The Rise of the Mighty Terpenoid: What They Are and Why They Matter
Updated: Jul 24, 2019
Boy, when I was your age we had three flavors of weed – wet hay, dry hay, and weed that didn’t taste like hay. If we got something with a gassy or diesel fuel nose to it that’s because it got smuggled here over the border in an actual gas tank. So when I saw the new generation of weedheads fancyin’ themselves as some sort of self-proclaimed terp-hunters, I was determined to discover why the cannabis scene had become fiends for terpenes.
Terps, terpenes, terpenoids – it turns out they are all the same thing. For most of my adult life about as scientific as we ever got about our herb was to talk about the THC. We’ve discovered that THC, and even CBD, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the total cannabinoid content of a specific strain of cannabis. Once you realize how much those cannabinoid ratios can vary from one strain to the next – or even vary with the same strain grown using different methods or in different environments – you begin to understand the power of the “entourage effect” that only comes with a true full spectrum dose of cannabis. Now we are learning that the terpenoid content found in a cannabis strain can have a major impact on the overall effects that a user can expect to experience from that cut.
More and more research is being done to study the potential health effects of individual terpenes, and the results have once again shook up the cannabis culture and created the hype necessary for the common terp-hunter (Wookius Terpius) to survive and thrive.
For example, linalool, a terpene commonly found in the lavender plant, has a proven beneficial effect for those who suffer from anxiety. α-Pinene, which is also found in rosemary, has been shown to boost mental alertness. This is why the Old Stoner’s Tale of eating fresh mango before a smoke sesh to enhance the effects of the cannabis is true – the myrcene in the mango also occurs naturally in many cannabis strains, and combining the two can provide that extra rush as the rumor states.
Though research labs are now working overtime to make up for decades of lost knowledge due to cannabis prohibition, we still have a long way to go in learning about how terpenes work together with one another, and in combination with cannabinoids. This is leading to problems in a cannabis marketplace that was raised on never trusting or waiting for the government or the scientists to figure things out.
As the hype continues to build around the concept of terpenes as both a flavor and aroma enhancer and as another path to wellness, many profit-driven companies are jumping into this relatively untapped sector of the multibillion marketplace hoping to cash in on cannabis without ever touching it. In corporate America, more is almost always better, and that is what we are seeing happen with brands and products who might not have the proper ethical, moral, and respectful connection to the plant.
The worst offenders are vape cart companies. The distillation process required to transform crude cannabis oil into an aesthetically pleasing golden hue generally strips all flavor out of the start material leaving the byproduct mostly odorless and flavorless. This is when Man steps in to play Nature and companies create their own blends of concentrated terpenes in half-baked attempts to mimic the flavors of popular strains like OG Kush, Sour Diesel, or various Cookies crosses. But whereas the terpiest flowers may contain something like 2-5% total terpene content, hot dog water salesmen have been known to run that percentage up to 20% or higher in pre-filled vape carts. If you’ve ever had stinging lips or that never-ending cough or itch in your throat after one or two modest pulls from a vape pen, there’s a good chance you slurped too many terps.
Other full spectrum methods of making extracts from the cannabis plant certainly do concentrate terpenoid content at higher levels than found in flower form, but always within the same balanced ratio that nature gave to the strain originally. It’s not until we humans start messing with that equation by unnatural means that things go sideways. But, that’s what we do.
Plants naturally create terpenes to protect themselves from predators and to lure potential pollinators. In the cannabis family alone, there are hundreds or even thousands of totally different strains, each with its own signature blend of terpenes and cannabinoids. This is why quaint terms like “Indica” or “Sativa” being used to lump such variety into just two categories is sort of ridiculous.
Instead, we rely on dispensary shelves or local farmers featuring buds with random-sounding names that often allude to the kind of sensory experience a user may expect feel. Lemon Tree, for example, is high in limonene, a terpene known for its mood-elevating properties. Blue Dream, on the other hand, is high in myrcene, known more for its relaxing and sedative effects. The legendary strain Sour Diesel happens to be high in both myrcene and limonene, and Sour D fans love its universal balance of energizing and stress-relieving effects.
Really, as with everything cannabis related, it all starts with the plant. Some cannabis is grown in native soil under the full sun and gets harvested once each year in the fall and replanted in the spring to repeat nature’s cycle. Outdoor-bred terps are amazing when conditions are ideal, like those found in Northern California’s famed Emerald Triangle. For those who grow indoors, under artificial light, expertly blending various nutrients to your growing medium (soil, coco, hydro, etc) allows you to “play God” a bit and effectively boost both your cannabinoid and terpenoid content when successful.
Grassroots, cannabis-focused agriculture brands like Hunt’s Harvest specifically market their nutrient line as a terpenoid booster and they have hundreds of satisfied customers from all over the map churning out crop after crop of potent and pungent plants chock full of flavor to back up their claims.
"Terpenes are a big factor in today's age of cultivation. Unique tastes and smells are something that have been setting phenotypes apart since the beginning," says John Hunt, founder and namesake of Hunt's Harvest, "but with the increased aspects of people germinating seeds and looking for their own 'cut' of genetics you see the selection process leaning more toward terpene and terpene retention in extractions more than just the overall yield of the genetic in dried flowers."
Product-wise, Hunt's Harvest Super Sea is the most concentrated amount available of Soluble Potash and has a very high content of organic actives which both lend themselves to superior terpene production. By increasing the metabolic rate of the plant, you see more digestion of nutrients and the impact of digestion into the overall production of terpenes by the plant.
Hunt offers more insight: "Terpene production starts with the right environment so the plant can focus on nutrient uptake and nutrient digestion. The recipe you are using is a big part of the formula to get the most from your plant for both yield and terpenes. Super Sea makes it easier for all growers to help that yield and terpene production from day one in veg through flower and in the flush cycle you notice the powerful nose on your crop."
Whether you like to pack bowls, roll joints, build blunts, and/or get ripped on rosin or other forms of hash oil, you should insist on only dabbing, smoking, or vaping the terpenes that the plant provided on its own. As more and more new users enter legal cannabis markets from coast to coast, the upward trend of pre-filled vape cart sales will continue to soar due to their convenience, lack of ash or flame, and the candy-like flavors being injected into them. But in most cases, that is not real cannabis, and there is a good chance it is not real safe.
Are you a terp-hunter? If you want to get the best flavor and effects from your cannabis concentrates, then precise temperatures are the key. Once you find a strain that gets your head right it is easier than ever to get your hands on a lab-generated report on the terp content for that strain. Different terpenes vaporize at different temperatures – most of them within the same relatively tight window. The PeliNail electronic nail is the most accurate on the market and ensures that the number you see on your digital display is a precise representation of the heat of your quartz banger. No more torches, no more timers, no more guessing, and no more toasted terps – get yourself a PeliNail from Disorderly Conduction