The great terp debate: cannabis-derived terpenes or botanical?
When it comes to cannabis flowers, one thing is true: they are pungent. Whether cannabis consumption is a daily ritual or a wafting scent from the neighbors’ yard each evening– many people recognize the penetrating smell of pot. Most of these aromatics can be credited to cannabis-derived terpenes, a large group of compounds that grow naturally in common cannabis plants.
Terpenes also grow in other herbs and flowers. Linalool is famously found in lavender, and beta-caryophyllene can be found in black pepper. A large portion of essential oils are actually made up of terpenes. In cannabis plants, terps grow in complex configurations to create that unmistakable cannabis aroma.
Terps are responsible for more than just smell and taste. They serve as a way for plants to communicate with their environment. These complex little molecules can even be found in some insects, like soldier beetles that emit terpenes from their frontal glands to fight attackers.
Plants sometimes use terpenes as a defense too. A plant being eaten by a deer, for example, might grow back with a new terpene that deer don’t like the taste of to inhibit further snacking.
In the cannabis space, there’s a belief that the compounds also play a role in product effects. However, there are other camps who stand behind botanical options for scalability and continuity.
Cannabis-derived terpenes vs botanical
There are two camps when it comes to terpenes found in cannabis products like vape carts and edibles. Some consumers swear by cannabis-derived terpenes, while others preach the scalability and consistency of botanical-derived terps—and there’s merit to both arguments.
Many believe that cannabis terpenes are at play in the entourage effect. This is a theory that cannabis effects are heightened when THC and CBD are joined by other organic compounds derived from cannabis.
“Cannabis flowers’ aroma is made of more than just terpenes alone, usually the result of a very complex mixture of terpenes, esters, ketones, and more aromatic compounds that create the overall effect, taste, and smell of a specific strain,” said Nadav Eyal, CEO and co-founder of Israeli research firm and botanical terpene company Eybna Technologies.
Some cannabis companies start the product formulation process with a distillate that has high amounts of one cannabinoid like THC. Companies like Eybna add botanical terpenes back in to build specific cannabis strains. This company extracts compounds from safely-sourced plants and flowers like rosemary, lemons, and lavender.
As Eyal mentioned, terpenes and cannabinoids are just two pieces of a puzzle. But all the pieces (esters, flavonoids, etc.) are required to fully engage the entourage effect.
Perhaps this is why some argue that cannabis-derived terpenes create a more high-quality cannabis product.
Terpene sourcing for cannabis products
Stiiizy is one cannabis company that uses cannabis-derived terpenes in its vape pods. The brand grows house strains and uses an extraction process to preserve the naturally-occurring terpenes.
Product Development Director Jarad Lambourne recently connected with GreenState via email. Stiiizy customers have reported a robust entourage effect and authentic cannabis strain flavor from cannabis terpene products. This evidence is anecdotal, but experience fuels the belief that terpenes should only come from weed.
“Cannabis-derived terpenes are taken directly from the cannabis plant, producing a taste that’s more natural and true to the flavor of cannabis flower,” said Lambourne. “Many of our customers want to taste the plant in their smoke experience, which is why we produce pods using cannabis-derived terpenes and reference the terminology on the packaging, so people know exactly what they’re getting.”
Many consumers believe there is an experiential difference between cannabis and botanically-derived products. This nuance could come down to formulation. Eyal is confident that the botanical experience matches, or is more enjoyable and consistent, than cannabis-derived options. Brands just need a complete range of safely-harvest and carefully formulated terpenes,
“If done properly, botanically derived terpenes will usually have a more fresh, crisp, and appealing smell than cannabis-derived. Cannabis-derived terpenes are often being degraded in the extracting process and contain more oxidized metabolites than botanical terpenes do,” explained Eyal.
He continued, “If botanically derived formulation includes the full range of terpenes, then the final user experience of botanical can be the same, with better consistency over time.”
Benefits of botanicals
Consistency seems to be the main benefit of formulating with botanical terps. Cannabis plants can be finicky by growing differently or producing a slightly altered terpene profile from harvest to harvest.
Translating that into a product that promises the same experience time after time can be difficult. Eyal asserts that botanical terpenes can solve this continuity problem.
“The chemical profiles in cannabis plants can vary based on a range of factors, including growing conditions and harvest times. When extracted as a whole from the cannabis plant, these will have a different composition from batch to batch,” said Eyal. “This consistency is crucial for cannabis brands looking to reach scalability and have control of their products’ aroma, flavor, and effects for the long term.”
Scalability is the second advantage of having a reliable terpene product. Scaling up the production of vape pods or carts made with cannabis-derived terpenes may require a brand to expand cultivation and extraction operations. But a company using botanical terpenes would need to purchase more from its wholesale provider. The investment is much smaller for brands using botanicals. Basically, there’s a benefit to both kinds of terpenes.
“When it comes to the purest taste of the plant and really tasting its robust flavors of cannabis, CDT provides that taste. It’s a reflection of the plant’s identity and keeps true to its profile. Botanical terpenes also have their place in the cannabis market, but it’s best-suited for products that are hard to grow specific strains for, and you want those notes,” Lambourne concluded.
So which terpenes are better?
Though botanical terpenes are touted as scalable and reliable, the diehard cannabis-derived fans will probably remain steadfast in their preferences. As the international cannabis industry develops, research-focused terpene companies like Eybna will continue expanding botanical terpene offerings. For example, the new Live+ line uses hemp-derived terpenes stabilized with botanicals for a tailor-made, consistent product.
A high concentration of terpenes can lead to more flavor and could even bolster the coveted entourage effect. But a heavy hand with botanical terpenes creates an overt flavor that’s hard to stomach. With safety-focused, science-backed botanical options, it may be possible to craft cannabis products that consumers love. However, if that’s not the vibe–cannabis-derived products aren’t going anywhere. Much like the world of beer, there will always be a place for craft brews alongside commercial options.