Anyone who has ever read my blog knows that I am a BIG proponent of terpenes. I know the importance of these intricate constituents of cannabis and have been spreading the word about them since 2013. What you may not know is I am an Aromatherapist and have been studying essential oils, including terpenes since 2006. My mentor was Connie Henry, RN, Certified Integrative Aromatherapist, Certified Professional Herbalist, as well as mental health and substance abuse nurse. When first mentoring with Connie, she encouraged me to complete my aromatherapy certification with the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy, so I did and I continue to study essential oils, especially terpenes in relationship to cannabis medicine. In other words, I’ve really been deep into this for a while now. Since this is really an opinion piece I thought that perhaps my background may give a little more validity to what I have to say and to explain why I may have come up with the conclusions that I have.
While studying essential oils, the biggest emphasis of all was placed on safety. We were told over and over to only use certified pure, natural, organic oils when we were using the oils therapeutically. We were to know the origins of the oils and advised to purchase oils from reputable sellers. Back in 2006 there really weren’t very many reputable sellers and there were a lot of cheap, adulterated, impure oils on the market. I am starting to revisit this scenario recently with the upsurge of terpenes being added to cannabis medicine. We must be careful what we buy and how we use it.
Essential oils are the lifeblood of plants. Aromatic essential oils contain terpenes, and can also contain a host of other organic hydrocarbons, some very helpful and some rather dangerous. (Think poisonous plants.) To produce essential oils, plants (plant parts, roots flowers, sap, bark or fruit) may be steam distilled with water, removed by chemical extraction, or be can expressed. Plant terpenes may be captured, separated and isolated during or after this process, (except for plants like citrus that are expressed much like olive oil or sunflower oil).
Constituents of lemon essential oil: limonene (approximately 70%), terpinene, pinene, sabinene, myrcene, citol, octanol, nonanol, citronellal, bergamotene, (and small amounts of others depending on species and where it is grown).
Terpenes and terpene alcohols have finally become important in the cannabis world. They are not only responsible for the aroma of the plant, but also act as the modulators of the high you attain, (indica or sativa or combination of both). They each have their own individual medicinal qualities as well, and almost always work together to create these qualities. Terpenes are why different strains of cannabis work well for some illnesses or conditions better that others. If you removed the terpenes, all cannabis strains would basically be the same, varying only by the cannabinoid content.
Constituents of hemp (cannabis sativa) essential oil: α-pinene (from 9.5 to 16.3%), myrcene (from 14.6 to 20.9%), β-caryophyllene (from 10.3 to 24.6%) as main constituents followed by α-pinene, limonene, trans ocimene, terpinolene and α-humulene.
Capturing the essential oils from cannabis and isolating their terpenes is not a simple task, nor is it very cost effective. This is why labs are extracting essential oils and terpenes from other plants that have some of the same terpenes as cannabis. They isolate terpenes, and sell them for us to add to cannabis products that have less than good flavor or no flavor at all. Even though these isolated terpenes may carry over some of their medicinal properties to the cannabis product they are added to, they do NOT have the entourage effect that is present in the plant they came from, and they don’t even come close to producing the effect of cannabis terpenes.
Because terpenes smell so wonderful, people have a tendency to go overboard and use too much when adding it to their cannabis medicine. Not good, for a few reasons. A few years back when vaping oils became popular we were all told it was safe to use carrier products, (like propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, MCT or medium chain triglycerides), and now we are finding out that inhaling vapor from these products isn’t very good for you. So now, (with the 70% cap on THC in cannabis concentrates in New Mexico, terpenes are being used to dumb down or dilute the concentrates, as well as giving them aroma and flavor when aroma and flavor are bad or absent. As aromatherapists we are taught that less is more. Adding more terpenes does not mean better medicine, period. Terpenes, other than the ones present in the whole plant, are not really meant to be used through smoke or vape inhalation, especially on a regular basis. Just because something is labeled “food grade” does not mean you are supposed to smoke or vape it all day long, or perhaps, even at all. Essential oils have many constituents in them, and terpenes are just part of the mix, so when the terpenes are isolated, hopefully they don’t bring over any other things during the process. But how do we know? We don’t. There is a whole lot we don’t know about this right now.
Am I saying don’t use terpenes or products with added terpenes? Not even. What I am trying to get across is to use caution. Use less, use less often, be sure of your source or the source of your manufacturer, and be aware that just because a product is pure and natural, doesn’t mean it is good for you to use, especially regularly. We are in an unknown and unregulated area here, folks. It would be wonderful if more labs were producing a full spectrum of cannabis derived terpenes, and we could afford it. But no. Act appropriately, and know what is in your medicine!