The Next Big Thing in Cannabis? Terpenes

The Next Big Thing in Cannabis? Terpenes


The future of the industry is all in the nose.


4 min read

Opinions expressed by Green Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Looking for a new angle to approach the cannabis business? While medical and lifestyle entrepreneurs have been honing in on the active cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, it turns out the real soul of the plant has been right under our noses.

Terpenes are the future of cannabis. These organic, aromatic compounds exist naturally in the essential oils of all plants — they’re what give herbs, flowers, and fruits their signature aromas. But terpenes are also the specific reason why various strains of cannabis affect the body and mind in subtly different ways.

There are estimated to be more than 200 terpenes in cannabis plants, and brands are beginning to reach new levels of product formulation and customization by harnessing the power of these ambrosial plant extracts in their products.

Related: 3 Ways Cannabis Brands Can Make a Powerful First Impression

Crafting the Perfect Strain

Inventing new and effective cannabis products requires far less plant genetics knowledge as many assume. Different strains usually have wildly different terpene profiles. As knowledge of terpenes grows, brands now have the opportunity to capitalize on the full spectrum of aromas and effects possible in the cannabis world.

The aromatic attributes of the most beloved cannabis strains, as well as some of their mind and body effects, are largely dependent on terpene content. Cultivators can boost the natural levels of terpenes in their cannabis through various growing techniques, usually by making adjustments to the plant’s soil, water and nutrients. However, it’s easier and more cost effective to add specific formulas of terpenes to finished products, such as the uber-popular and discreet vaporizer cartridges.

While the cannabis flower is most often associated with the smell of skunk (also caused by a terpene!), the amazing smells of pine needle, lavender, chamomile, wood, grass, grape, lemon, orange, mango and even banana are also specially featured in cannabis, since some strains share some of those terpenes.

Strains traditionally thought of as sedating “indica” varieties often contain high levels of linalool and myrcene, making them smell deep and low, with hints of wood, herbs, and often notes of grape or berry. More uplifting “sativa” strains more often smell like fresh cut grass or pine, and fresh citrus, thanks to the terpenes a-pinene and limonene.

While herb- and fruit-derived terpenes might be an affordable buy, purely cannabis-derived terpenes are selling for hundreds of dollars per gram – and you’d better believe that a true “cannaisseur” can tell the difference.

Related: 5 Things You Should Know About CBD

The Wellness Connection

The aromatherapy field and other holistic disciplines have tried for years to educate on how plants interact with the human olfactory system on a molecular level. Now, it looks like cannabis will be the industry that brings terpenes into the mainstream.

Physiologically, terpenes work in tandem with the key cannabinoids — namely, CBD and THC — to create the full cannabis experience. In the industry, this synergy is dubbed the “entourage effect.” Put simply, the effects of THC have no direction without terpenes. That’s why it’s rare to see cannabis products, even concentrated oils, at a concentration higher than 80 percent.

Terpenes provide a subtle relaxing side effect (lavender, chamomile or berry) or a mildly energizing effect (think mint, pine or lemon), which can complement the effects of cannabinoids on the body and mind. Plus, everyone reacts a little differently to cannabis and may want something different.

There is plenty of evidence to support the cannabis terpene movement, and it comes from studying terpenes found in other plants. For example, you really are getting an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect when you smell lavender or chamomile. By smelling citrus, you open up the sinuses and clear the mind. When you light up or vaporize cannabis — especially potent oils like those found in vaporizer cartridges — you get real aromatherapy benefits in addition to cannabinoids.

Just as essential oils are coming back in a big way, the legal cannabis movement is giving rise to new products that allow consumers control over how they want to feel, and a new understanding of their personal wellness. The top brands are following their noses to create the next generation of tempting cannabis products.

Related: The Rise of the Ganja Sommelier

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