🇺🇸 Retired veteran, father, rock-climbing expert & rosin connoisseur.
As our understanding of the cannabis plant has evolved, new science around terpenes is emerging. And with it, a new category of beneficial compounds comes to light.
Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds found in a variety of plants, particularly conifers. But they’re also key components of the cannabis experience, major contributors to the alluring aroma of cannabis flowers. Solventless extractors go to great lengths to preserve terpenes throughout the entire extraction process, showcasing the full glory of the resin for the consumer.
Flavorants are the third main category of beneficial compounds in the cannabis plant. Along with cannabinoids and terpenes, flavorants deliver the classic cannabis sensory experience. For a long time it was thought that only terpenes impacted the aroma of various cannabis cultivars. But now, thanks to a study recently conducted by Abstrax, we’re discovering more nuance, and a whole new world is opening up along with it.
Thanks to this study, we have a greater understanding for why cannabis cultivars smell the way that they do. For example, the terpene concentrations of two different cultivars can be very similar, and yet each cultivar can have distinctly different aromas. Why is this? If terpenes are the only thing responsible for cannabis aroma, then cultivars with the same terpene profiles would smell the same. But we see this isn’t the case. Therefore, there’s something else at play.
And this “something else'' is flavorants. These compounds and others influence and modulate the cannabinoids which have been long-known to cause the psychoactive effects from cannabis.
Flavorants, like terpenes, are very volatile. Their chemical makeup includes esters, alcohols, heteroaromatics, aldehydes, and VSCS.
This new study by Abstrax identified at least 3 new flavorant classes including tropicannasulfur, cannasulfur, and heterocyclic compounds.
Tropicannasulfur Compounds - these are responsible for citrus, tangie, and tropical notes found in exotic cannabis cultivars.
Cannasulfur Compounds - compounds that produce the dank, gas, skunk. Although the exact chemical structure isn’t found anywhere else in nature outside of the cannabis plant, it resembles that of garlic.
Heterocyclic Compounds - these compounds give us that rich, savory, and chemical scent. Think Chemdawg for example.
Terpenes have long been the catch-all term for compounds that impart the unique aromas into cannabis. But as our understanding of the plant has evolved, and researchers are shedding more light into the chemical composition of cannabis resin, we know that terpenes are just the beginning. This doesn’t diminish the significance of terpenes, it just exposes more of what we have yet to fully discover through scientific research.
It turns out that flavorants, not terpenes, drive the unique aromas in cannabis. It’s all been about the terps up to this point. But now, it seems it’s actually about the flavorants. When the scientists at Abstrax studied ice water hash, they uncovered significantly more depth and complexity than was previously captured.
Skatole is an interesting example of what they uncovered. Skatole is a compound that is also found in human feces. And yet, it’s also a component of a class of flavorants in cannabis. Talk about the funk!
What’s even more surprising is the lack of correlation between terpenes and some of the most coveted aromas of exotic cannabis strains. It turns out that some of the most popular terpenes showed essentially zero correlation with the exotic aromas they have been thought to produce. Therefore, we can’t look at terpenes the way we have previously. If you want to consume cannabis based on certain flavors, terpenes are not the answer.
Terpenes have been heralded as the key aroma compounds in cannabis, but in reality they’re not nearly as important in dictating the unique aromatic qualities of different cannabis cultivars. They provide the backdrop that is the characteristic aroma of cannabis, but do not drive many of the uniquely exotic aromas in most cases.
Flavorants, the non-terpenoid compounds found in low concentrations in cannabis resin, are the true drivers in many of the exotic aromas in cannabis.
The latest insights into cannabis chemistry provided by the Abstrax study have unveiled a new frontier in our understanding of the plant's aromatic complexity. While terpenes have long been celebrated as the primary contributors to the distinctive scents of cannabis, this research suggests that the spotlight should now shift to flavorants, a category of compounds found in low concentrations in cannabis resin.
Three new flavorant classes, which are tropicannasulfur, cannasulfur, and heterocyclic compounds, play a pivotal role in shaping the diverse and exotic aromas of different cannabis cultivars.
The lack of correlation between some popular terpenes and the coveted aromas of exotic strains highlights the need for a more nuanced understanding of the plant's chemistry. The study not only expands our knowledge of the chemical composition of cannabis resin but also underscores the importance of continued scientific exploration to unravel the intricacies of this versatile plant.
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