🇺🇸 Retired veteran, father, rock-climbing expert & rosin connoisseur.
Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds that are naturally produced by various plants, including cannabis, pine trees, citrus fruits, and many others. They are responsible for the distinctive aromas and flavors found in these plants. Terpenes are responsible for that dank, musky, gassy, and fruity funk that screams at us through the cracked lid of a mason jar. They are what we know and love about cannabis, and we can recognize them from a mile away.
In nature, terpenes serve various functions for plants. They can attract pollinators by emitting pleasant scents, repel predators with strong odors, and even act as a form of communication between plants and other organisms. Some terpenes also possess antimicrobial and insecticidal properties.
In cannabis, terpenes are key players in the overall therapeutic effects of any given cannabis cultivar. In fact, terpenes are main differentiators in the user experience of specific cannabis cultivars, and they contribute to the variety and diversity of effects that cannabis delivers.
Terpenes play a crucial role in determining the unique flavors, aromas, and effects of different strains. They can interact synergistically with other compounds in cannabis, particularly cannabinoids like THC and CBD, to produce what is known as the entourage effect, where the combination of compounds produces a different effect than when isolated.
Many terpenes, such as limonene, pinene, and myrcene, have been studied for their potential health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-anxiety effects.
Terpenes in cannabis are highly desirable for several reasons:
1. Aroma and Flavor: Terpenes contribute to the unique scents and flavors found in different cannabis strains. They provide a diverse range of aromas, such as citrus, pine, earthy, fruity, and floral notes. These aromatic profiles enhance the overall sensory experience and can make consuming cannabis more enjoyable.
2. Entourage Effect: Terpenes interact synergistically with cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, as well as other compounds in cannabis. This interaction is known as the entourage effect. Terpenes can modulate the effects of cannabinoids and influence the overall experience of cannabis consumption. For example, certain terpenes may enhance relaxation, focus, or uplifted mood, depending on their specific properties.
3. Therapeutic Potential: Many terpenes found in cannabis have shown potential therapeutic benefits. They can possess anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relieving), anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), and sedative properties, among others. Some terpenes, like limonene and linalool, have been studied for their potential anti-cancer properties, while others, like beta-caryophyllene, have shown promise as anti-inflammatory agents. The combination of terpenes and cannabinoids may contribute to the overall medicinal properties of cannabis.
4. Product Differentiation: With the increasing popularity of cannabis products, terpenes allow for product differentiation and customization. By selectively breeding and cultivating cannabis strains rich in specific terpenes, producers can create unique products with distinct aromas, flavors, and effects. This variety allows consumers to choose strains that align with their preferences and desired experiences.
5. Consumer Preferences: Many cannabis consumers appreciate the aromatic and flavor profiles provided by terpenes. The presence of specific terpenes can indicate the quality, potency, and potential effects of a cannabis product. Consumers often develop preferences for certain terpene profiles and seek out strains that offer those specific qualities.
Terpenes are incredibly valuable, yet also incredibly volatile.
The term "volatile" refers to the tendency of a substance to easily vaporize or evaporate at normal temperatures and pressures. A volatile substance has a high vapor pressure, meaning it can readily transition from a liquid or solid state to a gas or vapor state.
Volatile substances have low boiling points and are characterized by their ability to rapidly change from a liquid or solid form to a gas form. This transition occurs when the vapor pressure of the substance exceeds the atmospheric pressure or the pressure exerted on it.
When we say that terpenes found in cannabis are volatile, it means that they have a tendency to vaporize or evaporate at relatively low temperatures. In the case of terpenes, they can easily turn into gas or vapor when exposed to heat or when the temperature reaches their boiling points.
What Is a Boiling Point?
A boiling point is the temperature at which a substance changes its state from a liquid to a gas, or vapor, under normal atmospheric pressure. At the boiling point, the vapor pressure of the liquid equals the external pressure acting on it, allowing bubbles of vapor to form throughout the liquid, causing it to vaporize.
A lower boiling point of a specific terpene equates to a lower temperature at which that terpene will evaporate away. And this is what we’re trying to avoid!
