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Synthetic Terpenes: A Closer Look at the History and Chemistry of Cannabis Flavoring

Posted by Eric Van Buskirk on

When we talk about “natural” cannabis-related products, typically we mean those whose ingredients were derived directly from cannabis. And while these products have that “authentic” flavor that cannabis connoisseurs love, they are often highly expensive and difficult to dose. As a result, a market for synthetic cannabis products arose, like synthetic terpenes and cannabinoids. Let’s take a look at the history and chemistry of some of these products below.

Synthetic Cannabinoids, CBD, and Terpenes: A Brief History

Synthetic cannabinoids, such as CBD or THC, were first developed in the early 2000s in an attempt to skirt around existing cannabis laws and regulations. You may have heard them referred to as ‘spice’ or ‘K2’. And when the vaping industry exploded onto the scene in 2003, the demand for synthetic cannabinoids that were easy to mass produce in a laboratory grew commensurately.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a formal statement regarding the health risks of synthetic cannabinoids and cbd. In it, they indicate that side effects include: “Rapid heart rate, vomiting, violent behavior and suicidal thoughts, and an increase in blood pressure, as well as causing reduced blood supply to the heart, kidney damage, and seizures.” Just in the period from 2014 to 2015, the Center for Disease Control reported that deaths from synthetic cannabinoids have increased by a whopping 330%.

How are Synthetic Terpenes Made?

Now that you understand what synthetic cannabinoids are and the risks associated with them, let’s turn to synthetic terpenes. As with cannabinoids, the main difference between synthetic and natural terpenes is that natural terpenes are derived from natural sources - like plants, whereas synthetic terpenes are created in a lab.

The process works like this - a lab uses gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer to analyze the composition of a given cannabis strain and create a printout of its terpene composition. The flavor manufacturer can then use this composition like a recipe to purchase those individual terpene ingredients and combine them to recreate that profile.

Natural vs Synthetic Terpenes: Which One Should I Buy?

While synthetic terpenes are easier to mass produce and much easier to dose, they do have a major downside.A given cannabis strain can possess over a hundred individual terpenes, whereas most labs can only test for 30-40 and most vape manufacturers end up using 10-15. This means that even lab-approved terpene analysis is, by its very nature, incomplete, which will lead to synthetic terpenes that lack the subtlety and complexity of their natural counterparts. Take a look at this article for a look at how we produce our pure, organic terpenes.

Are Synthetic Terpenes Safe?

Given the serious health risks associated with synthetic cannabinoids, many people are understandably wary of using synthetic terpenes. But here’s the thing - synthetic terpenes are NOT the same thing as synthetic cannabinoids. They interact with your body in totally different ways and they are manufactured using different methods. You’re probably already consuming them without knowing it. Do you use cologne or perfume? How about essential oil diffusers? If so, then synthetic terpenes are already a part of your life. But rather than offer a one word answer to the question of are terpenes safe, let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the health risks associated with synthetic terpenes.

Popcorn Lung: What Is It and How Can I Avoid It?

Popcorn lung is a rare condition that damages the bronchioles, which are small airways in your lungs. There is no known cure and it is considered life-threatening.

While there are a number of ways to contract popcorn lung, the most common is through the consumption of a chemical known as diacetyl.There is scientific research that has shown that e-cig vapor contains small amounts of diacetyl. For a bit of context, consider that most tobacco smoke contains almost 40 times as much diacetyl. For more information on how you’ll never find synthetic ingredients in True Blue Terpenes, take a look at this blog post.

Do Synthetic Terpenes Cause Seizures?

Of the many negative side effects that have been linked to synthetic cannabinoids, news stories of teenagers experiencing seizures as a result of consuming synthetic cannabinoids have caught the international press, as well as many of the most well-respected health organizations. Once again, we have to stress that all of this research concerns cannabinoids (THC and CBD, for example), rather than terpenes. There is no evidence linking synthetic terpenes to seizures.

Synthetic Weed Terpenes Allergy Symptoms

Okay - so synthetic terpenes DON’T cause seizures. But what about allergies? Well here there actually is a fair amount of research linking terpene exposure to allergens and asthma. That being said, none of this research demonstrates that synthetic terpenes are more likely to trigger these sorts of reactions. Furthermore, since terpenes are used in virtually every aromatherapy product on the market, you’re just as likely to get an allergic reaction from a plug-in air freshener as you are from vaping.

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