The Terpene Trifecta: Flavor, Fragrance, Therapy
Terpenes are potent scent molecules that provide plants their natural means of warding off predators, attracting pollinators and cooling themselves during times of extended heat. Terpenes exist in every living plant. They have unknowingly been appreciated by cultures for thousands of years as one of the major contributing actives behind the flavors, aromas, and therapeutic effects of herbs and botanicals. Some of the most notable terpene scents people are familiar with come from plants like lavender, rosemary, pine, tea tree, mint, and of course, cannabis.
Terpenes have gained mainstream popularity in the cannabis industry as more people have learned about the important role they play in attracting each of us to our favorite cannabis varieties. The art of perfecting formulations using the terpene trifecta (flavor, fragrance, and therapy) is what creates best-selling cannabis products (vapes, edibles, topicals, and more).
Terpenes are highly sought after by cannabis manufacturers because of this. However, due to the high cost of pulling terpenes directly from cannabis, “cannabis-derived” terpenes specifically are in high demand and low supply. And, there is far more to the puzzle than cost and availability alone. Considerations such as standardization, efficacy, and scalability are all driving factors that have inspired manufacturers to pull terpenes from other plant sources; which are abundant in the same molecules of interest that cannabis contains.
It’s important to note that although cannabis is a plant, and therefore botanical, the industry has collectively referred to non-cannabis derived terpenes as botanical terpenes. Both botanical and cannabis-derived terpenes serve very unique and equally important roles in manufacturing. Contrary to rumors spread by self-proclaimed aficionados, neither source is “better” than the other. They both serve their purpose and their functions vary greatly.
Clarity on Efficacy: There are some rumors that cannabis terpenes are more efficacious in producing the entourage effect in the body. This is quite simply untrue, but many companies still promote this heavily in their marketing. While there are benefits to using cannabis-derived terpenes, they aren’t any more effective than using plant-derived terpenes. In fact, when formulating for therapeutic results, the opposite is true. Companies may have good intentions, but those who use this as their primary selling point are misleading consumers and confusing other industry professionals. Whether conscious or unintended, it’s misinformation.
Once isolated, there is essentially no difference between terpenes pulled from cannabis compared with those pulled from other plants. Arguably, other than synthetics, a molecule is a molecule. It simply comes down to a business decision based on what the manufacturer’s formulation goal is. There are legitimate reasons for selecting both, as we outline below, but by no means is one “better” than the other.
Let’s briefly explore these applications to bring clarity to why a product manufacturer would choose one over the other.
Most people are familiar with the concept of aromatic and therapeutic essential oils like lavender, tea tree, and peppermint, each with their respective medicinal values, such as relaxation, antibacterial, and digestion. Essential oils are actually made up of terpenes, each possessing its own unique aromatic fingerprint and qualities. As such, cannabis-derived terpenes are actually, perhaps better defined as Cannabis Essential Oils.
On average, only 30% of the cannabis plant’s total essential oil is actually made up of terpenes. The rest of the oil is comprised of many other subcomponents that contribute to its very unique aroma. This ‘secret sauce’, or the other 70%, is what creates that famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) skunky cannabis aroma. This is usually what manufacturers and formulators aspire to attain when seeking cannabis terpenes.
- Cannabis terpenes are ideal for flavoring products intended to smell and taste just like the plant in its natural form.
- Cannabis terpenes keep your formulas derived 100% from the cannabis plant.
- Cannabis terpenes are not recommended for therapeutic purposes as the essential oil contains many “unknowns” that are not standardized, controlled or specific, and so may present competing therapeutic values.
All of Lab Effects’ cannabis terpenes are fractionated off from Cannabis Sativa L. (industrial hemp) oils. In biological taxonomy, all Hemp and Marijuana are Genus Cannabis. Many people have chosen to stop using the term marijuana to dissociate from its prior unsavory connotations in US politics, and instead, use the word Cannabis to describe the plant’s non-industrial-hemp varieties. Although this decision was rooted in good intentions, it has also created much confusion within the cannabis space, since both hemp and marijuana are scientifically classified as Cannabis. So, when one says cannabis today, it is not always clear which variety they are speaking of. When you read the word cannabis, remember that it also includes all industrial hemp varieties, such as those used by Lab Effects to produce our Cannabis Derived Terpenes.
While cannabis contains many distinct terpene profiles, other plants are also known to hold concentrated amounts of specific terpenes which can be extracted more cost-effectively than those from cannabis. Sustainably sourcing terpenes from other plants results in the same quality, as well as a host of other benefits to the manufacturer.
- Botanical terpenes cost less because they are readily available in bulk supply. The extraction process is also easier, which decreases costs.
- Botanical terpenes are just as efficacious as cannabis terpenes. Plant-derived terpenes can catalyze the entourage effect and potentiate cannabinoids to work better in the body after consumption.
- Botanical terpenes can mimic the cannabis plant’s natural flavors and aromas. At Lab Effects, we run analytics on cannabis genetics which allows us to profile match the exact terpene spectrum of a particular strain for customers.
- Botanical terpenes that are steam distilled, like those offered by Lab Effects, are standardized, which allows for consistent formulas time after time. This is especially important when formulating for therapeutic reasons.
Cannabis Vs. Botanical Terpenes
When comparing botanically-derived terpenes vs. cannabis-derived terpenes, it simply depends on one’s desired goal. We must first ask: What is the purpose? What is the application? What is the desired result?
When formulating for clients creating cannabis-infused (THC or CBD) products, Lab Effects always first asks the question: “What’s your formulation goal?”.
- User Experience?
This is how we help our customers determine which option or source is the best-suited solution for their product. The solution becomes easy when working backward. Opportunity is infinite and easily tapped when we drop dogmatic thinking.
One Vs. Other Mentality
As with so many things in life, there is a far greater breadth and depth of information available on any topic than most care to overwhelm themselves with for fear of information overload and analysis paralysis. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to the avoidance of learning altogether, defaulting a person to binary thinking. This approach of intellectual duality results in a symptom of laziness that buckets information into two perceived options for easier decision making. Information that does not fit into either box then gets disregarded and the world quickly becomes filtered through two hard-nosed and extreme polarized points of view.
On many levels, society is structured to encourage this behavioral thinking, and by no means is the cannabis industry immune to it. In fact, it seems ubiquitous. We all know the world is more complex than this. There is no proverbial “Easy Button” and everything has its’ time and place.
Are you a cannabis manufacturer looking to get started with a specific formulation goal in mind? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions? Comment below!
Terpenes are non-polar oil-based hydrocarbons, that in pure form, can be very potent and sometimes volatile, flammable and even corrosive compounds. For this reason, they are ingredients that should be strictly used by experienced and trained manufacturers and not sold directly to consumers. Some industry resellers do market these substances to consumers in bright colorful bottles with little to no chemical specifications or label warnings. We highly discourage this behavior and advise consumers and businesses who are unfamiliar with these compounds to be careful when purchasing, storing and using them.