The boiling point of a substance remains constant as long as the pressure remains constant. However, the boiling point can be influenced by changes in pressure. At higher elevations, where atmospheric pressure is lower, substances tend to boil at lower temperatures because the external pressure is reduced.
Boiling points are measured in degrees Fahrenheit (°F) or Celsius (°C). For example, the boiling point of water at sea level is 100°C (212°F), which means that water will start boiling and converting into steam at that temperature under normal atmospheric conditions.
Terpenes have low boiling points compared to many other compounds found in cannabis, such as cannabinoids like THC and CBD. This means that terpenes can evaporate or volatilize at lower temperatures than cannabinoids. As a result, when cannabis is heated or vaporized, the terpenes can vaporize alongside other volatile compounds.
What Are the Common Terpenes in Cannabis?
1. Myrcene: The most abundant terpene found in cannabis, Myrcene can be called the Mother Terpene. Myrcene gives off an earthy, musky aroma and is also common in parsley, mangos, basil, lemongrass, and hops. Myrcene can be calming and relaxing, making it a nice sleep aid for people struggling with insomnia.
Myrcene is believed to have potential therapeutic benefits including sedation and relaxation, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, and enhancing cannabinoid effects (thought to increase the permeability of cell membranes, allowing cannabinoids to more effectively interact with the body's endocannabinoid system).
2. Limonene: Limonene is a cannabis terpene that is commonly found in various citrus fruits, particularly in the peels of lemons and oranges. Limonene has a refreshing and uplifting scent that resembles the aroma of fresh lemons, and is often described as tangy, zesty, and slightly sweet. This terpene is highly volatile, meaning it can easily evaporate and contribute to the strong and pleasant citrus notes in cannabis.
Beyond its aromatic qualities, limonene has also been associated with potential therapeutic benefits like mood enhancement, stress relief, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and digestive support.
3. Pinene: Pinene is also common in pine trees, rosemary, and sage. It is one of the most abundant terpenes in nature and is responsible for the distinctive aroma associated with evergreen trees. Cannabis cultivars high in pinene often exhibit a sharp, crisp aroma reminiscent of pine forests, with some herbal and citrus undertones. This terpene contributes to the overall complexity and character of the cannabis plant's aroma.
Pinene has been associated with potential therapeutic benefits, including respiratory support, focus and alertness, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, and memory enhancement.
4. Linalool: Known for its delicate, floral aroma with hints of spice and sweetness, linalool is also found in lavender, mint, and coriander. Linalool is responsible for the soothing and calming scent often associated with these plants. Linalool has been associated with potential therapeutic benefits, which may include relaxation and stress relief, sleep aid, anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and anticonvulsant.
5. Caryophyllene: Caryophyllene is a cannabis terpene that is also found in various spices, such as black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. It is one of the most common terpenes in the plant kingdom and plays a significant role in the aroma and flavor of cannabis.Caryophyllene is known for its unique scent, which is often described as spicy, woody, and peppery. It is responsible for the warm and slightly sweet aroma found in certain cannabis cultivars, reminiscent of baking spices and earthy notes.
Caryophyllene has been associated with potential therapeutic benefits like anti-inflammatory, analgesic, neuroprotective, and gastroprotective.
6. Humulene: Humulene is also found in hops, cloves, and other aromatic plants. It contributes to the complex aroma and flavor profile of cannabis, adding herbal, earthy, and spicy notes. Humulene is characterized by its unique scent, which is often described as woody, earthy, and with subtle hints of spice.
In addition to its aromatic properties, humulene is also believed to be an anti-inflammatory, appetite suppressant, potential anti-cancer properties, and antibacterial and antifungal.
Boiling Points of Each Specific Terpene
The boiling points of individual terpenes found in cannabis can vary. Here are the approximate boiling points of some commonly found terpenes in cannabis:
1. Myrcene: Boiling point around 334°F (168°C)
With such a high boiling point, it’s easy to cook and vape cultivars high in Myrcene with minimal waste.
2. Limonene: Boiling point around 349°F (176°C)
Also with a high boiling point, cultivars high in limonene are great for cooking and making infusions (especially considering the nice citrus flavor it imparts).
3. Pinene: Boiling point around 311°F (155°C)
With a slightly lower boiling point, think more about potentially using for brewing tea and less for cooking and infusions.
