Published on:
Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Milky vs Amber Trichomes

You’ve likely heard people referring to weed as “sticky” or “resin-ey” before. This is one of the most common quality indicators of cannabis – and for good reason.

Trichomes are the tiny “crystals” on the surface of the buds and sugar leaves (small leaves that grow out of the bud sites on a plant) and are essentially resin glands that form part of the plant’s defense against bugs, weather, and mites.

To smaller creatures, they’re bitter and acrid tasting, as well as containing intoxicants (like THC). In a strange way, we humans have hijacked the plant’s defense system to get high.

Trichomes are also the most reliable way to tell when your crop is ready to harvest – depending on their color and opacity. This is most commonly used in conjunction with how the pistils look. In this guide, we’ll take a look at how to use trichomes to determine when you should harvest your plants, as well as how to somewhat control the kind of high you’ll get from your crop.


Trichome Stages During Flower

There are a number of stages that trichomes pass through during flower. You want to focus on the ones that resemble a mushroom shape, with a thin stalk leading into a bulbous, droplet-looking head. These are the trichomes in which the THC develops and are integral to your crop producing an intoxicating high – as well as a number of other cannabinoids with health benefits and medicinal properties.

Clear Trichomes

When trichomes first appear on your plant as it leaves the vegetative stage and begins its flowering process, they will be clear/opaque. At this point, the THC in the plant is still forming so they’re not yet ready for harvest. Harvesting the buds at this point will only produce a faint, uncomfortable high.

Some Trichomes are Cloudy

This is the stage at which you want to start watching your buds more closely. As they become cloudy, the THC levels present are starting to reach the desired level – however not yet at full maturity. At this point, the buds also won’t be fully grown.

If harvested when only some of the trichomes are cloudy, the buds will be small and not have the full aroma/flavor profile you’re trying to achieve. The high will be energetic, speedy and sometimes paranoid. This is due to the high levels of THC, and low levels of CBD / CBN which offset the THC’s effects with their relaxing, anti-anxiety properties.

Most Trichomes are Cloudy

When most of the trichomes become cloudy, you’re about ready to harvest. At this stage, the buds are in their full maturity, with the classic ‘weed high’ effect that you’re looking for. The high will be both intense and euphoric, as well as having strong pain relieving, anti-nausea and anxiety-treating effects.

This is the point at which most growers will harvest their buds, and is generally regarded as the standard for harvest. At this point, more than 50% of the white hairs of the bud should have turned dark. Using these two indicators in tandem, you can harvest at the perfect time.

Trichomes Start Turning Amber

If you’re looking for a more relaxing, ‘couch-lock’, sleep aid-type high you can leave your buds to mature to a level where the trichomes turn a darker amber from their previous cloudy look, with almost all of the white hairs on the bud having turned a dark orange or brown colour.

At this stage, most of the THC has naturally converted to CBN, which has very relaxing properties and will produce far more of a body-high than a head-high. This can be ideal for growing for pain-management or insomnia treatment, as well as reducing some of the more powerful psychoactive effects that we all know cannabis to possess.


How to Identify Ripe Trichomes

Trichomes are tiny, around 50-100 micrometers wide. This means they’re almost impossible to identify with the human eye and are best viewed using a strong magnifying glass, or preferably a jewelers lens. Here are some options for microscopes to check your trichomes.

The Formline LED Jewellers Loupe – This handy and simple lens has two magnification options – 30x and 60x – and can be used to easily check the maturity of your trichomes. It also comes in handy for inspecting bugs, mites, and molds that may affect your plant. It’s simple to use with two battery-powered LED lights and is the perfect little tool for the odd trichome check. Check the price here.

The Carson MicroBrite LED Pocket Microscope – This is the tool for the more precise grower. With 60x – 120x magnification, it’ll easily show you detailed looks at your trichomes, allowing you to easily make decisions as to the plants’ maturity, as well as when you’ll harvest. You can also focus using the same hand you’re holding it with, using the other to adjust the zoom. Check the price here.


What’s wrong with Milky Trichomes?

There’s nothing “wrong” per se with milky trichomes, however, as previously mentioned, they indicate a level of THC present in a crop. If you’re harvesting with a majority of milky or cloudy trichomes present, you’re going to have a very THC-heavy high, which means effects such as memory loss, giggles and the more psychoactive effects of the plant will be at their strongest.

For the best results, you want a nice healthy balance of milky trichomes, with a few dark and maybe a few clear just to balance things out. This will produce the most well-rounded high where you’re getting a nice share of all the properties marijuana has to offer.

However, you could simply harvest the plants when they’re at the most potent level of THC, if for example, you’re taking a CBD oil supplement. Then, when consuming your cannabis you dose alongside it with your CBD to balance out the high.

Many experienced growers recommend having a CBD oil supplement on hand when trying out very THC-heavy strains as it mellows out the panic-inducing properties weed can hold. You’ve likely heard many older smokers talk about how they “just can’t smoke today’s weed” and how it’s “a hundred times stronger than in the ’80s”, however many of these experiences could have likely been salvaged with a stronger balance of THC to CBD and CBN.


What Trichomes Ready to Harvest Look Like

It can be hard to tell the difference between clear and cloudy trichomes, and many first or second-time growers can struggle to identify which stages their trichomes are at. As such, it’s best adviced to reference pictures of other grower’s results at different stages to compare to your own.

Pictures of Buds Ready to Harvest

These are some pictures of buds at the clear stage. They’re not yet ready to harvest and have a number of weeks left before maturity. They have a glassy look.

These buds are at the stage optimal for harvest. The trichomes are mostly cloudy with a few discrepancies, and the plant is at its most potent in terms of the desired effects. They have an opaque look, almost reflective at a distance.

This plant has gone too far into maturity, and will produce a far more intoxicating or ‘narcotic’ high which will likely put you in a daze or send you straight to sleep, and not be of any use at all if you’re looking to go about day-to-day activities while stoned. These have a darker opaque look.


With this guide handy, you should now be able to both identify which stage your trichomes are at, as well as identify the stage at which you wish to harvest your plants. Depending on the effects you want, you’ll want to harvest at different times, and possibly even try harvesting in 2-3 different rounds from the same plant, to get an experience of the change in effects this kind of harvest produces. Do your own experimenting and send us any feedback you have, as well as plenty of pictures of those juicy trichs.

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