An Introduction to Terpenes.
Think about your all time favorite strain of cannabis. What makes it so enjoyable? The big juicy buds ripe with lavender calyxes and fiery orange pistils sure do look nice. It is the aroma and flavors that really distinguish your favorite strain from all of the rest. The strains we love tend not only to have the best aromatic profiles, but also give better medicinal effects. Moreover, strains with distinct aromas tend to also give noticeably distinct effects. Why is this the case? The answer: Terpenes.
Terpenes can be found all over the place in nature, They are essentially the building blocks for aroma in many of our favorite fruits, herbs, spices, flowers, and more. They are what give lemons their sharp citrus fragrance, and lavender it’s sweet floral bouquet. Terpenes also distinguish the jet fuel and diesel sharpness of a Chemdawg strain from the sweet liquorish and minty profile of a Durban Poison landrace. Cannabis is very unique in that it can express a very wide variety of terpenes, creating some very complex flavor and aromatic profiles as a result. These terpenes are no different than those found in other plants, but cannabis can express many at once. This is why Chernobyl can have a diesel note and a lime citrus note layered into the same profile. The varying complexity of these profiles also translates to effects that can differentiate strains from one another.
Terpenes found in cannabis have the ability to manipulate how cannabinoids affect us. When we taste the sweet musky profile of Grand Daddy Purple, the dominant terpene Myrcene is actually contributing to the sedative couch lock effects of that particular strain. The many terpenes found in cannabis all affect the absorption of cannabinoids differently. Moreover, certain combinations of terpenes will illicit different psychoactive properties. For example, strains that are high in the terpene Limonene (like Sour Diesel) are known to exhibit a citrus strong aromatic profile as well as increase alertness and creativity.
In cannabis, terpenes develop during the flowering stages of the plants growth cycle. Like cannabinoids, they are formed within the trichomes that cover the cannabis flowers and surrounding sugar leaf. These frosty trichomes hold and protect the many compounds found within the strain. Together within the trichome, they compose the formula that distinguishes one strain from another in both in aroma and effect. Cannabis flowers that are rich in trichomes often yield the most fragrant profiles, contributing to their overall effects. The development and preservation of terpenes in cannabis is contingent on variables such as plant genetics, environmental factors, as well as harvesting, curing and post processing methods. Terpenes are very volatile and can degrade under harsh conditions. Temperature, light, exposure to the elements, and time can all play a factor in changing terpenes, many times degrading them. This is why it is always important to store your cannabis properly and not over handle your buds. A loss of terpenes can result in a loss or lessening of certain desired medicinal effects.
Advancements in terpene analysis technology is moving rapidly, allowing for a much more expansive research into how terpenes interact with our endocannabinoid system. Today, many dispensaries offer not only cannabinoid but terpene tested products as well. Many of these products are labelled with percentages right on the package, so that you can get an idea of how certain spikes in terpenes pair with aromas and effects. If you have a favorite strain and can’t get a lab test with a terpene profile, look it up online and you may begin to see a pattern. Happy Terpene hunting!