Tapping into Terpenes

Tapping Into Terpenes

Cannabis companies that want to go beyond THC and CBD content can focus on a part of the plant that’s increasingly front-of-mind for consumers: terpenes. These plant-based chemicals can set your marijuana products apart from rivals – and bolster your bottom line.

Terpenes are the molecules in mari- juana that give the plant its smell, taste and, some argue, added effects beyond just getting users high. If you’ve ever smelled or tasted pine, lemon or pepper in your cannabis, you’ve experienced some of the many different terpenes known to exist in marijuana.

Marijuana companies are becoming more aware of the revenue potential offered by terpenes. Vape cartridge companies, in particular, are incorporating the cannabis compound into their products to add flavor and natural aromas. Makers of concentrates and edibles also are adding terpenes.

Consumers, too, have a growing awareness about the effects of the whole cannabis plant. And while there is still a heavy preference toward high-potency products, growers and manufacturers now confront new marketing opportunities and products thanks to consumers becom- ing more savvy about the effects terpenes can deliver.They can range from a heady, inspirational pick-me-up to a calm, focused, relaxed state.

Cannabis connoisseurs also are ask- ing more about terpenes at retail stores, causing concentrate manufacturers to offer products that include a full range of terpenes similar to those you would get from raw plant material or flower.

“There’s always going to be a consumer coming in looking for the highest potency, and we’ll have a product for them,” said Chris McElvany, co-founder of Denver-based Organa Brands, an extraction and manufacturing company that produces vaporizers. “But I want
to have a product that appeals to the headier, discerning consumer.”

For instance, more and more concen- trates customers are asking for strain- specific terp sauce to add to their dab rigs. And at $40-$50 per gram, the potential income for producers and retailers is substantial, given that consumers will pay more to get the added effects of terpenes.

In short, there’s a lot more going on in that terp sauce than the cannabinoids can provide on their own, and knowledgeable customers are asking for it.

Take terpene-infused beverages, for example. Prominent craft beer companies such as New Belgium in Colorado have brewed ales infused with hemp-derived terpenes – although the federal govern- ment has blown the whistle on brews containing cannabis terpenes. One com- pany in San Diego, Two Roots Brewing, is working on several recipes that incorpo- rate the smell and taste of cannabis, which is remarkably similar in genetic makeup to the hops used to brew beer.

In the following pages you’ll find tips and advice for how to employ and develop terpenes – and leapfrog beyond the race for the strongest cannabis products.


Cannabis consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the added benefits of terpenes, plant-based chemicals in marijuana that give the plant its smell, taste and – some argue – added effects beyond just getting users high. Growers, retailers, edibles makers and other MJ businesses hoping to cash in on the craze have several ways to set their products apart. They can:

• Work with companies that produce botanically derived terpenes to supplement cannabis extracts and infused products.

• Extract terpenes from cannabis to be added to products like beer.

Cultivate cannabis in ways to maximize terpene yields.

• Help curious consumers understand the science behind terpenes, including the “entourage effect.” Educate clients about ways to add terpenes to their concentrates, such as terp sauce.

Extracted terpenes are bottled at Organa Brands in Denver to be used in infused products. Photo by Matthew Staver

Cashing in on the Terpene Trend

Terp sauce is produced inside a Medicine Man facility in Denver. The product is a concentrate that contains terpenes and, sometimes, THC. Photo by Matthew Staver

Cannabis companies can use terpenes to produce specific, effects-based vape cartridges, edibles and other products

Cannabis companies hoping to capitalize on consumer inter- est in terpenes need to con- sider a host of factors – the product they want to offer, the type of terpenes they plan to use (can- nabis versus botanical) and the effect the product will deliver to consumers.

Consumers who want more flavor, aroma and plant-based effects are looking for vape cartridges and infused products with terpenes added back in.

Typical marijuana extraction pro- cesses are geared toward separating out common cannabinoids like THC and CBD from raw plant material.

But as the more discerning cannabis consumer knows, something is missing when you vape or eat marijuana that lacks terpenes. For craft beer geeks, it would be like quaffing an India Pale Ale without hops.

