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Ground-Breaking New Research on Terpenes (5 Minute Read)

Ground-Breaking New Research on Terpenes (5 Minute Read)

A ground-breaking cannabis study was published this year to better understand the current chemical diversity in cannabis. Researchers tested almost 90,000 cannabis flower samples destined for sale across six legalized U.S. states to discover their cannabinoid and terpene content. No study has ever conducted cannabis testing of this scale, making this research the most significant cannabis analysis ever done!

The Discoveries

After analyzing the 89,923 cannabis samples, new information was uncovered that could influence our approach to studying cannabis aroma and terpene therapy. The research revealed some unexpected results on the phytochemical content of cannabis regarding terpene diversity, percentages, and commonly reoccurring aromas. However, the most exciting development for the cannabis industry was the discovery of new clusters of commonly co-occurring terpenes. These clusters could potentially replace the current commercial designations of Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid!

Terpene Composition

For all of us terpene enthusiasts, the research's most valuable information was the comprehensive terpene composition dataset. The study listed the fourteen most commonly encountered terpenes in commercial cannabis across the United States. This information is essential to cannabis sommeliers as these terpenes could be considered the primary terpenes in retail cannabis flower. Considering cannabis contains over 200 terpenes, this research certainly narrows the potential list of terpenes for cannabis aroma connoisseurs to become familiar with!

Myrcene, b-caryophyllene, and limonene were the most abundant dominant terpenes. The secondary terpenes were humulene, b-pinene, linalool, and a-pinene. Bisabolol, camphene, terpinolene, ocimene, a-terpinene, y-terpinene, and nerolidol were present in smaller amounts.

Average Percentage of Terpene Content

According to the study, the overall terpene content in cannabis averaged 2% by weight of the flower samples. Interestingly, individual terpenes were rarely present at more than 0.5% and most testing at 0.2%. These numbers are surprisingly low, considering new trends in the cannabis marketplace for high-terpene products! The low terpene content could indicate the cannabis industry's previous focus on developing and marketing high-THC strains over rich terpene profiles.

Terpene Diversity in CBD and THC-dominant Strains

Due to the industry's focus on breeding high-THC cannabis, it is not surprising that

THC-dominant cannabis flowers displayed a higher terpene diversity compared to

CBD-dominant or balanced strains. The lack of terpene diversity in CBD strains is a significant gap in the cannabis market. CBD makes up a large portion of cannabis consumer products, and this lack of diversity limits the variety of options for consumers!

Solutions for Low Terpene Percentages in Cannabis Flower

Low terpene percentages and lack of diversity are not good news for terpene-seeking CBD or THC flower consumers. However, if terpenes are your thing, some excellent options are available in Canada to boost the terpenes in your cannabis flower. Products like BudBoosters are a unique and straightforward solution to increase the terpene content of your stash.

Indica, Sativa, Hybrid

Through testing almost 90,000 cannabis flower samples, this research study confirmed that Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid labels have a poor relationship to the underlying chemistry of retail cannabis. These designations inherited from the illicit black market did not hold up to modern testing! The study found that these terms are entirely arbitrary and not based on the cannabinoid percentages or the terpene content. Overall, it appears that these commonly used commercial categories and labels are not reliable indicators to differentiate effects for cannabis consumers.

Terpene Clusters

This breakthrough paper's most exciting reveal was the discovery of distinct terpene clusters. Never before seen in cannabis research, the terpenes of all 89,923 samples were plotted on a graph to look for co-occurrences between terpenes. Using an analysis tool called k-means clustering, the researchers found three different pairs of commonly reoccurring terpenes!

Cluster 1: Caryophyllene + Limonene

Cluster 2: Myrcene + Pinene

Cluster 3: Terpinolene + Myrcene

There was also a trend in cluster three associated with modestly higher levels of the cannabinoid CBG.

Classifying Cannabis with Terpenes

The clusters are determined based on high levels of specific primary terpenes across all the samples. What this means for the cannabis world is that we may have discovered a new way of categorizing cannabis strains based on chemical content, and it's not cannabinoids. It's terpenes!

The research on terpene clusters is in its early stages. Still, these emerging clusters can likely separate most strains into one of the three categories. Further investigation needs to be conducted, but this is an exciting new direction for the industry and cannabis consumers!

Aroma Therapy

As we know, terpenes are scent molecules. This study further advances the theory that it's all in the aromas! Practitioners of Aromatherapy have considered terpenes therapeutic for centuries. Research into this alternative therapy continues to support the cannabis industry's approach to using terpenes to identify stimulating or sedative cannabis strains.

End of an Era?

According to the massive dataset, the widely used indica, sativa, and hybrid labels are inaccurate representations of cannabis' phytochemicals, making them poor indicators of the overall cannabis experience. The subtle effects of terpenes in cannabis affect the stimulating or sedative experience. Current labeling does not provide enough information to determine these effects. Becoming familiar with cannabis terpenes will help guide your purchasing and consumption preferences as the industry evolves.

Future Forward

For consumers to understand the effects of any cannabis strain, brands should consider labeling their products with their primary terpenes. This would be a more accurate representation of the product as this research shows that terpene composition most effectively distinguishes differences when categorizing cannabis products for consumers.

As the cannabis industry continues to learn about the active compounds of cannabis, all commercial labels should include primary terpenes and cannabinoid content to guide consumers' purchases. As consumers, we need to find our preferred terpenes and select cannabis strains based on these preferences. Understanding terpene profiles is essential to finding the right products for you.

Altogether this is a ground-breaking study for the cannabis community. As research into the phytochemicals found in cannabis continues to advance, we will have greater insight into this incredible master plant and the therapeutic potential of its terpenes.

Read the complete study, The Phytochemical Diversity of Commercial Cannabis in the United States, here.

Author Details:

Amanda Breeze is an enthusiastic educator on all things cannabis and aroma. She hosts The Smoking Spot podcast, featuring stories and sensory evaluations of our favourite plant. Follow her on Instagram: Or check out her website 


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