What Is That Smell? Everything We Know about Terpenes and Beyond (10 Minute Read)

In this blog we will explore everything to do with the scent of cannabis. As we have discussed in previous blogs, terpenes are a distinct and influential class of organic compounds produced by a variety of plants. They are often fragrant and act as essential oils in plants, including cannabis. 

Additionally, terpenes play a crucial role in the "entourage effect" of cannabis, which is the theory that the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other molecules (which we will discuss in this blog) produced by the trichomes of cannabis work together to produce unique effects and benefits.

In this blog post, we will discuss the role of terpenes, as well as other scent molecules in detail and explore the exciting opportunities for research in this area. In this blog we will explore the components that make what connoisseurs term "Dank weed" and just to clarify dank weed refers to high-quality, fragrant cananbis that is potent, pungent, moist and grown well. 

Terpenes: The Role They Play in Cannabis

Terpenes make up about 1-5% of the volume in a cannabis flower. Influenced by many factors such as growing conditions, different cannabis plants of the same strain can also have different ratios of terpenes. This one reason why the same strain can smell and taste differently from one grower to another.

Cannabis plants produce trichomes, which are tiny, hairlike structures on the plant's surface. These trichomes contain potent cannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial molecules as a resinous compound.

These trichomes produce various substances to either attract insects or repel them. It is theorized that the cannabis plant produces certain cannabinoids as a form of self-defense against different environmental factors. An example of this would be through intoxicating the insects so that they let down their defenses and either get eaten by other predators, forget about the plant entirely, or make it more difficult to feed on the plant. THC for instance, is a cannabinoid produced by the cannabis plant to ward off predators. THC also serves as an anti-microbial and acts as a form of protection for the plant, from UV radiation.

CBD and other cannabinoid levels are also influenced by a plant's need to survive and other factors like climate, location, and soil type.

Terpenes, however, can play an extremely variable role in plants. In some varieties they attract pollinators, while in other plants these terpenes can repel predators, insects, and foraging animals. Furthermore, some terpenes play a protective role in helping to support the plant’s immune system, by protecting from fungus (i.e., powdery mildew) and other potential infectious agents. Lastly, they also can play a role in helping the plant recover from damage. It is clear that terpenes and their scents play a significant role in the ecosystem, regulating many aspects of plant ecology.

Terpenes and Recreational Cannabis

Since recreational cannabis has become legal in Canada and many other places, the focus has largely been on the highest THC products. Unfortunately, this frequently comes at the expense of terpenes and may have the unintended consequence of reducing the entourage effect's potential benefits. 

When THC is the only cannabinoid present at high levels, it can result in a more one-dimensional experience. This explains why it is becoming more common to prefer a well-rounded cannabis product with various cannabinoids and terpenes.

The aroma also plays a massive factor in the recreational market. Consumers often choose cannabis based on the smell, which is determined by the terpene profile. However, increased THC levels can also inhibit the production of essential terpenes, esters, flavonoids, and other molecules.

Trichomes have a limited number of outputs and increasing one (THC) often comes at the cost of another. As a result, the flavour and scent are also impacted when THC is increased at the expense of other molecules.

Thankfully, by optimizing for specific characteristics and modifying a plant's environment via lights, nutrients, and genetics, you can restore the production of key molecules like terpenes. 

Main Scent Categories in Cannabis

Although terpenes play a significant role in how cannabis smells, it's worth noting that not all scent-producing molecules can be classified as terpenes.

To date, there are four main scent-producing categories in cannabis: terpenes, esters, flavonoids, and aldehydes.

Terpenes

There are over 200 different terpenes identified in the cannabis plant. Each one has a unique smell and contributes to the overall aroma of a cannabis product.

Terpenes are often one of the main reasons people choose one cannabis product over another. In fact, many people choose cannabis based only on the sccent, which is heavily determined by the terpene profile.

Some common terpenes and their desired effects include:

  • Myrcene: musky, clove-like; relaxing
  • Caryophyllene: spicy, peppery; soothing and uplifting
  • Limonene: citrusy; energizing and uplifting
  • Pinene: piney, earthy; energizing and memory-boosting
  • Linalool: floral; soothing and mood-enhancing

Esters

Esters are formed when alcohol combines with a carboxylic acid. They are found in many fruits and fragrances and are often used to create fruity aromas.

Cannabis esters are not as well researched as terpenes, but they are believed to play a substantial role in the taste and smell of cannabis, as well as the entourage effect.

Some of the most common esters in cannabis include:

  • Ethyl butanoate: fruity, pineapple-like
  • Methyl anthranilate: berry-like, grapey
  • Methyl cinnamate: strawberry-like
  • Ethyl salicylate: minty

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are a class of plant pigments responsible for the colour and flavour of many fruits and vegetables. They are also found in cannabis and are believed to contribute to the taste and smell of the plant. Synergistically, they may also enhance the effects of terpenes and cannabinoids.

To date, approximately 20 flavonoids have been identified in the cannabis plant. Some of the most common include:

  • Cannflavin A and B: anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective
  • Quercetin: fruity, apple-like; antioxidant properties
  • Kaempferol: vegetable-like, found in beans and broccoli; modulates cell death
  • Anthocyanin – A potent anti-oxidant that is most common in darker or purple varieties of cannabis 

Aldehydes

Aldehydes are compounds that smell sweet and are often used in perfumes and flavourings. They are also found in cannabis and are believed to contribute to the taste and scent of the plant.

Aldehydes are formed by the dehydration of alcohols. They influence terpenes by altering their chemical makeup, which changes their smell. Some of the most common aldehydes in cannabis include:

  • Cinnamaldehyde: spicy, cinnamon-like
  • Citral: lemony
  • Phenylacetaldehyde: floral
  • Vanillin: sweet, vanilla-like

Aldehydes can also have an impact on the entourage effect by interacting with other molecules in the plant, like terpenes and cannabinoids.

Conclusion

Terpenes and other molecules produced by the trichomes of the cannabis plant play a vital role in the “entourage effect.” This is the theory that the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other molecules produced by the trichomes of cannabis, like flavonoids, aldehydes, and esters, work together to create unique benefits. This theory is supported by anecdotal evidence, but additional research shows that some of these claims may be true.

While knowledge of the distinctive effects and functions of cannabis esters, flavonoids, and aldehydes is still in its infancy, research also holds vast potential for the cannabis industry.

Soon, creating custom cannabis products with specific ratios of cannabinoids and terpenes will be further explored, and the potential combinations and unique benefits are endless.

At CannTerp, we are passionate about terpenes and the role they play within your consumption experience. We offer a variety of natural derived liquid terpene products, including strain specific terpene blends, terpene isolates and terpene infusions that can be used to create unique cannabis products by tailoring your desired terpene profile. CannTerp is your top supplier of pure organic terpenes in Canada within driving distance of Toronto. We were voted as the 2021 AdCann best accessory supplier in Canada. 

Visit our product selection today to learn more about how you can harness the power of terpenes. 

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