CBD Terpenes: The Story Behind the Scent

The CBD industry shows meteoric growth, with some estimates as high as 51% compound annual growth for the next decade. When an industry grows that fast, though, the terms that spring up around it can intimidate you.

Even the jargon on the packages can be a little confusing. Picking up a CBD product invites questions like, “What are CBD terpenes?” and “What makes these products different?”

If you think it seems like technobabble, you’re not alone. We’ll work to demystify terpenes, the most common non-CBD ingredient in CBD vape carts and other products, in this article.

What Are CBD Terpenes?

Terpenes consist of many of the compounds that give plants their distinct smell and flavor. Some terpenes play other roles in a plant’s life cycle, including helping it rebuild after damage or deterring predators.

If you’ve ever smelled lavender, the smell came from the lavender’s terpenes. Ever used green cleaning products? Those smells and even some of their functions come from terpenes.

Cannabis terpenes work the same way as any other terpene. They include the non-cannabinoid products of the plant.

All that is nice, but leaves just one question: why bother? 

Why Do I Want Terpenes?

Some of the terpenes in the cannabis plant have an effect on humans as well. While research has only just started due to the recent easing of regulation of cannabis, studies suggest that CBD’s health benefits improve with terpenes. People call this compounding action the entourage effect.

In the entourage effect, the main actor (CBD) brings along its friends (the terpenes and other compounds) for the ride. Some of these affect the body, enabling better absorption of CBD or enhanced health benefits from the terpenes. Others clamp down on the potential negative effects of cannabinoids.

Terpenes account for some of the differences between different strains of cannabis as well. A particular breed can have elevated or reduced levels of specific terpenes, affecting both flavor and specific effects.

How Do Terpenes Get Into CBD Products?

Terpenes come from the cannabis plant the same way cannabidiol does. During the same process used to separate CBD from the rest of the plant, other desired compounds and parts can also be extracted.

The amount of terpenes extracted from the plant depends on the extraction method. Most methods of extracting CBD will destroy some or all other materials in the plant, or at least render them useless. Easier methods usually destroy more materials.

Manufacturers of perfumes and essential oils have been extracting terpenes from plants for centuries. Tried and true methods involve steam or boiling water. These methods reliably extract terpenes, but only extract small amounts.

Modern approaches use carbon dioxide or solvents like hexane and butane. These processes use vacuum chambers to extract CBD and terpenes at a lower temperature, making it easier to preserve terpenes.

Is Terpene Extraction Safe?

If the presence of “solvents” in your product worries you, check out the product’s certificate of analysis. The best CBD carts and other products make their key information available in the package or online. This will tell you whether a product contains any residual solvents, heavy metals, or other contaminants.

How Do I Know the Product Has Terpenes?

Conveniently, that same certificate of analysis that will tell you about the potential contaminants will also tell you about terpenes. CBD vape cartridges and other products will often list these ingredients as terpenes, but a certificate of analysis can provide more detail.

The part you’d be looking for, the terpene profile, assesses the level of common terpenes in the tested product. Results in a certificate of analysis show up as a percentage, number, or parts per million.

Note that it doesn’t include every possible terpene in the cannabis plant. If a CBD vaping product lists terpenes but the certificate of analysis says nothing, it just means the terpenes tested for didn’t make it in.

If all that detail makes your head spin, try looking for an extraction method on the package. Products with terpenes will refer to a “broad spectrum” or “full spectrum” extraction method as part of the manufacturing process. These both indicate that the product was made in a way that retains more terpenes.

Do All CBD Products Have Terpenes?

Not all CBD products offer terpenes. CBD isolates consist only of CBD, with all other ingredients removed. Some production processes use CBD isolate from another manufacturer rather than performing extraction internally.

What Are Terpenoids?

Terpenoids and terpenes sound similar because they’re similar types of chemicals. While related, however, they do differ.

Scientists call the types of chemicals that include terpenes hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons, like the name suggests, consist of only hydrogen and carbon atoms. They tend to have a greater effect on biology and show up in industries like food and cosmetics. 

After undergoing oxidation, terpenes can change shape at the molecular level, becoming terpenoids. Oxidation usually happens when a plant dries out. Terpenoids have been part of herbal remedies and aromatic compounds for a long time.

To remember the distinction, think of terpenes as wet and terpenoids as dry. 

Shop Smart

Now that you know how to answer the question, “What are CBD terpenes,” you can shop smarter when buying a CBD product. Whether you’re looking for oil, vape cartridges, isolates, or gummies, knowing how to read the ingredients list helps you protect yourself as a consumer.

Next time you go shopping for CBD, try taking a look at the certificate of analysis or the ingredients list. Maybe you’ll spot something you didn’t before.

Ramone

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