Moving from THC Content to Terpene Profiles: Are We Ready?
Within the industry, there’s a focus on high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency. THC stimulates the part of the brain that responds to pleasure, which releases dopamine and gives a euphoric, relaxed feeling (Frysh, 2021). With some, this is a positive experience – and with others, it may give the feeling of anxiety, fear, or panic (Frysh, 2021). THC may heighten senses, distort someone’s sense of time, impair motor skills, or lower inhibitions (Frysh, 2021). It all depends on the individual – and on the level of THC in the consumed cannabis. But is THC the only thing that matters when it comes to quality cannabis?
The lack of federal regulation in the U.S. has allowed for THC percentage to skyrocket in recent years. Between 1995-2014, researchers found that the potency of illicit cannabis plant materials has gone from 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014. And overall, the ratio of THC to CBD content went from 14 times in 1995, to 80 times in 2014 (ElSohly et al., 2016). With such a heavy focus on THC potency, the cannabis industry may be missing out on an opportunity to provide consumers with unique products that still check all the boxes of quality cannabis.
As many of us know, THC is just one compound in a plant that is made up of hundreds of compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, esters, alcohols, and thiols, to name a few. Suppose less focus was given to high THC content and more focus was given to developing products that balance desirable cannabinoid and terpene profiles (e.g. the entourage effect). In that case, consumers will likely find a more enjoyable and nuanced variety of products available to them.
Terpenes are vital to the aromas and tastes of cannabis. They offer therapeutic benefits, and often affect consumer experience and market price (Sommano et al., 2020).
Photo courtesy of MurrPhoto on Pixabay
There are about 400 known terpenes in cannabis (Robertson, 2021). Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds in plants and usually have specific scents and tastes. Regarding cannabis, terpene “profiles” are blends of specific terpenes that create individualized aromas. Some popular terpene profiles are:
Sweet/Cake/Cookie: Typically, these sweet, sugary-smelling flowers are a mixture of caryophyllene, limonene, and linalool (Jacobsen, 2021). They also usually have a blend of myrcene content as well as pinene (Jacobsen, 2021).
Sour Diesel: This is high in myrcene and limonene, often creating energizing and stress-relieving effects (Erickson, 2021). It smells like its name – kerosene, citrus, and that typical skunk smell of cannabis.
Cheese: These cheesy-smelling profiles are notably savory and commonly Indica-dominant hybrids that people describe as pungent, sour, nut-buttery, and complicated (Jacobsen, 2021). Common terpenes within these profiles are caryophyllene, beta-myrcene, limonene, alpha-humulene, and linalool (Jacobsen, 2021).
Floral: Within this lies many sub-profiles. A large one is lavender, primarily consisting of linalool in the actual lavender flower (Kaplan, 2022). A lavender terpene profile often has hints of spiciness (Kaplan, 2022).
In a systematic review of health, business, and social science databases, Jennifer Donnan et al. found that differences in quality helped impact consumer choice (2022). That said, different demographics seek different things; some value health benefits while others purchase for recreational purposes (Kustin, 2020). In general, men are far more likely to purchase cannabis products (Kustin, 2020), and women prefer health and wellness products over recreational ones (Cannabis Training University, 2022).
All this information is essential because it informs producers of what products to develop for specific demographics. As Dave Kustin wrote, “Consumers’ desire for transparency and an understanding of the mission offers cannabis brands the opportunity to create emotional attachments.” (2020).
In this way, shifting our attention to terpene profiles (and other compounds in cannabis) may afford better alignment between producers/processors and emerging consumer trends. For this reason, Steep Hill dedicates itself to accurately and efficiently analyzing terpene content to provide the product information needed by cultivators, processors, and distributors. Alongside terpene testing, we offer services like pesticide and heavy metal analysis, potency testing, foreign matter inspection, and more to ensure the quality of cannabis products. Feel free to contact us for all your cannabis testing needs.
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