best indicators of plant growth and when to harvest it. During the vegetative stage, trichome production only begins with a few transparent or milky trichomes. After the flowering stage, they will become bigger, and their amount will drastically increase. As for the color, it will turn cloudy and white. The plant is considered mature when its trichomes go amber or dark red color.


Cannabinoids are compounds produced in the cannabis plant or sometimes synthesized; they interact with our endocannabinoid system, having a certain impact on our bodies. The most famous natural cannabinoids are THC and CBD, with lots of myths going around them. Additionally, there are 100+ less-studied cannabinoids.


Cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant interact with our body’s receptors to have numerous psychotropic and therapeutic effects. However, the marijuana plant does not produce cannabinoids as we are used to seeing them. Instead, it synthesizes certain cannabinoid acids. Cannabinoids themselves must be activated by decarboxylation, which is usually by heat, to yield the compounds most users are after (THC, CBD, etc.). Except for the two most famous ones, there are others that we will look into.

CBGA (Cannabigerolic Acid)

Primarily, CBGA has a protective function for the cannabis plant as it triggers targeted plant cell necrosis for natural leaf pruning to allow the plant to maximize energy directed toward the flower.

CBGA is a foundational compound, and can be called an “ancestor” for a certain group of cannabinoids, as it turns out to be at the top of the cascade reaction that produces the three major cannabinoid lines:

  • THCA;
  • CBDA;
  • CBCA.

These will eventually become THC, CBD, or CBC, respectively. CBGA may also convert to CBG, but in a majority of strains, it mainly converts into either THC or CBD.

THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid)

THCA, as established earlier, is developed from CBGA and furtherly established as THC. THCA is not intoxicating, as it becomes like that after being exposed to heat. This also helps the molecule of THCA to get rid of the carboxyl ring and better interact with our endocannabinoid system. In comparison to THC, THCA is believed by many to have the potential to alleviate the symptoms of nausea and inflammation.

CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid)

With CBGA being its parent, it further develops into CBD under the influence of heat. However, sometimes CBDA is used as a separate product in the forms of capsules, tinctures, and topicals.

Unlike other cannabinoids, CBDA does not interact with our endocannabinoid system’s CB1 and CB2 receptors. Instead, it inhibits a special enzyme called COX-2 enzyme (or cyclooxygenase-2) with the possibility of relieving inflammation and pain, according to some users.

Another study suggests that CBDA might also have the potential to ease nausea, especially for people undergoing chemotherapy. There is also research on its possibility of reducing depression-like behavior.

CBCA (Cannabichromenenic Acid)

After converting from CBGA into cannabichromene carboxylic acid (CBCA), it finally converts to CBC after exposure to heat or ultraviolet light. CBC itself is non-intoxicating; it still might have quite a few properties. For example, a 2011 study suggests that CBC might block pain and inflammation associated with collagen-induced osteoarthritis. Another study concluded that CBC might be a powerful inhibitor of acne.

CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic Acid)

CBGVA is another naturally occurring parent cannabinoid, later transformed into CBGV. It has not been studied much, but since its connection to CBG, it is considered that it might also be a potential help with glaucoma and inflammatory processes.

THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic Acid)

A precursor to THCV, THCVA itself is not that much studied. As THCV, it might also be helpful as an appetite suppressant or to help people to alleviate symptoms of various conditions.

CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic Acid)

CBDVA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid and is a precursor to CBDV. Although little is known about CBDVA, it does not indicate that it has no therapeutic benefits. It is a cannabinoid, and many different cannabinoids are known for easing different symptoms. Yet is is of interest to researchers studying the potential medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant.

CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic Acid)

There is little known about CBCVA and its “child” – CBCV. It is believed that they might possess general properties cannabinoids have.


Terpenes are responsible for the aroma and flavors of the marijuana plant; they also support cannabinoids in producing desired effects. Their task is also to attract certain creatures while deterring others. Moreover, they are also the ones influencing leaves’ and buds’ color and pigmentation. Being a very important part of a cannabinoid profile, they are also extremely volatile, which has led to the development of various, more sensitive extraction methods.


There is a wide range of different terpenes found in the marijuana plant giving each strain its distinctive flavor and profile.


Often used instead of the term terpenes, terpenoids are, simply speaking, oxygen-containing terpenes. They are naturally occurring not only in cannabis but in many other plants. They are of great interest to medicinal chemists as they can be potentially used in medicine.


Though not the most common terpene and presented in small amounts, terpinolene often plays a key role in the strains ’ aroma and flavor, including those where it can be felt the most: Dutch Treat, Jack Herer, XJ-13, Golden Pineapple, Ghost Train Haze, and others.

It is quite hard to describe terpinolene’s aroma; it combines piney, floral, herbaceous, and even a little citrusy. What really defines its flavor – is the word fresh.

As for its effects, terpinolene has the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with other nutrients.


Limonene is one of the most popular cannabis terpenes, with citrus, lemon, and orange aroma. Popular strains that have limonene in them are GSC, Pre-98 Bubba Kush, Tangerine Dream Cush, and Green Crack.

One study suggests that limonene helps to increase the production of antibody-producing cells in the spleen and bone marrow, which are used by the immune system to identify and neutralize pathogenic bacteria and viruses.

