Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbons that help make up the smell found in the essential oils of certain plants like cannabis. Ten years ago, the word meant nothing to the average cannabis consumer. Now, it is one of the most cherished aspects of the plant. In fact, a study on terpenes showed that the smell of a strain influenced people’s perception of the value and potency when compared to others.
Additional research has suggested they work with cannabinoids to alter effects. Since then, isolated terpenes became a popular product that could be sold to concentrate consumers to mix with their own dabs or vape makers to add flavor and act as a cutting agent in cartridges. They are also used to reintroduced terpenes in products that may have lost them during the growing, curing, drying, or extraction process. We’ll go over everything you need to know about the various forms of extracted terpenes.
Many connoisseurs can use their nose to interpret terpenes. There are strains that smell earthy, citrusy, creamy, floral, gassy, and more. The various terpenes in the strain are what gives it a unique smell and flavor. There are more than two hundred different known terpenes in cannabis. Most of the terpenes found in cannabis are also found in other plants; as a result, not all terpenes on the market are derived from cannabis.
Some strains have unique shapes and colors but most have a unique terpene profile. Products with slim to no flavor like distillates or THCa crystalline can be enhanced with the addition of various terpene products.
Food Grade Terpenes
According to thousands of years of cannabis smoking, the terpenes that naturally occur in cannabis seemed safe enough to inhale. On the other hand, humans haven’t been known to consume food grade terpenes via inhalation. Food grade terpenes are derived from plants other than cannabis. It’s worth noting that just because something is safe to consume in food doesn’t mean it is safe to vaporize. Food grade terpenes may contain more than pure terpenes as long as it is safe to use in food. There is no research on the safety considerations of vaporizing food grade terpenes.
Moreover, the level of terpenes in the natural cannabis plant almost never exceeds four percent. As a result, we don’t know the effects of higher concentrations of terpenes on humans. Cannabis consumers using food grade terpenes to enhance the terpene profile of their extracts may be tipping the natural balance of terpenes found in cannabis.
Extraction vs. Distillation
There are multiple ways to get terpenes from cannabis. High terpene extracts differ from isolated terpenes because they consist of more than just terpenes. There is also a cannabinoid content.
Furthermore, it is extracted using hydrocarbon solvents rather than distilled with steam or water. And there is usually a small cannabinoid content on top of the terpenes in high terpene extracts.
Isolated cannabis-derived terpenes have no cannabinoid content and are mostly produced by a steam distillation or hydrodistillation.
One way to steam distill involves a basket of plant matter hanging over boiling water. Hydrodistillation places the plant material directly into the boiling water.
The main downside to these techniques is the high levels of heat required. The heat destroys or alters components found in the natural essential oil of the plant. What you’re left with is a hydrosol, not anything that would resemble the actual essential oils found in the plant prior to distillation.
There are companies with isolated terpenes that claim they are not steam or hydrodistilled, but their techniques remain proprietary.
On the other hand, solvent extracts can produce the natural balance of terpenes and cannabinoids found in the plant that was extracted.
Furthermore, not all terpenes are soluble in steam. You’ll be getting mostly monoterpenes. However, the full spectrum of cannabis terpenes consists of sesquiterpenes, triterpenes, diterpenes and other classes of terpenes, not just monoterpenes. You can’t expect the full spectrum experience with only monoterpenes present.
These days, there are ways to extract terpenes without the use of hydrocarbon solvents or steam. This is thanks to the evolution of solventless extracts like rosin. The same mechanical presses used to make rosin can be used to separate the high-terpene liquid portion of the product from the solid THCA crystals that lack the aroma of the strain. Mechanically separated terpenes are not completely isolated so there should still be a cannabinoid content to them.
Supercritical CO2 Extraction
Another method for extracting terpenes is with a supercritical CO2 extraction machine. CO2 extraction machines use fractionation to separate terpenes from other components in the essential oils of cannabis.
People are using isolated terpenes to reintroduce terpenes that may have been lost during the curing and extraction process. However, cannabis strains consist of many different combinations and concentrations of terpenes. As a result, it’s hard to mimic the terpene ratios found in the natural plant. A cannabis product with unnaturally high terpene levels will be uncomfortable to inhale.
As of now, there is no research on the inhalation of high concentrations of terpenes or hydrosols in humans. Furthermore, there is no research on the impact of byproducts that can come from distillation methods used to extract terpenes.