Cannabis contains hundreds of fascinating phytochemicals. Cannabinoids usually occupy the limelight, but terpenes work behind to scenes to produce invigorating scents and tantalising tastes. As well as underpinning the sensory side of cannabis, terpenes have a huge impact on the effect of each strain by modulating the cannabis high.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are what gives cannabis strains their distinctive flavours. They are the aromatic oils that the plant produces and that make a strain taste fruity or minty, give it an earthy or citrusy aroma or can make it smell like cheese.
Cannabis plants produce terpenes in the same glands where they produce THC and CBD, yet terpenes have until recently not gotten too much attention. Growers and medical researchers have in the past focused on THC and CBD, which means the knowledge about terpenes and their function isn’t too widely spread. Only recently has come to light that terpenes play a major role when it comes to the unique effects of marijuana.
Why do plants produce aromatic compounds such as terpenes?
As is often the case in the world of plants, terpenes are one way how plants can defend themselves from predators. By excreting a pungent aroma, plants can repel certain bugs but can also attract the beneficial insects that they need for pollination.
How much and what type terpenes a cannabis plant produces depends on various factors. The same strain doesn’t necessarily always produce the same aromatic compounds. This can depend on factors such as the climate, what soil and fertilisers are being used, the age of the plant, as well as a few other things.
Today, we have discovered about 100 different terpenes in marijuana. Each particular strain has its unique types and combination of terpenes in various concentrations.
The most interesting thing about terpenes, however, is not that terpenes are responsible for cannabis’ multitude of distinctive flavours and aromas, but that terpenes work synergistically with cannabinoids, such as THC. One indication for this is that some strains may have the exact same levels of THC and CBD, yet their effects can be quite different from each other. Researchers are now saying it is the terpenes that are responsible for a strain’s unique effects.
The Difference Between Cannabinoids and Terpenes
Cannabis produces hundreds of different phytochemicals that fall into several categories. Found all throughout nature, terpenes underpin the unique smells of pine forests, orange peels, and freshly cured cannabis.
Cannabis plants produce over 200 different terpenes, and each cultivar holds varying amounts of each. These aromatic molecules contribute to the diverse tastes and scents of different strains.
Cannabis also produces a more unique class of chemicals: cannabinoids. Although members of this group are found elsewhere in nature, molecules such as THC and CBD are exclusive to weed. These molecules underpin the unique effects of the herb, from psychoactive THC-fuelled experiences to the grounded and clear-headed effects of CBD.
Cannabinoids and terpenes affect the body in different ways. Cannabinoids like THC directly latch onto cannabinoid receptors throughout the body to produce their effects, whereas most terpenes interface with different receptors.
However, molecules such as caryophyllene are classed as both terpenes and cannabinoids. The chemical provides peppery and earthy scents, and also directly binds to CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system.
How Do Terpenes Work?
Terpenes work in myriad ways. Aside from injecting pleasant tastes and smells into the cannabis experience, these molecules also play a huge role in the effects of each strain.
Cannabis scientists have identified an interplay between terpenes and cannabinoids. Molecules from these two families appear to work together to produce enhanced benefits—a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.
For example, limonene, caryophyllene, and pinene work side by side with THC to produce several benefits, and CBD and linalool also have a special synergistic relationship. Terpenes also produce effects entirely on their own. Vast amounts of studies document the fascinating effects of these molecules in isolation.
Do Terpenes Get You High?
Terpenes don’t exert a psychoactive high in the same way as THC. However, they do work in more subtle ways to alter mood through interaction with the serotonin and dopamine systems. These molecules also influence the high generated by cannabinoids and “tweak” it in noticeable ways. For example, terpenes such as limonene serve up a refreshing and stimulating sensation. In contrast, myrcene provides more of a relaxing and stoning effect.
Will Terpenes Show Up on a Drug Test?
Nope! You’re completely safe with terpenes when it comes to drug testing at work. These molecules are found everywhere, and chances are you unknowingly ingest plenty of terpenes each day. You’re introducing terpenes into your system with every sip of orange juice and every breath you take while walking through the woods.
The greatest perceived enemies of any concentrate, be it a wax, shatter, sap, or any cannabis oil-infused product, are all the same: light, heat, air, and time. All of these elements facilitate the degradation of terpenes and cannabinoids, and will hasten the process by which some of your concentrates and infusions change.
Cool, dark, dry, still environments are best for promoting longevity, and when exposed to as few environmental contaminants as possible, some of these products will last a very long time without changing or losing anything.
Optimal storage options include refrigerators or freezers, low cabinets, or a freeze drier. These will help to eliminate the variables that tend to break down extracts. Over time, the cannabinoids (and, in some cases, terpenes) will inevitably change in some ways, regardless of condition. THCA will eventually degrade to cannabinol (CBN), a process which creates an “amber-ing” or darkening effect. Shatters and other dabble oils with higher terpene profiles may also sugar up, just like the one you found in your dresser.
At the end of the day, that sugary shatter isn’t going to be a deal breaker. While your concentrate may not taste quite the same or give you that “full spectrum” feeling, a nice dab will still do the trick as those THCA crystals will still pack a punch.