You may have heard the term “terpene” coming up more and more lately, but what does it actually mean? What are terpenes? The more we learn about them, the more we’re understanding how important they are both to the cannabis plant itself and to the experience of consuming cannabis.
What Are Terpenes? A Brief Introduction
Let’s tackle the question: What are terpenes? Simply put, they are a special class of chemical produced by certain plants. Technically speaking, there are also some insects that produce them. But for the most part, terpenes come from plants, especially ones that make sap or resin, and that have strong odors and tastes.
There are thousands of unique terpenes in nature, and there have been well over 100 identified in cannabis plants. They serve a couple key functions for the plants that produce them.
For starters, they serve as protection. This is especially true in plants like conifer trees that produce thick, sticky sap. Additionally, some terpenes work to repel dangerous pests while attracting good, pollinating insects.
Terpenes are harvested by extracting essential oils from plants. Researchers are discovering that, thanks to the presence of these chemicals, essential oils may have a number of possible therapeutic uses.
In cannabis, terpenes are produced by the same glands that create cannabinoids like THC and CBD. That means that most of the terpenes found in weed are concentrated in the trichomes that cover cannabis leaves and flowers.
Terpenes are major components of weed’s sticky resin. They’re also largely responsible for the unique odors and tastes of cannabis. Terpene composition and levels vary widely between strains.
Why Terpenes Are Important
Beyond serving practical and biological purposes for cannabis plants themselves, these chemicals play a huge role in the consumption of cannabis. For example, a strain’s unique flavors and scents come directly from terpenes. They’re what determine exactly how a particular strain will smell and taste.
If you’ve tried exploring different strains, then you’re familiar with the wide range of smells and tastes different types of weed can produce. Some strains taste like citrus, others are like pine trees or berries, mint, cheese, and even skunk. All these different aromas and flavors come from the unique set of terpenes produced by a particular strain.
More and more, cannabis consumers are placing high priority on the scent and flavor profiles of their bud. People are starting to approach weed almost the way they do coffee, excited about experiencing and savoring the unique odors and flavors of the cannabis plant.
Simply put, consumers don’t just want to get high. They also want to enjoy how their weed smells and tastes.
But terpenes don’t contribute only scent and flavor. Interestingly, researchers are learning that they also contribute to the overall effects—especially the health benefits—produced by cannabis.
For example, recent studies have shown that terpenes are important players in the “entourage effect.” Essentially, the entourage effect refers to the way that cannabinoids and terpenes are more powerful when you consume them all together, rather than isolated.
Put simply, researchers now know that terpenes help maximize the potency and effectiveness of cannabinoids. Because of this, they are important for not only the flavor of weed, but also its medicinal properties.
Tap Into the Power of Terpenes
When you hear somebody describe a strain as “terpy,” they’re commenting on the flavor of their weed. A lot of it has to do with the quality of the bud. Better, higher-quality flower should have better terpene content. And that translates into a more flavorful final product.
In fact, the more that consumers demand great-tasting bud, the more growers are going on “terpene hunts:” cultivating cannabis with the goal of harnessing certain flavors and terpy characteristics.
Growers now know that environmental factors greatly affect the levels of terpenes found in buds. The climate in which the plants grow, the time of year they are grown, fertilizers used, and even the time of day it is harvested all influence the final product.
All of this means that one way to tap into the power of terpenes is to seek out growers and sellers who specialize in producing super terpy flowers. But this isn’t the only variable you need to pay attention to. The way you consume cannabis also has a lot to do with it.
For smoking, your best bet is a bong. Water filtration cools the smoke and provides better flavor. But beyond that, vaporizing tends to produce a purer, more distinct taste.
The key difference between burning and vaporizing is temperature. Vaping weed uses lower temperatures than burning it. And even within the world of vaporizing, you tend to get richer flavors at lower temperatures.
So if you like vaping dry flower, be sure you use a vaporizer with different temperature settings. For the cleanest, richest flavors vape at the lowest setting possible. Similarly, if you like dabbing concentrates, experiment with low temp dabs. Although they won’t hit quite as hard or fast as higher-temp dabs, they’ll be full of flavor.
Final Hit: What Are Terpenes?
So, what are terpenes? To put it simply, they are some of the most important building blocks in cannabis. They, along with cannabinoids, are really what make weed such a unique and powerful plant.
These interesting chemicals imbue your weed with its scents and flavors. Beyond that, they also play a critical role in the entourage effect, helping maximize the effectiveness of cannabinoids.
Given how much they bring to the table, it’s a good thing that terpenes are becoming a more common part of how we talk about cannabis. It seems likely that they’ll become even more central to how we grow and consume weed as we keep learning more about them.