Terpenes, Explained

Knowing the basics can help patients choose the right strains

Terpenes also affect the specific medicinal attributes that make one strain better for treating pain while another works best on anxiety and reducing stress.

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When I asked a budtender at Florin Wellness about the flavors of vape oils, she said it depended on the “terpenes.” When terpenes came up again at Cannabis Cup last month, I thought it was time to take a deeper look at what they do.

Terpene molecules create the aromas distinguishing one cannabis strain from another. They give Super Lemon Haze its citrus smell and Jack Herer it’s distinctive pine scent. Terpenes also affect the specific medicinal attributes that make one strain good for treating pain while another works good for relieving anxiety.

All plants contain terpenes. While cannabis contains over 100 different types, there are 11 main terpenes worth knowing about (see graphic).

Some cannabis concentrates contain added terpenes from non-cannabis plant sources in order to replenish or enhance smell and taste. A recent study at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil made news when it suggested that mixing outside terpenes with sativa concentrates could produce a toxic effect. But Ben Cassiday of True Terpenes, a Portland-based terpene supplier, feels the study was flawed, saying it focused only on beta carotene, which is “not a major terpene found in cannabis.”

Cassiday said it’s an “apples-to-apples” situation, and that pinene terpenes from a pine tree are chemically identical to those from a cannabis plant. “Adding terpenes back into an extract can restore and balance the ratio … making it more similar to the profile before extraction.”

SC Labs, a respected Santa Cruz testing company, produces a color-coded “Guide to 11 Primary Terpenes,” which explains the aromas and health benefits of each one. Likewise, a good budtender can help patients find strains which are high in the specific terpenes that work best for their medical needs.

For a copy of SC Lab’s “Guide to 11 Primary Terpenes,” visit sclabs.com.