Terpenes are the main components of the essential oils found in many plant families. These oils are used by humans as food additives, in the perfume industry, in aromatherapy and in both traditional and alternative medicine. The same thing occurs with cannabis, since terpenes constitute 10%-20% of the resin in the plant’s glands, which also contain THC and other cannabinoids.
Recently, we discussed the different cannabinoids contained in marijuana and how they are related to various psychoactive and physical effects. However, what is responsible for the way cannabis smells and tastes? What creates these aromas and flavours? The wide range of flavours and aromas that can be detected in the different strains of Cannabis sativa are related to molecules known as terpenes (and, to a lesser extent, to another group called flavonoids).
(In Ancient Egypt vaporizing was achieved by using hot stones to release the terpenes .Read more about vaporizing in ancient times here, ed)
In this chapter, we shall look at the chemistry behind terpenes and what effects, aromas and flavours each one produces when consumed.
Terpenes are the main components of the essential oils found in many plant families. These oils are used by humans as food additives, in the perfume industry, in aromatherapy and in both traditional and alternative medicine. The same thing occurs with cannabis, since terpenes constitute 10%-20% of the resin in the plant’s glands, which also contain THC and other cannabinoids. (Sensi Seeds recently provided information about Cannabinoid Science, ed.)
With regard to their chemistry, terpenes form an extremely large and diverse family of natural substances. Traditionally, they have been considered to be derived from isoprene (IUPAC name: 2-methyl-1,3-butadiene) units. This has enabled them to be studied and classified. However, in reality terpenes are not derived from this molecule, since the latter has never been found as a natural product.
Life of Terpenes
Terpenes are formed through the precursor isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP), and give rise to various families of compounds, depending on the number of these molecules that are bound together. In the case of hemiterpenes, these derive from a single IPP; monoterpenes derived from two IPP; sesquiterpenes from six, etc.
Terpenes start to evaporate when they come into contact with the air, especially when exposed to sunlight and high temperatures. For this reason, plants are more aromatic at the start of the day than in the evening. Some cultivators, who are aware of this fact, cut the buds of their plants in their cultivation rooms just before “dawn”. For the same reason, the cannabis should be dried in the dark (yes, we know that they dry it in the sun in the Rif Mountains…) and at a moderate temperature, in order to conserve the concentration of these molecules, which are combined in different ways in each strain, as far as possible.
We can smell and taste terpenes, but this is not the only way they affect us. In fact, most of you will have heard of Aromatherapy, a practice that uses essential oils (rosemary, lavender, rose, etc.) to enhance psychological and physical well-being. These effects are the result of the various terpenes and cannabinoids present in the plants.