Medical research and effective advocacy from the cannabis legalization movement have fundamentally changed public perception around the cannabis plant in an impressively short period of time. They’ve also done wonders in educating society on the medicinal and therapeutic potential of cannabis compounds, most notably tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD). But one of the most notable accomplishments of cannabis-related medical research is its consignment of terpenes from relative obscurity to the forefront of the natural medicine mainstream. Yes, terpenes are legal, and they’re more popular than ever thanks to the milestones made in the fight to legalize cannabis.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic hydrocarbon compounds built up from five-carbon isoprene units. They provide the distinctive aromas and flavors attributed to practically all plant life, and are even present in some insects. In crucial stages of some plants’ developmental cycles, terpenes serve protective purposes as well — either by deterring predators or attracting specific animals and insects to ensure pollination for seed production.
We experience and interact with natural terpenes constantly in our daily lives. Any activity, from a walk down a suburban sidewalk to a drink of fruit juice, exposes us to a multiplicity of terpenes. Aside from aromas and flavors, terpenes also provide various health-positive properties recently established in scientific literature as beneficial to humans.
Are Terpenes Legal in the US?
Terpenes are completely legal; not only in the US but all over the world. Today everything from fruit to hemp terpenes are for sale, and commonly infused into commercial products, therapeutic remedies and health supplements. Some of the most popular terpenes such as Myrcene (Basil), Limonene (Lemon) and Terpinolene (Fir) are the defining ingredients in high-end bath bombs, balms and skin creams. This is not only due to the appealing scents and sensations they impart on a topical level, but also the fact that they provide anything from anti-inflammatory to anxiolytic benefits as well.
In recent years, adventurous chefs and barkeeps have even opened up establishments offering experimental menus revolving entirely around terpene infusion. Whether it’s boldly-flavored, muscle relaxing Mai Tais or extra lemony stress-busting slices of cheesecake, terpene cuisine has enjoyed notable public success despite only a short time out in the wild.
Are There Different Rules for Cannabis Terpenes?
Plant terpenes are legal, and the over two hundred present in the cannabis plant are no exception. While cannabis is still technically federally illegal in the United States, the number of states legalizing it for medical and recreational use is increasing steadily every year. In the meantime, it’s entirely possible (and currently common practice) to isolate terpenes present in the cannabis plant through a variety of extraction methods — from simple distillation to the use of supercritical CO2.
Cannabis terpene companies create their products by replicating the molecular structure of those from natural sources. Many product manufacturers shy away from extracting terpenes directly from cannabis, as doing so could lead to regulatory red tape in some states if too much THC is intact in the final extract. As more sophisticated extraction methods become accessible and affordable to businesses outside the pharmaceutical industry, direct extraction could happen in the future.
Cannabis’ So-Called “Sober Cousin” & the 2018 Farm Bill
With the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act (more commonly known as the “Farm Bill”) of 2018, US lawmakers legalized the use of industrially-grown hemp in a variety of markets. Since then, hemp terpenes have been used for infusion into products ranging from anti-mosquito balm to vape oil cartridges.
While hemp is a reliable source of many terpenes, the actual cannabis plant is a more abundant source than its sober cousin, even in low-terpene strains. The challenge there, and yes this throws confusion into the mix, is that extracting from a plant that also contains THC could create the appearance of running afoul of the law. And, if a company accidentally extracts too much THC from a cannabis plant, they’ve could literally break a law in what they give to customers. This is the same problem with CBD extraction and why CBD companies extract from hemp.
Just as dispensaries grow specific cannabis strains for their production of trichomes, the same is done with strains focused on terpene content. Once properly isolated, terpenes sourced from hemp cannabis are every bit as legal as those sourced from pine trees, balsam firs or farm-grown hemp.
So don’t be afraid to purchase and experiment with True Blue natural terpenes to see what you can create! Try it in tea, mixed into topicals or even on edibles; the possibilities are endless.