A Brief Explanation of Terpenes and Extracts

With concentrate companies leaning away from ever higher THC percentages andmoving towards an emphasis on flavor. Terpenes have taken centre stage. As acceptance of Cannabis grows, the synergistic relationship between terpenes and cannabinoids has become a popular topic.

Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants. They often have a strong odour and can act to protect the plants that produce them by deterring herbivores and by attracting predators and parasites of herbivores. Terpenes are the major components of rosin and of turpentine produced from resin. The name “terpene” is derived from the word “terpentine”, an obsolete form of the word “turpentine”. Terpenes are also major biosynthetic building blocks.

Terpenes and terpenoids are the primary constituents of the essential oils of many types of medicinal plants and flowers. Essential oils are used widely as fragrances in perfumery, and in medicine and alternative medicines such as aromatherapy.

Most people are familiar with the therapeutic benefits of essential oils; these are simply plant extracted terpenes. When non-psychoactive terpenes are consumed in conjunction with cannabinoids they act together to alter the perceived “high”. Terpenes help THC to pass through the blood brain barrier facilitating faster access to your cannabinoid receptors. They can also have the opposite effect restricting THC absorption.

The scents and flavors of terpenes are familiar to everyone and are present in our day to day lives along with flavonoids which also contribute to the flavor of Cannabis and foods we consume every day. Myrcene, the most abundant terpene in Cannabis, has an earthy, musky, clove or sometimes fruity smell and is found in high levels in fruits such as mangoes. When combined with THC it amplifies the sedative effects of Cannabis. Other terpenes that act like this are Terpinolene which has a floral aroma and Nerolidol which smells woody. Limonene, the second most abundant terpene, smells of citrus. Its effects result in an energetic high, most commonly associated with sativa strains. Borneol, smelling of mint and camphor may increase the psychoactive effects of Cannabis while Linalool with its lavender fragrance has anti-anxiety properties. Continued research can only further our understanding of these unique interactions.

Now that Cannabis has become legalized, many people are dabbling in the various delivery devices and associated ephemera. This has caused an explosion of companies and products. Due to concentrates only being available in the unregulated market, there is no standardization.

Terpenes are volatile so the amount and type found in dry flowers is very different then what is found in fresh bud. The products made from material that is harvested, flash frozen, then processed result in the highest percentages of these aromatic compounds.

These products are considered “full spectrum extracts” because they retain roughly the same spectrum and ratio of desirable compounds as the plant had when it was alive. The lack of standardization has resulted in a limited array of products being given an assortment of names making it very confusing for anyone not familiar with them.

“Full spectrum extracts” is the moniker given when the active ingredients are extracted from live cannabis and preserve the natural ratios of terpenes, flavonoids and cannabinoids. Another name for this is “live resin” This category contains both solvent and solventless options. In the solvent catergory BHO/PHO (butane or propane hash oil) are made by closed loop extraction systems (that run these solvents through the material stripping off the desired products and then evaporating off butane and/or propane in a vacuum chamber and reclaiming the hydrocarbons).

In contrast, solventless live extracts are produced by applying heat and pressure to fresh plant material and collecting the viscous liquefied resin. This is a drastically simpler process than hydrocarbon extraction, and is known as “live rosin”. The end result is the same, how you get there depends on personal preference.

A wide assortment of THC concentrates play with the ratios of terpenes and cannabinoids. With so many companies producing such an assortment of live resins there are bound to be some accidental discoveries.

One such discovery was made when a jar of BHO was unintentionally left in the vacuum oven too long. The volatile terpenes, which acted as a solvent with cannabinoids had evaporated causing the solution to become supersaturated with THC. The result is referred to as THC-A “diamonds”. These are either separated and sold alone or with the terpenes in different ratios. When there is a higher percentage of THC-A it is often referred to as HCFSE “high cannabinoid full spectrum extract”; when made with a higher percentage of terpenes it is referred to as HTFSE “high terpene full spectrum extract”.

The therapeutic properties of both essential oils, which are just plant derived or lab produced terpenes, and Cannabis are well known and widely used. Combining different types and amounts of terpenes in varying ratios will provide insight to the entourage effect and should lead us down some interesting paths in the future in the recreational and medicinal markets.

With the legalization and mainstream acceptance of Cannabis in Canada, let’s hope we see these products move out of the unregulated market and onto the shelves of our local, legally run dispensaries. I hope you are as excited as I am to see where it goes and what wonders it will bring!