Cannabis connoisseurs know all about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and the hundreds of other cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. They're also fully aware of the importance of terpene compounds that give each cannabis cultivar its unique aroma. Terpene knowledge is slowly becoming more mainstream with consumers looking for specific terpene combinations for personalized effects.
With hundreds of terpenes available in the cannabis plant, more brands and dispensaries are choosing to perform terpene testing to show the percentage of terpenes in each cannabis product. Preliminary research and mounting anecdotal evidence suggest that terpenes may have medical applications and other significant effects on users.
Terpenes Protect and Attract
Terpenes, found in a variety of plants, do more than just contribute to the plant's smell. One 2012 study conducted by the Kinki University in Japan discovered that when a plant becomes infected by pests it will produce specific terpenes to warn other plants of impending danger. The communication prepares a nearby plant's defense mechanism, although researchers aren't sure exactly how this happens.
Terpenes have also been known to attract pollinating insects or predators that feed on the pests that eat the plant. Researchers also hypothesize that the diversity of terpenes work together to provide benefits that a single terpene can't. There's still much to be learned about terpenes, but customers are learning that they do, in fact, matter.
Terpene Levels Differ By Strains
A cannabis cultivar's chemical profile depends on more than just its name. Trichome and terpene content are influenced by growing methods, environmental conditions, seed quality, and so much more. Many cannabis testing labs and companies showcase their terpene results online, providing customers with an idea of what they might find in their favorite strains.
For example, a Blueberry Trainwreck sampled by Analytical 360 showed that myrcene was the most available compound at 0.634%. The next highest concentrations were limonene at 0.094% and caryophyllene at 0.088%. An Afgoo strain, however, had 0.972% alpha-pinene, 0.815% myrcene, 0.509% limonene, and 0.445% beta-pinene.
Terpene Testing Matters
The more growers and consumers know about the cannabis plant compounds, the better. For medical consumers, terpene analysis helps them identify which strains or terpenes they want to consume. Although researchers are a long way from developing personalized cannabis medications using cannabis-derived terpenes, there are accounts that suggest terpenes can have a synergistic effect with cannabinoids.
Even for recreational consumers, dispensaries and growers can recommend a certain strain for a customer depending on the type of experience they want. Terpene testing will clearly show what terpenes are found in the strain. Growers can use this information to grow plants with specific terpene levels and modify them as desired.
Terpene Testing Is The Future
Before any state-of-the-art terpene testing was required, consumers and growers relied on smell and look to guide their purchase. Cannabis strain names are often tied to their specific aromas like Sour Diesel, Girl Scout Cookies, or Strawberry Cough. Today, terpene testing is accomplished via innovative laboratory techniques like gas chromatography.
Gas chromatography is a separation technique that analyzes volatile substances in their gas phase. Third-party accredited labs can use mass spectrometry (MS) or flame ionization detection (FID), 2 types of gas chromatography. MS separates substances into individual ions and sorts them by their mass-to-charge ratio. A detector mechanism can identify individual terpenes based on a previous library sample.
With FID, a sample is pushed through a column and heated in a flame to separate them into electrically-charged particles. The process enables the equipment to measure the electrical signal of these ions and match them with a terpene.
Many extraction processes use high heat that can degrade terpenes in a cannabis starting material. Distillates, for example, are used to make cartridges and edibles without the original terpene profile. To supplement the lack of flavor, producers sometimes use terpenes derived from other plants in their cannabis products.
Some manufacturers use non-cannabis-derived terpenes instead of the "real" thing. While some argue that there is no difference between artificial and cannabis terpenes, others are steering clear from this practice. Using non-cannabis terpenes can be tempting and less-expensive than using cannabis-derived terpenes. Oregon, for example, is setting up new rules starting June 1, 2019 that will require information regarding non-cannabis-derived terpenes on concentrates to be clearly displayed.
Dispensaries Display Terpene Percentages
Retail locations nationwide are learning to ask for terpene testing because their customers want it. Papa Buds, a recreational dispensary in Portland, Oregon, offers their customers terpene testing on top of the mandatory compliance testing required for cannabis products sold in Oregon. Terpene tests are not required as part of the state testing program.
Customers can find cannabis grown in-house by their affiliate, 528Hz Gardens. Grab any of their premium flower varieties including Black Cherry Soda and Bud's Champagne. Each strain and product carry a complete chemical profile including terpenes, so you know what scents are coming through and what you can expect. You can reach Papa Buds here:
- 4020 SE Cesar Estrada Chavez Blvd, Portland, OR, 97202
Many states, including Oregon, do not require testing for terpenes, but some do. Nevada was one of the first states to require terpene testing to be displayed on the packaging. Terpene testing can seem expensive for retailers, but some dispensaries like Papa Buds have noticed that the extra cost is increasing their trust among customers. It's only a matter of time until all dispensaries list terpene percentages, whether voluntarily or through testing regulations.
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