The Next Big Thing in Cannabis? Terpenes

The future of the industry is all in the nose.
The Next Big Thing in Cannabis? Terpenes
Image credit: Sharon Mccutcheon | EyeEm | Getty Images
Magazine Contributor
CEO of Orchid Essentials
3 min read

This story appears in the May 2019 issue of Green Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Looking for a new angle to approach the cannabis business? While medical and lifestyle entrepreneurs have been homing in on the active cannabinoids THC and CBD, many say the plant’s real potential has been right under our noses. Literally.

They’re talking about terpenes, organic compounds that exist in the essential oils of all kinds of plants. Terpenes are what give herbs, flowers, and fruits their signature aromas. They also create, when processed, the distinct character of flavorings, perfumes, and colognes. You may be familiar with the calming effects of lavender extract and chamomile tea, or a citrus body wash that wakes you up in the morning and clears the mind. Similarly, cannabis is bursting with terpenes. Without them, the plant has no soul. 

Related: 3 Ways Cannabis Brands Can Make a Powerful First Impression

The Scented Buzz

To date, some 350 terpenes have been identified in cannabis. The reason one strain smells and tastes different from another is because of its unique terpene profile. While the flower is most often associated with the scent of skunk (also caused by a terpene!), depending on the strain, it may share terpenes with other botanicals, like lavender, chamomile, lemon, wood, grass, grape, orange, mango, pine needle, and even banana. The sedating indica varieties, for example, often contain high levels of terpenes called linalool and myrcene, creating a fragrance that’s often described as deep and low. Sativa strains, which are more uplifting, may smell like fresh-cut grass or pine, and sweet citrus, thanks to the terpenes pinene and limonene. 

Whether it comes down to aromatherapy, or some other characteristic of the compounds (we need more science), terpenes also seem to affect the mind and body. They’re thought to work in tandem with CBD and THC to create the full cannabis experience, known in the industry as the entourage effect. The combination in one strain might make you feel sleepy; the mix in another, alert. Or you might get paranoid, giggly, hungry, or none of the above. 

What does this mean for entrepreneurs? Understand terpenes and you have a whole new palette to craft the next generation of cannabis products. 

Related: 5 Things You Should Know About CBD

Cashing In

Green founders are already beginning to harness the power of these beguiling compounds. Cannabis cultivators can boost the natural levels of various terpenes for a certain effect through growing techniques. However, it’s easier to add specific formulas of the compounds to finished products such as vaporizer cartridges and CBD oil. Companies like Los Angeles Refinery are making terpene concentrates from cannabis; Global Cannabinoids does too, using hemp, while True Terpenes produces cannabis-like formulas from other botanicals, which are much cheaper. (Purely cannabis-­derived terpenes are selling for hundreds of dollars per gram—and you’d better believe that a true connoisseur can tell the difference.)

Another promising market, with legalization, is perfume. A trend for cannabis-inspired fragrances is already taking hold in the beauty aisles, and at least one product, Fog & Tree, actually uses the plant’s terpenes in its men’s cologne. As scientists find out more about the impact of individual terpenes, both psychological and potentially medical, whole new wellness opportunities may open up. So as the laws change and research builds, follow the scent!

Related: The Rise of the Ganja Sommelier

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