Despite over 200 different terpenes being identified in the cannabis plant alone, practically all mainline terpene retailers prefer to have botanically derived terpenes for sale. Between production cost considerations and the as yet complicated legal landscape around certain varieties of cannabis (i.e. marijuana) in some states, there's more than one reason cannabis businesses prefer botanically derived terpenes over cannabis extracted ones.
What does botanically derived mean?
Botanically derived terpenes are simply terpenes extracted from sources other than the cannabis plant. Some newbies to the world of cannabis flavor don’t understand , terpenes can be found in practically all plant life — not just marijuana and hemp. Limonene, for instance, can be sourced from citrus fruits and their peels; humulene can be extracted from sage or ginseng, and large concentrations of geraniol can be found in geranium, coriander or thyme.
Even terpenes heavily associated with marijuana (e.g. myrcene, linalool) can be sourced from non-cannabis plants with the same terpenes. Given choice extraction methods and ethical production standards, there is virtually no disparity in quality between botanically derived terpene products and their cannabis extracted counterparts.
Nevertheless, True Blue is exploring the option of selling terpenes derived entirely from hemp. If some in the industry are willing to pay a lot more for these, we’ll consider offering them in spite of our belief that botanical terps are just as good.
While cannabis has played a significant role in research into the therapeutic potential of terpenes, the majority of businesses in the legal cannabis industry prefer botanical-derived terpenes for several reasons beyond simple cost-effectiveness. In this post, we go over these factors, as well as the appeal of botanical terpenes to consumers and their advantages over other types of terpenes from a business perspective.
Cannabis Derived Terpenes vs. Botanically Derived Terpenes
It's worth noting that terpenes derived from cannabis are certainly no less desirable than botanically derived terpenes in terms of quality. On the contrary, the two are observed to be practically indistinguishable from each other. The reasons the latter is preferred by cannabis businesses are entirely practical and include crucial considerations like:
On the subject of cannabis, the text of the original Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1971 states that “the term ‘marihuana’ means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.” Surprisingly, the CSA remains one of the most relevant pieces of legislation to existing state and federal cannabis law, and is a guiding document even behind the DEA's current drug scheduling system.
Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, the term "marihuana" as defined in the CSA no longer applies to industrial hemp, or parts of the cannabis plant that don't produce cannabinoids. However, to simply avoid legal and/or regulatory red tape in states where recreational marijuana is not yet legal, terpene retailers and cannabis businesses alike opt for non-cannabis-derived terpenes.
Some cannabis enthusiasts attribute the effects of terpenes to their interactions with cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in what is commonly called the Entourage Effect. While the synergy between cannabis compounds is well substantiated in scientific literature, the standalone therapeutic benefits of terpenes should not be overlooked.
Take myrcene as an example: whether sourced from marijuana, hops or lemongrass, myrcene independently produces analgesic and relaxant effects via its actions on the human nervous system. One of its most noted physiological effects is its ability to increase the permeability of cell membranes — particularly the blood-brain barrier — regardless of if it was sourced from an indica or West Indian bay tree.
The interchangeability of cannabis extracted and botanically derived terpenes is aptly indicated in the flavor experience of cannabis strains themselves. New cannabis consumers will often note that Grape Ape, which is high in pinene, has distinctly piney elements in its aroma, or that Lemon OG (limonene) has heavy notes of lemon in its flavor.
Because of this virtual interchangeability between cannabis and botanical terpenes, the possibilities of flavor or aroma-related applications are endless for the latter. Retailers can even formulate strain profiles exclusively using terpene blends from non-cannabis sources.
It's well known that the growing and extraction processes for marijuana are significantly more labor and cost intensive than that of basil, or lemons. And while industrially grown hemp is rapidly renewable and considerably more competitive cost and labor-wise, it is less rich in terpenes compared to its psychoactive counterpart. This is yet another reason botanical terpenes are preferred over cannabis extracted ones.
How Botanical Terpenes Are Extracted
The process of terpene extraction is more or less the same regardless of the source plant material in use. As of this writing, the most common industry and DIY extraction method is steam distillation, which involves placing plant matter over boiling water. Hydrodistillation is an older variation of this method wherein the plant material is placed directly in boiling water to extract essential oils or terpenes, which are then collected and stored after the cooling step.
Producers of higher-end terpene products have begun to use a newer method of extracting terpenes which involves the use of solvents. This process begins with the breaking down of plant material to release their chemical components, before extracting the desired sample using solvents like hexane or CO2. Once a desirable amount is acquired, the target compound is separated from residual solvents before analysis.
Are Botanically Derived Terpenes Safe to Vape?
Regardless of source material, natural terpenes can be added to e-liquids, cannabis concentrates or cartridges and safely vaped to enhance flavor, aroma and medicinal benefits. This is a common practice among veteran vapers and DIYers alike, as they prefer organic flavorings to synthetic ones.
In states where recreational marijuana is not yet legal, botanical terpenes are preferred by consumers looking to stay on the right side of the law.
Other Advantages of Botanically Derived Terpenes
Botanically derived terpenes have other advantages worth mentioning, particularly in the context of business. First, they have superior repeatability when compared to terpenes sourced from cannabis. Even with identical genetics, it is factually impossible to mass cultivate cannabis crops with consistent flavor and aroma profiles between them. This gives botanically derived terpene products a clear advantage on store shelves — not only in terms of production cost, but user experience as well.
Unless manufacturers are willing to pay for costly isolation processes, cannabis terpenes will always mirror the strains they were extracted from. The production of isolated terpenes is several times more expensive when using cannabis as a source material compared to other plants. The degree of control that comes with botanically derived terpenes is another reason they are more attractive to businesses within the cannabis industry.
Botanical terpenes also have an advantage over synthetic terpenes, which are engineered in laboratories using chemical processes of blending and manipulation to create so-called "perfect" terpene profiles. While synthetic terpenes have stronger flavors and aromas than their natural counterparts, many consumers report that they are difficult to vape, producing side effects like sore throat, nausea and fits of coughing.
While botanically derived terpenes may not provide the authentic cannabis experience sought by some marijuana devotees or aficionados, they have various legal and practical advantages over other terpene types that make them the most feasible option for both product manufacturers and retailers from a business perspective. This will likely be the case for the foreseeable future until more progress is made on cannabis legality and extraction methods.