Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbons that help compensate for the odor in the essential oils of certain plants, such as cannabis. Ten years ago, the term meant nothing to the average cannabis consumer. Now, it’s one of the most valuable aspects of the plant. In fact, a study on terpenes showed that the odor of a strain affects people’s perception of value and potency compared to others.
Further studies have shown that they alter the effects along with cannabinoids. Since then, isolated terpenes have become a popular product that can be sold to concentrate consumers to mix with their own dab or vape makers to add flavor and act as a cutting agent in vapes. They are also used to reintroduce terpenes into products that may be lost during growth, curing, drying or extraction. We’ll cover everything you need to know about the various forms of extracted terpenes.
Many connoisseurs can use their nose to interpret terpenes. Some strains smell earthy, citrusy, creamy, floral, gassy, etc. The various terpenes in a strain give it a unique smell and flavor. There are over 200 different known terpenes in cannabis. Most of the terpenes found in cannabis are also found in other plants; therefore, not all terpenes on the market are from cannabis.
Some strains have unique shapes and colors, but most have unique terpene profiles. Products with a dilute or odorless profile such as distillates or THCa crystals can be enhanced by adding various terpene products.
Food Grade Terpenes
Based on thousands of years of smoking cannabis, the naturally occurring terpenes in cannabis appear to be sufficient for safe inhalation. On the other hand, it is not known that humans consume food-grade terpenes through inhalation. Food-grade terpenes are derived from plants other than cannabis. It is important to note that just because something is safe to consume in food does not mean it is safe to vaporize. As long as it is safe to use in food, food-grade terpenes may contain more than just pure terpenes. There are no studies on the safety considerations of vaporizing food-grade terpenes.
Furthermore, the terpene content in natural cannabis plants almost never exceeds 4%. Therefore, we do not know the effects of higher concentrations of terpenes on humans. Cannabis consumers using food-grade terpenes to enhance the terpene content of their extracts may be upending the natural balance of terpenes in cannabis.
Extraction and Distillation
There are multiple ways to obtain terpenes from cannabis. High terpene extracts are different from isolated terpenes because they contain more than just terpenes. There is also cannabinoid content.
In addition, it is extracted using a hydrocarbon solvent, rather than distilled with steam or water. And there is usually a small amount of cannabinoids on top of the terpenes in a high terpene extract.
Isolated cannabis-derived terpenes do not contain cannabinoids and are produced primarily by steam distillation or hydrogenated distillation.
One method of steam distillation involves suspending a basket of plant material in boiling water. Hydrogenated distillation places the plant material directly into boiling water.
The main drawback of these techniques is the high level of heat required. The heat can destroy or alter the components in the natural essential oils of the plant. What you are left with is pure dew, not anything resembling the actual essential oils found in the plant before distillation.
Some companies have isolated terpenes and claim they are not steam or hydrogenated distillations, but their technology is still proprietary.
Solvent extracts, on the other hand, can produce a natural balance of terpenes and cannabinoids in the plant from which they are extracted.
In addition, not all terpenes are soluble in vapor. You will get most of the monoterpenes. However, the full spectrum of cannabis terpenes includes sesquiterpenes, triterpenes, diterpenes and other classes of terpenes, not just monoterpenes. You cannot expect a full spectrum experience with only monoterpenes present.
Today, there are methods to extract terpenes without the use of hydrocarbon solvents or vapors. This is thanks to the development of solvent-free extracts such as 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. The mechanically separated terpenes are not completely separated, so they should still contain cannabinoids.
Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction
Another method of terpene extraction is the use of a supercritical carbon dioxide extractor. Carbon dioxide extractors use fractional distillation to separate the terpenes from the other components of the cannabis oil.
People are using the separated terpenes to reintroduce terpenes that may have been lost during the curing and extraction process. However, cannabis strains consist of many different terpene combinations and concentrations. Therefore, it is difficult to mimic the terpene ratios found in natural plants. Cannabis products with unusually high terpene content can be uncomfortable to inhale.
To date, there have been no studies on human inhalation of high terpene concentrations or hydrosols. In addition, the effects of by-products from the distillation methods used to extract terpenes have not been studied.