Any budtender will tell you that in the fledging cannabis industry, the majority of customer interest is solely on THC percentages. That limited focus stands out as one of the biggest tells that education in this industry has yet to catch up to the masses. Why? Simple. Those in the know will tell you that the terpene profile of a given strain plays a far greater role in scents, flavors, and effects. That’s just one reason it’s worth your while to look past the THC percentage.
The Thing with Terpenes
In the same way that you’re able to differentiate between the scents and flavors of different wines and beers, you can also sniff out different terpenes. These amazing little compounds are what give plants their flavors and aromas, and their production depends on things like genetics, temperature, humidity, and light intensity during the grow period. These glands likely originated as a defense mechanism, protecting the plants from pests and elements of nature. The more delicately cannabis plants and their trichomes are managed, the more flavorful, scented, and effective the harvested buds.
Terpenes aren’t limited to cannabis. There are some 2,000 identified terpenes in nature, with more than 100 found in cannabis. From limonene to pinene to myrcene, these essential oils are the determining factor in the uniqueness of a given strain – and that includes its effects.
The Entourage Effect
Even the most novice cannabis user will recognize the term entourage effect, which refers to the synergistic relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes that heightens their benefits and effects. Terpenes get in on the entourage action in unique ways. It’s these little compounds that give different strains their differentiating characteristics and effects – think the munchies, appetite suppression, sedation, or euphoria. In some instance, terpenes work with CBD to mitigate THC psychoactivity, often by tamping down on unwanted side effects like anxiety and paranoia.
But that’s not all. While research on cannabis as a whole in the US is regretfully limited, there is some research on terpenes independently, including the effects of linalool on the central nervous system, how d-limonene can prevent certain types of mammary tumors, and the analgesic properties of myrcene. There are also a few studies that demonstrate how terpenes can also work together to smooth the way for cannabinoids to pass through the bloodstream. By binding to endocannabinoid receptors and neurotransmitters, terpenes can amp up or inhibit CBD and THC, thereby impacting the effects of a strain. While more research is sorely needed to parse exactly how terpenes and cannabinoids affect the mind, body, and emotions, there is a bit of accepted wisdom.
That’s a big deal for growers, who can create strains that are hyper specialized by using terpenes to modulate adverse effects of certain cannabinoids or boost the therapeutic benefits of others.
What about the Consumer?
From a customer perspective, asking for the highest THC content is often driven by the mistaken notion that it’s the best way to get the most bang for your buck. The beauty of cannabis is in its amazing versatility. There’s really a strain and a product for everything, and going for the highest THC count every time means missing out on the nuances that make cannabis so amazing. Think of it in terms of alcohol. Are you always looking for the highest alcohol content, above and beyond anything else? If that were the case, we’d all be downing moonshine no matter the occasion. And anyone can see the error in that.
The bottom line is that focusing solely on THC means consumers are likely missing out on a more appropriate strain – one that offers a better effect, experience, and flavor. Asking for terpene and cannabinoid profiles and investing in a bit of trial and error with the guidance and knowledge of an experienced budtender can be truly enlightening. So follow your nose and your taste buds – the flavor and aroma profile that appeal to you in a strain with effects suitable for your needs is a great place to start. Before you know it, you’ll develop a connoisseur’s approach to cannabis that will vastly improve your experience.