Another study claims that the unique therapeutic profile of limonene could be useful in treatments for Covid-19.

Most Common Cannabis Terpenes

Not only terpenes are responsible for the unique aroma and flavor profiles of different strains of cannabis, but these compounds also have a range of potential therapeutic benefits. Some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis include myrcene, limonene, pinene, and caryophyllene. In the table below, we will take a closer look at these and other common terpenes found in cannabis, their aromas, and their potential therapeutic benefits.

Terpene Aroma Potential Therapeutic Benefits Popular Strains
Myrcene Musky, earthy, herbal Sedative, anti-inflammatory OG Kush, Granddaddy Purple, Blue Dream
Limonene Citrusy, lemon-like Anti-anxiety, anti-depressant Sour Diesel, Jack Herer, Super Lemon Haze
Pinene Piney, fresh Bronchodilator, anti-inflammatory Blue Dream, Bubba Kush, Dutch Treat
Caryophyllene Spicy, peppery Pain relief, anti-inflammatory Girl Scout Cookies, Original Glue, Skywalker OG
Linalool Floral, lavender-like Sedative, anti-anxiety LA Confidential, Lavender, Granddaddy Purple
Humulene Earthy, woody Anti-inflammatory, appetite suppressant Headband, Pink Kush, Skywalker OG
Terpinolene Woody, smoky Sedative, anti-bacterial Pineapple Express, Jack Herer, Ghost Train Haze
Ocimene Sweet, herbal Anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal Clementine, Golden Pineapple, Chernobyl

Please note that the strains listed are just a few examples, as terpene profiles can vary widely even within the same strain. The popularity of strains can also vary depending on geographical location and individual preferences.

Understanding the most common terpenes in cannabis can help consumers make more informed choices about which strains to use based on the potential benefits and effects they are looking for.

Are Terpenes legal?

As long as terpene extract does not contain any THC, they are absolutely legal. They can be found in a variety of plants, like lavender or nutmeg, and their molecular structure has nothing to do with cannabinoids. The only thing in common is the relation to the same plant.

What is Terpene’s Profile?

The terpene profile will shape the overall picture of a strain’s aromas and flavors.

The aromas and flavors associated with terpenes can range radically; they are usually divided into big categories:

  • Sweet (including flowery and fruity);
  • Sour (citrus and dairy);
  • Bitter (vegetal and nutty);
  • Spicy (herbs and chili).

Terpenes vs. THC, CBD, and CBN

So, what’s the difference between the cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBN, etc., and terpenes? Both can be found in cannabis, but only the cannabinoid group can be found mainly in marijuana or hemp. Terpenes, as chemical compounds, can be found in many other plants.

Secondly, cannabinoids have a more profound influence on your body, while terpenes are there to create aroma and flavor.

Terpenes vs. Flavonoids: What’s the Difference?

In contrast to terpenes, flavonoids are a class of organic compounds that are found in many different plants, including cannabis, and are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some common flavonoids found in the cannabis plant include quercetin and kaempferol.

While terpenes and flavonoids are both important components of the cannabis plant, they differ in their chemical structure and the effects they produce. A cannabis strain with a high terpene level like OG Kush may produce a relaxing and sedative effect, while a strain with a high flavonoid content like Sour Diesel may offer pain relief and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Terpene-Infused Products

The market for cannabis terpene-infused products is rapidly expanding as consumers seek the taste, flavor, and aroma of their favorite strains while benefitting from terpenes. Here are a few examples of such items.

Gummies & Candies

Terpene-infused edibles are those with natural flavors paired with strain-specific cannabis-derived terpenes. If you have certain taste preferences, you can choose which weed gummies to get.


If you have a sweet tooth, terpene-infused chocolate is for you. You can buy one or make it yourself. There are plenty of recipes on how to make terpene-infused sweets.

Candles & Aromatherapy

Start your cannabis aromatherapy with terpene-infused candles. Choose what you want to surround yourself with: something sweet or maybe something fresh, and enjoy.


If you are not keen on ingesting other terpene-infused products, or maybe you want an additional dose, oils are perfect. Moreover, some CBD oil can be used as a topical wrapping you in your favorite aroma.


With more and more research being done, many believe that terpenes might be quite good for your skin, creating lines of cosmetics for you to try.

Craft Beer and Wine

Some manufacturers would combine certain strains transferring their aroma and effects and some sorts of wine or beer. This way, Cannavines combine their Red Blend with Headband, which has notes of lemon and provides stress relief. Their Chardonnay is inflected with Sour Diesel creating a light and airing sensation.


Trichomes, terpenes, terpenoids, and cannabinoids are all crucial components that play a significant role in developing a cannabis strain’s unique cannabinoid profile. Trichomes, with their crystal-like hairs, have various psychoactive, therapeutic, and protective effects, producing cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Terpenes and terpenoids, on the other hand, produce flavors and scents that vary based on their source and play a significant role in determining a strain’s potential effects. Cannabinoids are chemicals found in the marijuana plant that interact with our endocannabinoid system, producing various psychotropic and therapeutic effects. Understanding these components’ functions and types can help cannabis users better choose strains that meet their needs and preferences.