Vape or edibles companies aiming to capture that consumer looking for the

whole-plant experience should seek out firms that extract cannabis terpenes. A more limited, but less expensive, option is a botanically derived version.

At True Terpenes in Portland, Oregon, co-founder Ben Cassiday said his business, which caters to marijuana companies, has started to take off as consumers become more aware of the plant-based chemicals.

“I used to have to convince people that terpenes existed,” he said. “Now I have to convince them we’re the best option.”

Botanical Versus Cannabis

True Terpenes offers both types of ter- penes – botanical and cannabis-derived
– for marijuana companies. The botanical terps are much cheaper to process and formulate, but they are limited in what they can achieve.

Cassiday’s company offers about 30-50 different botanically derived ter- penes. By using scientific methods such as gas chromatography mass spectrom- etry, Cassiday and others can isolate
the terpenes found in cannabis strains, then produce similar combinations from botanicals, including cloves, lavender and citrus fruits.

For example, alpha-pinene, a terpene commonly found in pine trees, also exists in cannabis strains such as Jack Herer. If a vape cartridge company wants to create an oil that re-creates the specific taste and smell of Jack Herer, True Terpenes can source alpha-pinene and other terpenes from common plants or trees to build that flavor and aroma profile. Linda Hurley, senior president of sales and marketing for Ricca Chemical Co. in Arlington, Texas, said the botanically derived terpenes her company formulates are the same as the cannabis variety. She hasn’t found any cannabis terpenes that don’t exist in other plants as well. “A molecule’s a molecule,” she said. “If a molecule comes from cannabis or from clove oil, it’s the same terpene.”

But why not just extract the terps straight from the cannabis plant?

It’s possible, and it’s arguably bet- ter to do it that way, but it’s far more expensive.

According to Cassiday, if you com- pare a Sour Diesel terpene profile that comes from botanicals to one from cannabis extraction, the extracted profile will have many more terpenes. “Literally 200 more terpenes in it,” he said. But it’s cost prohibitive.

True Terpenes sells botanical terpenes for $5 per milliliter wholesale and can- nabis terps for $100 per milliliter for top-shelf quality.

Ricca Chemical sells its botanically derived terpenes for about $2.50-$3 per gram. Consistency is king so why go through the trouble and spend the money at all? “The point is having a consistent chemical profile within your product,” Cassiday said. Hurley echoed that statement.

“Consistency is really important, so your customer gets the same experience every time they use your product,” she said.

Cannabis strains can be fickle, Hurley said, and it’s difficult to create an exact, reliable terpene profile from the mari- juana plant every harvest. That’s where her company’s terpenes come in.

“Your brand has to be very consistent in order for people to become loyal to it,” she added. Some people think of terpenes as simply flavoring or added aroma, but they also create a reproducible effect. “Part of why customers are using cannabis is for the medicinal effects,” Hurley said. “Terpenes give you that calming effect. Or anti-inflammatory or pain management.”

If you purchase a terpene additive, manufacture a vape pen with it and the product gives your customer a specific, positive effect, then you can re-create that effect for them every time.

“Because we’re not able to identify everything that’s in the cannabis flower, it’s really for us to then identify what’s beneficial to somebody,” Cassiday said. “If we can separate those out, and give them to somebody in a specific formula, and we can tweak that formula until
it gets to a point that they’re receiving relief,” then the company feels as if it’s achieved something.

Terpenes Build Brands

Most of the companies Cassiday works with are blending terpenes with THC distillate. But he said smoking raw distillate by itself is a limited expe- rience. It won’t help you become creative or inspired. “Terpenes are like lighter fluid,” he added. “They really accelerate the whole process.”

Cannabis companies can use terpenes to produce a specific, effects-based brand. For example, if your company hopes to appeal to millennials who want an after-work relaxation product, you can find a terpene profile that creates a calming effect.

Aside from the aforementioned ben- efits, adding terpenes to vape cartridges can reduce the viscosity of distillate
or cannabis oil, giving vape pens a smoother smoke. Typically, companies will use about 3%-10% terpenes in their oil or distil- late mixture, so the terpenes also can help stretch out and make your raw product go further. “As a product manufacturer, add- ing terpenes to your product saves you money,” Cassiday noted.

