It wasn’t long ago that, for many of us, the most important things about cannabis were the freshness of the flower, whether it was sativa or indica, and the THC content.
Things have grown much more complex, and for good reason — cannabis is a mosaic of a plant, packed with substances that interact with the human body in unique ways. In this case, the fresh consumer complexity is a great thing. Just as many of us dig wine’s myriad flavor and aroma intricacies, we increasingly treasure them in cannabis too.
Now we ask about cannabinoids like CBD and CBN. We care deeply about the strain and its ratio of indica to sativa, if it’s a hybrid. No longer do we just think, simply, indica or sativa. In most cases, it’s some of both.
And increasingly, we explore terpenes, organic compounds found in the cannabis plant that influence aroma, flavor and, yes, the high. In fact, the effects associated with indicas (deep relaxation) and sativas (energy) really have more to do with the types of terpenes commonly found in the respective styles than anything else.
What Are Terpenes?
Unlike THC and most other cannabinoids, terpenes are found throughout nature. Mangos. Pine needles. Lemons. Lavender. The list is enormous, although within the plant kingdom conifers and citrus plants are unusually high in terpene content.
While most plants express a fairly uniform formula of terpenes — a lime’s terpene profile, for example, doesn’t shift much from lime to lime — the cannabis plant’s range of terpene combinations is wildly diverse.
One aspect of terpenes with which all cannabis lovers are familiar — their role in creating aroma. The lemon aroma common in so many strains (Lemon Banana Sherbet, Durban Poison, Jack Herer) is the result of the terpene limonene, while the strains that smell like they come from a pine forest, such as OG Kush and Dutch Treat, are filled with the terpene pinene.
A diversity of terpenes infuse each strain, but with every strain certain terpenes tend to dominate, effecting the aroma, flavor and high.
While the aromas and flavors largely come from terpenes — and we care deeply about this (cannabis would be far less interesting if it all smelled like, say, basil) — it is the effects that are probably more interesting.
Terpenes and Brain Boosts
There aren’t many rules when it comes to interrogating the properties of strains and styles, but generally indicas contain more of the terpene myrcene, which smells earthy and musky, and sativas are more saturated with limonene, the lemon-scented terpene that can lead to amped energy and alertness.
The role of terpenes in cultivating mental states is not borne out of cannabis research. Instead, aromatherapy researchers for decades have closely studied terpenes, which is how we know plants like lavender (main terpene, linalool) promote sleep.
Now, cannabis researchers are closely exploring terpenes and their role in producing mental and physical effects when combined with THC and other cannabinoids. This combo platter is key— without cannabinoids, the terpenes might not achieve such highs. The combo is called the “entourage effect,” and it describes how the plant’s constituent parts work together, symphonically, to create effects. With cannabis, it’s rarely akin to listening to a violin soloist (unless you are consuming pure, distilled THC). Instead, it’s more like an savoring an orchestral performance.
Terpenes in Concentrates and Edibles
All flower contains terpenes, although the bud’s freshness will contribute towards the terpenes’ volume and potency. Pro tip: Make sure to keep bud as fresh as possible, in airtight containers, to maintain terps. Terps are volatile compounds, which means they evaporate quickly.
Things are not as straightforward with concentrates and edibles. A distilled THC concentrate does not offer terpene benefits. Which is perfectly fine for people chasing the pure THC buzz. Extraction methods diverge in terms of their ability to preserve terpenes. Live Resin, bubble hash/rosin and C02 extraction are the best at preserving terpenes.
But increasingly the extraction method is not especially important. High-quality terpenes are widely available — easy to buy on Amazon, for example — and innovative extraction manufacturers and brands now add individual terpenes, as well as cannabinoids other than THC, to extracted oils and products. In essence, they are hand-crafting ideal expressions of cannabinoids and terpenes rather than hoping the extraction process maintains the full-spectrum of plant properties through the oil-making process.
Caliva’s innovative extraction technologies and approaches, for example, can individually withdraw from the cannabis plants its important terpenes and cannabinoids. And the company’s scientists and technicians are skilled at then recombining the different ingredients into, for example, a perfect Gorilla Glue #4 oil, complete with the fresh flower’s aromas, flavors and powerful effects.
Edibles are made with concentrates, so the terpene profile depends upon the extraction method. But again — some edibles manufacturers are catching wind of the terpene buzz and adding them back to their products.
Five Terpenes, 10 Strains
It’s time to begin experimenting with terpenes, to understand the terp profile in your strains before you smoke or vape them and then think about the aroma and flavor. Do you smell hops? Musk? And then, of course, it’s time to appreciate how the buzz differs depending upon the range of terpenes.
Myrcene, the terpene that smells earthy and musky, is the most abundantly found within cannabis. It promotes the deep relaxation common to most indica strains.
Plenty of cannabis strains have a least a trace, if not a wallop, of lemon aroma. The smell comes from limonene, an energy-inducing terpene that is found with citrus plants.
This is a floral terpene, commonly found in lavender, bay laurel, mint and other plants. It is a calming terpene.
Anxiety-sufferers sometimes turn to strains containing beta-carophyllene, which is found in hops (hops and cannabis are cousins), black pepper and other plants.
These terpenes are just five of hundreds of terpenes found naturally in cannabis plants. Once you get a feel for which terpenes you like most, you can tailor your strain selections accordingly. The nose knows!
Want more stories like this delivered right to your inbox along with exclusive discounts and access to Caliva events? Sign up now! (we promise we won't blow up your inbox)