If you are a regular cannabis user, then then you know how important flavor and scent are when it comes to the products you are more inclined to buy. Even for occasional users, a flavorful aromatic puff from the right strain of cannabis can determine whether they choose to continue medicating themselves or not.
A dry, musty bud will deliver a harsh kick together with an unpleasant smell for those with a more refined palate, as well as for those who are just getting started with cannabis. Something similar happens with other plants, fruits and vegetables. What we perceive through our senses of taste and smell, is going to depend majorly on the origin and quality of the product we get. In fact, even plants that might have a similar cannabinoid structure could provide different effects on the same user, just because of their variations in flavor and fragrance.
This sensorial relationship between our mouth and nose, in regards to feeling enjoyment or disgust, is caused by what is known as Terpenes. Chemical compounds in any given plant, which provide smell and affect its taste.
Regarding cannabis flower, terpenes are organic hydrocarbons present in the essential oils of the plant. They are found on the most external part of the flower, much like an oily kind of pollen. Marijuana leaves have hairs at microscopic levels called trichomes, responsible for producing and carrying terpenes.
Trichomes are the mushroom shaped lumps that can be seen in most works of cannabis macrophotography. Those miniature glands generate and hold essential oils particular to each strain. Trichomes are sticky crystals, which ooze droplets of aromatic and flavorful terpene goodness all over a bud and its leaves.
In nature, terpenes act as an ingenious defense mechanism against threats like animals and certain insects. By emanating strong scents, plants can repel potential dangers. For experienced cannabis users, the fragrance terpenes give to a certain kind of strain can even help them reach concussions about its medicinal effect.
We all know the incredible power a certain flavor or scent has to take us back to other places in time, apart from the added pleasure it can provide to any consumable. Just like wine, cannabis has many components that can determine its characteristics and quality.
Yet, what is more interesting is that terpenes are in fact crucial when analyzing the properties of any strain. Recent scientific research has concluded that terpenes need to be present during consumption for a cannabis product so it can reach its maximum potential.
As previously mentioned in past editions, this "wholeness" cannabis should maintain in order to achieve optimal performance, is known as "The Entourage Effect". There are certain parts that can be taken out of a consumable like fats, lipids and plant matter but according to studies about the entourage effect, most of the elements present in cannabis depend on each other to work as effectively as possible once consumed.
Apart from maximizing marijuana´s psychoactive qualities, the entourage effect is also related to the medical properties of cannabis. A product with the right components working together, will deliver a much faster and lasting medication to patients. Additionally, scientific tests showed that terpenes are one of the most important elements present in cannabis, next to cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
Terpenes were found to be responsible for the bright scent and citrus notes of sativas, as well as their uplifting effect. They also have medicinal benefits as they help with the immune system and the gastrointestinal tract. On the other hand, indicas tend to have a more floral fragrance due to their terpene concentration. Research also showed that indica terpenes cause their well-known sedative effect together with pain relieving properties.
Here are some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis:
Thanks to these discoveries, there have also been many technological achievements that have been reached to further the development of cannabis, be it in its natural or processed state.
Cannabis flower undergoes extremely rough procedures when creating concentrates. In the case of full spectrum oils, terpenes are destroyed during extraction through pressure (Rosin), or by the use of chemical hydrocarbons (Butane Hash Oil/ Propane Hash Oil). Terpenes disappear after being heated for long periods too. Due to the high temperatures a marijuana bud must go through when creating distillates, all of its delicate terpenes are lost. Similar to what happens when storing cannabis, hence the common advise: "keep your weed in a cool dark place". Some connoisseurs take it a step further recommending to blacken the outer surface of your stash jar, to prevent as much light as possible from getting to your "nugs´ terps".
However, manufacturers have found a way to alter and re insert terpenes into cannabis extracts. These modified compounds receive the name of "Terpenoids". In other words, chemically modified terpenes with an altered oxygen content. Terpenoids were developed from the need to manipulate naturally created terpenes. Such compounds allow developers to infuse higher terpene concentration levels in extracts and distillates. This causes the final product to be a lot tastier. Even artificial flavors like bubble gum or cookies (just to name a few) can now be added into cannabis products to satisfy customers ‘preferences and demands.
More importantly, being able to put terpenes back into a marijuana extract based consumable, allows developers to deliver a product that will be much more efficient as medicine. It is true that many will oppose this kind of technique, arguing that there is genetic manipulation of the plant´s components at some point. Nevertheless, this new technique has been very well received by the vast majority of the market, thanks to the flexibility it provides in terms of flavor (not to mention the key role it plays in achieving the coveted entourage effect).
It is because of this that new policies and regulations have been designed by authorities such as the state of California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington; among other important third-party organizations like the Department of Consumer Affairs, who are in charge of supervising and certifying the whole regulating process.
Although the discovery of terpenes and their properties has created a growing interest in consumers worldwide, there is still not much information about cannabis hydrocarbons available, since it is a fairly new finding (there are tens of cannabis terpenes waiting to be fully studied and categorized). Therefore, it is vital that individuals do their own research, especially when looking to get the most out of cannabis´ medicinal and psychoactive benefits.