Deconstructing Terpenes – Difference Between Cannabis and Plant-Based Terpenes

The Difference Between Cannabis and Plant-Based Terpenes

The aromatic profile of plants, of an almost endless variety of species, is attributed to not only its unique molecular blueprint, but also by organic compounds known as terpenes. Throughout the vast landscape of fruit-bearing and non-fruiting plants, the role of terpenes is the same: to attract pollinating insects (1). While this biological function is essential to ensure the plant continues to proliferate, for humans, the role of terpenes is quite different.

Not only are terpenes responsible for the intricate aromatic profiles we appreciate, but recent research has found many terpenoids deliver an array of therapeutic value when internally consumed or topically applied (1). So what does this important, but often misunderstood, contribute to the cannabis industry? Moreover, what’s the difference between plant-based (non-cannabis) and cannabis-derived terpenes?

The Development of Flavor, Smell and Medicinal Use

Throughout the entire botanical realm, nearly 20,000 difference terpenoids have been identified. Out of this astronomical number, more than 200 terpenoids belong to the cannabis plant (2). Although the topic of terpenes is widespread among both medical and recreational cannabis processors, only a select few have positively demonstrated medicinal benefits. It’s important to consider that while certain cannabis and non-cannabis terpenes deliver therapeutic value when consumed, the vast majority of uses revolve around enhancing the flavor and smell of cannabis products.

The topic of terpene use in cannabis products is muddled by a generalized misunderstanding of its overall purpose. Simply because the same terpene is found in both non-cannabis and cannabis plants, such as myrcene, which is derived from cannabis and mangos, doesn’t mean the overall effects will be the same. For example, a processor wishes to add myrcene to a batch of cannabis distillate with the overall goal of fortifying a mango scent profile while boosting its known therapeutic effects. While myrcene is known as a potent anti-inflammatory agent, it doesn’t necessarily mean such potent effects will transfer into the cannabis product (3). This isn’t to say its potential to reduce inflammation is un-achievable, but the concentration may not be high enough to produce such effects. However, by adding myrcene into the cannabis solution, the natural flavors of mango are increased, which can deliver a greater flavor experience for users.

The primary function of fortifying cannabis with non-cannabis terpenes is to add flavor. But what if the goal is to enhance cannabinoid uptake to produce a stronger experience? To accomplish such goals, it’s essential to understand the concept of phytocannabinoid synergy, also known as The Entourage Effect.

In short, the overall physiological and psychotropic experience of cannabis is not solely caused by a single cannabinoid. Rather, the uptake of cannabinoids, and ultimately its effects on users, is the result of uptake modulation caused by a symphony of compounds. By adding cannabis-derived terpenes into a cannabis solution, you’re also adding smaller concentrations of other compounds. While currently debated among scientists, the addition of cannabis-based terpenes delivers not only the desired aromatic profile, but also enhances both psychoactive and medicinal effects (4).

Ultimately, when deciding on whether to use plant-based or cannabis-derived terpenes, it’s important to verify the overarching purpose of such actions. Should a processor only wish to enhance the superficial experience, such as product aroma, non-cannabis terpenes may be sufficient. However, if the end-goal is to boost the overall psychoactive and therapeutic value of a product, cannabis-based terpenes should be exclusively utilized.


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Bob Wilcox

Bob Wilcox has represented CAT Scientific’s family of homogenizers, magnetic stirrers, liquid handling and related laboratory equipment since 2002 when Staufen, Germany-based CAT Ingenieurbüro M. Zipperer GMbH established operations in North America. Bob oversees CAT Scientific laboratory apparatus sales and service organization from the company’s headquarters in Paso Robles, CA. He also is in charge of the parent company’s line of JetCat jet turbines, turboprop, and helicopter power plants for hobbyists’ radio controlled fixed wing and helicopter model aircraft. -- Earlier in Bob’s career he was involved in visual and special effects as well as camera and electronics supervisory responsibilities for the motion picture and television industry.

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