4. Linalool: Boiling point around 390°F (199°C)
This is the highest boiling point among any of the cannabis terpenes, meaning linalool will stick around for the long haul.
5. Caryophyllene: Boiling point around 266°F (130°C)
This low boiling point means caryophyllene can be elusive if not handled with care. Lower temps are advised in order to preserve this delicate terpene.
6. Humulene: Boiling point around 225°F (107°C)
Possessing the lowest boiling point among the cannabis terpenes, humulene will readily dissipate with exposure to temps commonly used in cooking and infusions.
It's important to note that these boiling points are approximate values and can vary slightly depending on the source, purity of the terpene, and the measurement conditions. Additionally, cannabis contains a complex mixture of terpenes, and their boiling points may overlap. When vaporizing or heating cannabis, a range of temperatures is typically used to capture a broader spectrum of volatile compounds, including terpenes and cannabinoids.
How To Preserve Terpenes
Preserving terpenes during solventless extraction, such as pressing rosin, can be achieved by following certain practices to minimize terpene degradation. Here are some tips to help preserve terpenes during the solventless extraction process:
1. Temperature Control: One of the key factors in preserving terpenes is maintaining low temperatures during the extraction process. Higher temperatures can lead to terpene degradation and evaporation. Therefore, using lower temperatures during pressing, such as around 185-212°F (85-100°C), can help preserve terpenes to a greater extent.
2. Time Consideration: Minimizing the duration of exposure to heat is important. Reducing the time spent pressing can help prevent excessive heat exposure that may cause terpene loss or degradation. Quick and efficient pressing can help retain the volatile terpenes.
3. Proper Storage: After the extraction process, it is crucial to store the rosin properly to maintain terpene integrity. Store the rosin in airtight containers, preferably made of non-reactive materials such as glass or silicone. This helps prevent terpenes from evaporating and preserves their aroma and flavor.
4. Temperature and Light Control: Terpenes can be sensitive to heat and light even after extraction. Therefore, store the rosin in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight or excessive heat sources. Light and heat exposure can accelerate terpene degradation.
5. Minimal Handling: Excessive handling and exposure to oxygen can also lead to terpene loss. Try to minimize unnecessary contact with the rosin and keep it sealed tightly to limit oxygen exposure.
6. Quality Starting Material: The quality of the cannabis material used for extraction can impact terpene preservation. Starting with fresh, high-quality cannabis flower or trim with a rich terpene profile can enhance the terpene content in the resulting rosin.
By implementing these practices, you can improve the chances of preserving terpenes during the solventless extraction process, allowing for a more flavorful and aromatic final product.
Terpenes are highly valued in cannabis because they contribute to the complexity, diversity, and potential therapeutic benefits of the plant. Their presence adds depth to the cannabis experience and allows for a more tailored approach to using cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes.
However, exposure to heat, light, and air can lead to terpene degradation or evaporation, reducing the overall quality and aroma of the cannabis product. Being mindful of the boiling points of various terpenes can help extractors maximize their efforts to preserve these valuable compounds.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. What are terpenes?
Terpenes are organic compounds found in various plants, including cannabis. They contribute to the distinctive aromas and flavors of plants and play a role in their therapeutic effects.
2. How do terpenes contribute to the effects of cannabis?
Terpenes interact with cannabinoids and other compounds in cannabis, producing the entourage effect. This synergy influences the overall experience and effects of cannabis consumption.
3. What are some common terpenes in cannabis and their benefits?
Common terpenes in cannabis include limonene, pinene, myrcene, linalool, and humulene. They have potential therapeutic benefits such as relaxation, anti-inflammatory properties, stress relief, and more.
4. Are terpenes volatile?
Yes, terpenes are volatile, meaning they can easily evaporate or vaporize at lower temperatures. They have low boiling points compared to other compounds in cannabis, and their volatility contributes to the distinct aromas of cannabis strains.
5. How can I preserve terpenes during solventless extraction?
To preserve terpenes during solventless extraction, it's important to control temperature, minimize heat exposure and processing time, store the product properly in airtight containers away from heat and light, minimize handling and oxygen exposure, and start with high-quality cannabis material.