If you’ve spent much time in dispensaries – or with a particularly bud-savvy friend – you may have encountered a term that’s been generating a lot of buzz in the cannabis industry: terpenes.
What are terpenes?
Simply put, they’re the chemical compounds that give all plants – not just cannabis – their distinct taste, smell, and effects. They’re responsible for scents like pine and lavender (and are even used to make essential oils), as well as the bitter taste of the hops in your favorite IPA. And when it comes to cannabis, terpenes are a big part of the reason some strains make you feel sleepy or subdued, while others might set your mind racing with inspiration.
Yet terpenes are still not as well understood as they could be. So let’s examine some of the most commonly accepted beliefs (and misconceptions) about these crucial little compounds... Plus, we’ll look at how one leading cannabis company is changing the way terpenes enhance your edibles.
Belief #1: Terpenes Don’t Really Work in Edibles
Some people don’t believe terpenes have any effect at all when ingested, as opposed to being inhaled. We won’t exactly call this belief a myth, because the science (at least as it relates to cannabis) isn’t totally conclusive. And it’s certainly true that, when you isolate THC from the rest of the cannabis plant to create the distillate found in most edibles, you do leave behind terpenes and other beneficial compounds.
What many people don’t realize, however, is that it’s possible to reintroduce these terpenes at a later stage of the cooking process, as long as temperatures remain below the terps’ boiling point. And there are a number of studies (involving plants other than cannabis) which have detected terpenes in the subjects’ blood following ingestion – including this one
and this one
One popular company, Wana Brands
, has approached the terpenes-in-edibles conundrum with a focus on innovation and technology. Wana has partnered with Abstrax, an industry leader in terpene research, to analyze the terpene profiles of leading cannabis strains. They’ve then used that information to create three class-specific terpene blends – a relaxing one based on the terp profiles of popular indica strains, a more motivating one based on top sativas, and a balanced one based on hybrid strains. These curated blends allow you to choose which Wana products you want based on the experience you’re hoping to have... and if their customers’ feedback is any indication, it's been well worth the effort.
Belief #2: Cannabis-Derived Terpenes Are Better than Botanically Derived
Some folks believe that the terpenes used in edibles should only come from one place: cannabis. But this simply doesn’t make sense. On a molecular level, terpenes are the same no matter where they come from – for example, the compound linalool produces the same effects whether you extract it from a lavender plant or a field of Kush. The origin of the terpenes won’t make a difference as far as how the edibles make you feel.
And actually, there’s a pretty big disadvantage that comes with using terpenes derived only from cannabis. For one thing, they’re harder to come by, which can cause supply issues. For another, cannabis strains evolve slightly from harvest to harvest – meaning that the terpene profile of even one specific strain might change over time. So to use only the terpenes extracted from that strain might produce different effects with each new batch of edibles.
Wana Brands, for one, feels it’s important to offer customers consistent results every time. While their terpene blends do mirror the combinations found in popular cannabis strains, Wana derives the terps themselves from botanical sources like fruit. Unlike a cannabis crop, botanical sources provide an unlimited supply of the terpenes they need. Botanically derived terpenes also allow Wana to recreate the same precise combinations – and, by extension, their effects – over and over again.
Belief #3: Some Terpenes Are More Important than Others
Many companies feel it’s sufficient to work with only five or six of the most commonly occurring terpenes. For Wana Brands, that's simply not enough. They believe nature is a subtle and miraculous thing – and there are no unimportant pieces of the puzzle. That’s why they infuse their products with more than 30 major and minor terpenes, bringing them much closer to the nuanced effects of the cannabis plant itself.
Now that you’ve got the basics, we’ll leave it to you to try out some so-called “terpene-enhanced” infused products and draw your own conclusions. But suffice it to say: we (and the folks at Wana) are true terpene believers!
A version of this article first appeared on June 25, 2021 at cannabisnow.com.