The Lowdown on Terpenes
Terpenes are essential oils produced by plants, including cannabis. They’re found in herbs, fruit, flowers, and more, and lend plants their aroma and the edible ones, their flavor profile. Smell a lemon and what you’re olfactory system is picking up is limonene, the terpene that gives citrus fruit its unique aroma. Different combinations of terpenes give a particular plant its own, unique profile.
In cannabis, there are 100 identified terpenes thus far, each with their own taste and smell. These are in turn produced in a confluence of tiny, clear glandular structures called trichomes that cover large swaths of the plant, but mainly congregate on the female buds. A cultivar’s (strain’s) terpene makeup gives each its unique flavor and aroma.
The terpene pinene, for instance, smells like pine needles. It is found in parsley, rosemary, and dill. Pinene is often found in cultivars such as purple kush and Ak-47. Besides providing a sensory experience, terpenes work together with cannabinoids such as THC–the euphoria-inducing compound in cannabis. Certain terpenes help THC break through the blood-brain barrier, increasing the euphoric sensation. This is known as the “entourage effect.”
Terpenes are also thought to offer certain health benefits. Pinene, for example, is thought to increase alertness and improve memory. It also might be useful for combating inflammation, ulcers, and anxiety. Limonene may relieve stress and elevate mood. It might also be useful in treating anxiety, stress, inflammation, and depression.
For cannabis lovers, the sensual experience is crucial. One of the complaints about vape pen cartridges and CO2 oil is that they lack flavor. The problem is, many terpenes evaporate during the extraction process. This is because most terpenes evaporate at lower temperatures than cannabinoids do. Terpenes are volatile. As a result, for certain extracts, terpenes have to be reintroduced.
Extractors can use several methods to do so, including dilution, re-distillation, and reconstruction. A method growing in popularity is introducing synthetic terpenes into a finished product. Here, extractors analyze the terpene profile of the stain they’re working with using a mass spectrometer, which can map a cultivars terpene profile. Then, it can be reproduced in a lab and introduced into the extract.
Now, there’s a movement among consumers who prefer to experience the terpene profile of their cannabis as it occurs naturally. As a result, we’ve seen a rise in full spectrum extracts. So what exactly are synthetic terpenes and how are they introduced?
Synthetic terpenes aren’t always taken from cannabis. They may be derived from a different plant altogether. The trouble is, this type of scientific process is still completely new. We don’t know all the implications of introducing terpenes this way. In fact, a recent study by Harvard researchers, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that reintroduced terpenes in nicotine cartridges produced hazardous chemicals when heated.
Moreover, there’s no guarantee that injecting terpenes, particularly synthetic ones, will result in the right flavor profile. Such efforts could terminate in a lackluster product. End users should be sure to read labels on products carefully, to make sure extracts have natural terpenes rather than synthetic ones. Extractors should also be sure and label their products correctly.
While a segment of the cannabis community looks for as natural a product as possible and are willing to pay a little more for it, there’s a debate as to whether the majority of users care where their terpenes come from. Still, the trend is against those who opt for synthetics. Just like with other products, consumers are becoming savvier about cannabis and this is informing their choices. As time rolls on, more consumers are turning against synthetic terpenes and are gravitating toward bona fide options.
As extractors weigh their options, they’ll likely require refinement equipment to finish their products. That’s where AI Vacuum comes in. This is an industry leader in post-processing equipment. Need to perform a purge? Consider one of our AccuTemp vacuum ovens.
Our 1.9 cu. ft model is one of the most popular in the industry. This award-winning unit is easy to use, durable, powerful, and precise. It has five-sided heating technology, which allows for faster heating and more uniform, precise temperature control. Its LCD temperature controller keeps the oven within an impressive +/- 1°F of your target temp. All stainless-steel, internal vacuum lines, and compression fittings mean a durable unit. It even provides a higher ultimate vacuum, 10 times longer than the industry standard.
For solvent reclamation, we suggest one of our rotary evaporators. Our 10-liter model is a good choice. This is easy to use, durable, reliable, and churns out perfectly uniform results time and again. The motor and worm gear provide smooth, quiet, vibration-free rotation between 10 and 130 rpm. What’s more, its temperature control is so precise, it can step up or down temp at 0.1°C.
For distillation, our short path distillation kits are top notch. Consider our 5-liter variety. All the glassware is made of heavy-wall, high borosilicate glass 3.3, the most heat, cold, and corrosion resistant around. It’s newly redesigned 5-liter distillation head means more efficient fractioning, with zero clogging. And all PTFE joint sealing sleeves and thermo-inlet adapters, with Viton gaskets, make it corrosion resistant and ensuring it’ll last a long, long time.
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