Easy Does It

It’s one thing to add botanically derived terpenes to your vape cartridges or infused products, but to extract highly volatile terpenes from cannabis requires a deft hand and attention to detail.

“The extraction of terpenes is not just a science, it’s an art,” said Jay Spall, lead extractor for San Diego-based Cannabiniers.

Spall uses a steam generator to extract the terpene molecules that have a high vapor pressure, meaning a low boiling point, to keep the molecules intact.

“They are very delicate molecules,” he added. This method works for another reason: After the terpene extraction process, the cannabis can be dried, then extracted again for cannabinoids, including THC or CBD.

No Harsh Chemicals, Temperatures

Spall has been perfecting his method of cannabis extraction for about 10 years, drawing on a background in chemistry and biochemistry at the Uni- versity of California, San Diego.

He quickly learned that his process must be gentle, because terpenes are fragile. “You cannot use harsh chemicals,” he said. “You cannot use harsh temperatures.” Terpenes are hydrocarbons, which means they’re volatile and will start to break down if heated. When they begin to break down they emit a foul odor, which will affect the flavor, smell and effect.

During extraction for THC, it’s com- mon to smell bad aromas wafting from the cannabis. “That’s usually the terpenes breaking down,” according to Spall. At Cannabiniers, employees work with all types of cannabis flower, includ- ing plants grown indoors, outdoors or in a greenhouse.

Amber Hue is Key

But the most important characteristic is that the flower has a lot of trichomes, the crystals on the cannabis flower that generate terpenes.

Because terpenes help the cannabis plant to defend against pests and UV rays, some outdoor-grown plants have terpenes that are difficult to find in indoor plants. However, some indoor grows have lights that replicate outdoor conditions and lead to better, more diverse terpene content.

Spall prefers to work with freshly cut, frozen flower. He avoids cured cannabis because during the curing process the terpenes will break down and evaporate.

The ideal time to extract flower for terpenes, Spall said, is when the once- clear trichomes have begun to turn cloudy and slightly amber.

“You can never get it fully perfect, because it happens in a transition,” he added. “You get 5% or 20% amber. The timing is very difficult.”

To improve his processes, Spall will communicate with his cultivators to give them feedback about their end product.

“Talking to the grower and the breeder to get a special plant that has a higher terpene content is a good start- ing point,” he said.

But Spall believes there aren’t par- ticular strains that offer better terpenes. “I see value in all strains and the composition of terpenes it has,” Spall said.

Terp-Infused Brews

Much of what Spall extracts ends up in beer brewed by Two Roots Brewing in San Diego.

Kevin Barnes, the master brewer at Two Roots, uses cannabis terpenes to complement the terpenes that exist
in hops. By introducing the cannabis terpenes, he can create flavor com- plexities not available with hops alone. (It should be noted, however, that the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has blown the whistle on brews containing cannabis terpe- nes, including those produced by two Florida brewers.)

Both hops and some strains of canna- bis contain the terpene myrcene, which gives off herbal and citrus notes com- monly associated with hoppy beers such as India Pale Ales.

“The main point of doing this is showing the synergism of hops and

cannabis and how closely related they are,” Barnes said.

When Barnes gets the terpenes from Spall, they’re similar to essential oils. Barnes adds the terpenes at the end of the brewing process to give the beer a bright, fresh hop character. He needs “very little terpenes” to make it work.

Two Roots Brewing is making two main products:

Beer with the alcohol removed, then THC or CBD and terpenes added.

Alcoholic beer with botanically derived terpenes added.

Most of the beer will at first be available only at dispensaries. Barnes also hopes to have CBD products that can be sold in natural food stores. Plus, the brewery plans to sell its full-alcohol beer infused with botanically derived terpenes in liquor stores and bars.

“It’s a pretty cool business model,” he said.

Barnes said adding terpenes doesn’t increase cost of production too much, because the brewery can use smaller quantities of hops.

“It sort of balances,” he noted.◆

By Bart Schaneman

Read more from the source: Marijuana Business Magazine August 2018 Digital Issue

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