Terpenes are a large, diverse class of organic compounds produced by a variety of plants, and in some cases produced by insects as well. They often have a strong odor, so it’s theorized that terpenes protect the organisms that produce them by deterring herbivores and by attracting predators and/or parasites of those herbivores. Although sometimes grouped in with terpenes, “terpenoids” (or isoprenoids) are actually modified terpenes. Terpenoids contain additional functional groups, whereas terpenes are hydrocarbons.
Cannabis plants are constantly evolving, whether through natural selection or with a helping hand from mankind, to better protect themselves. Since terpenes are a huge facet of self defense for plants, the terpenes that make the evolutionary cut are the ones that deter pesky insects and protect plants from mold and fungus. Terpenes don’t stop there though; they also synergize with Cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBC, CBG, etc.) to alter and improve the benefits of cannabis, and they even give different strains unique aromas and flavors. Therefore, Cannabis breeders are not only breeding for Cannabinoids, but carefully breeding for terpenes as well.
Many companies add terpenes to their products rather than sourcing terpene-rich hemp. These terpenes can be derived from the Cannabis and a whole host of other plants. For instance, Limonene can be found in Cannabis or it can be sourced from orange peels that have been distilled to isolate the compound. Myrcene is a terpene found in mangos, and Beta Caryophyllene is a terpene found in black pepper. Although many companies supplement terpenes into their products, it doesn’t seem to offer the same enhancement that naturally occurring cannabis terpenes offer. Many companies claim the results from naturally-occurring and supplemented terpenes are equivalent, but this has yet to be scientifically substantiated. Your goal should be flavor alone when supplementing terpenes into Cannabis products.
Terpenes are a key piece of the puzzle when searching for effective products since they contribute to the Entourage Effect. This ‘Effect’ details how the Terpenes, Cannabinoids, and other beneficial plant compounds synergize with one another to create an effect more powerful than the sum total of their individual parts. CO2 extractions are often touted as the superior extraction method, but in truth they don’t yield the same variety and concentration of compounds that gentle Organic Ethanol (drinking alcohol) extractions do. Essentially, genetics high in Terpene and Cannabinoid content and ethanol extractions are a match made in heaven. This gives the consumers the most bang for their buck when it comes to quality, potency, and the power of the entourage effect.