Terpene Overview

Cannabis and hemp terpenes matter. Indica and Sativa are not actual compounds that are found in the plant. Those two terms generally describe the plant shape and its preferred growing conditions and terroir for a given cultivar of cannabis ("strain"). Terpenes (and terpenoids) are also one of the few naturally-occurring compounds that are tested for in laboratories. 

Terpenes are molecular compounds found naturally in cannabis and hemp, and along with cannabinoids, can vary significantly among cultivars. They usually make up less than 4% of cured cannabis and hemp flower, but their contributions to the aroma and flavor are significant.

Terpenes are found in almost ALL plants, and we know that individually, different terpenes can have different effects on people. Our terpene dictionary page has 36 of the most common terpenes found in cannabis and hemp, their reported effects, aromas and tastes, other sources, and boiling points. We organized them into "flavor groups" based on their dominant aroma and taste on the Terpene Flavor Groups page.


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This is certainly not all the terpenes found in The Amazing Flower, but it covers 36 of the most frequently found terpenes in COA's (Certificates of Analysis test results) for cured cannabis and hemp flower.

Here's an infographic that shows 25 popular cannabis terpenes ordered by their reported effect of 'Uplifting' to 'Calmimg'. The terpene colors can then be used to create a terpene profile, or colorful terpene spectrum for each product.

Click the image to go to the poster product page for more info.

 

Quantitative values for individual terpenes in products are not always on the product label. Some producers make the terpene test results available in online, so you have to work a little. Product labels and packaging really should contain quantitative information about ALL of the active and added ingredients in a product so patients & consumers can make more informed decisions...and most importantly have more control over their own experience and quality of life.

Below is a visualization method that the Emerald Cup has adopted. Their chart includes 17 terpenes, but omits a few that we see often in analysis reports. We added these few to our list. This colorful, graphic method makes it simple to quickly understand the terpenes actually in the cannabis or hemp product in your hand. Take a look and tell us what you think.


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This is the chart for a flower sample that is dominant in Limonene and Caryophyllene, and has a total terpene content of 2.8%. The total terpene content can be misleading without context. The lab could have tested for only 40 terpenes and 2.8% is good. But if the lab tested for 160 terpenes and the total is only 2.8%, that's NOT very good. 

The actual amounts of the top 5 to 10 terpenes is the most important terpene information to look for. 

Cannabis Terpene Bar Chart Example

The next flower sample is dominant in Myrcene and Caryophyllene and has a total terpene content of 3.5%. 

Terpene Chart Example 2

IF the terpenes always occur in this same order (and color) on a chart, just a quick glance at the two charts above and you immediately know a great deal about the two products. They clearly show the differences in the two terpene profiles. Note: the scale (0 to 1% or 2%) should ideally be constant, so you can actually SEE the total terpene content by how much color (terpenes) is in the chart at a quick glance.

Here's one way that we like to visualize terpenes. We combine the top 5-10 terpenes into a stacked, or combined bar chart and put it on a small label. By assigning each terpene a specific color, we create a Terpene Spectrum for each product:

A label with a Terpene Spectrum bar chart of a cannabis flower blend.

 

Using this terpene spectrum makes it easier to visually compare different cultivars' terpene profiles:

Here are 3 cultivars we purchased in Florida. Putting their profiles together helps users compare the products:
3 vastly different terpene profiles shown in stacked horizontal bar chart form.
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Inherent terpene inconsistency may be why some retailers are reluctant to adopt this kind of labeling and instead stick with strain names, and the indica, sativa, hybrid labels. But there are a few retailers and brands in more mature markets that already have similar systems to label detailed amounts of terpenes as well as cannabinoids.

We believe in full active ingredient labeling, and we will always keep pushing retailers and growers to supply it. If patients and consumers keep asking for this type of labeling when they make a purchase, the industry will eventually make a change. So keep nagging them! We do all the time.

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