Soapbox

Terpene Reconstitution: This Oak Barrel Is Not Your Answer

By Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand
3 Comments

Quality cannabis concentrates should retain natural terpenes, not commercially available terpenes.

I’m not much of an oenophile but I recently came across a very interesting set of documentaries about sommeliers, which are experts on the science of wine and, most importantly, how wines are to be paired with food. What struck me as the most fascinating topic pertained to how mistakes made in the vineyard could be concealed by the barrel in which the wine is stored. For example, if the weather conditions throughout the season had been particularly tumultuous, and you end with sub-optimal grapes that are lacking complexity, then you can compensate for this by aging the wine in a variety of different oak barrels to enhance the flavor. To me, this is synonymous with the way that I’ve seen cannabis concentrates being handled, particularly with respect to terpenes. More specifically, it has recently become somewhat fashionable to supplement cannabis extracts with commercially available terpenes to reestablish an aroma profile that is most representative of the original stock material. Taken one step further, I have even heard of hemp extracts being supplemented with terpenes to achieve a particular strain phenotype, which I cannot imagine pans out very well. In my opinion, this is a very bad idea for two reasons:

One, cannabis is incredibly complex and can contain over 100 different terpene molecules, which can collectively act as anti-inflammatories (Chen et al., 2014), anti- microbial agents (Russo, 2011), sleep aids (Silva et al., 2007), bronchodilators (Falk et al., 1990), and even insulin regulators (Kim et al., 2014). So let’s say that you get your stock material tested and the laboratory screens the product for the top 25 most-prevalent terpenes: alpha- and beta-pinenes, linalool, limonene, beta-myrcene, etc. At that point you utilize this information to supplement your extraction product with these terpenes. However, you still may be missing information about other important molecules such as trans-2-pinanol, alpha-bisabolene and alloaromadendrene that are produced at extremely low, yet therapeutically relevant concentrations in the plant. So essentially with the limited information of the terpenes actually present in your stock material, you would be trying to rebuild a puzzle with only a small fraction of the pieces. Even Ben Affleck’s character in the movie ‘The Accountant’ can’t effectively pull this off.

An example of some commercially available terpenes on the market

Secondarily, not all commercially available terpenes are created equal. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have decades of experience vetting the quality of terpenes currently on the market; however, the several times that I have thrown samples into the GC-FID (Gas Chromatograph equipped with a Flame Ionization Detector) I have been unpleasantly surprised. Expecting beta-caryophyllene and detecting caryophyllene oxide is frustrating and in my opinion, such inaccuracies are wrong and should not be accepted as colloquialisms.

The moral of the story here is that in order to produce premium cannabis extracts/concentrates, the stock material needs to be handled with extreme care in order to retain the bouquet of terpenes in their natural ratios. This is incredibly important given the volatile nature of terpenes and their seemingly ephemeral, yet vital, nature in cannabis. Thankfully in this bourgeoning industry there are a number of extraction professionals who are delicately navigating the balance between art and science to produce premium products that are incredibly terpene-rich. However, for every alchemyst there is also someone trying to circumvent nature and while as a scientist I am inherently in favor of experimentation, I am also an admirer of natural processes.


Comments

  1. Captain Fogg

    Hmm, I’m not a disinterested party but I feel I should speak up a little here.

    So the USP-based terpene profiles might not have all of minor elements of a cannabis essential oil. Is that a “very bad idea”? To me it might mean there is extra value in cannabis terpenes, but hardly a “very bad idea” to use USP terpenes.

    And the other reason is that some manufacturers might make mistakes or use substitutions? Sounds like a quality control issue that any reputable company should be taking care of, but that should not be an indictment on the technique in general. Most companies provide testing results, and remember that terpene profiles are never static – light and heat oxidize and break down terpenes. For instance, we find that a significant amount of beta-caryophyllene turns into caryophyllene oxide within a couple of months of bottling our products, even when kept dark and cool.

    Cannabis-based terpene profiles are a high-quality bespoke product that cannot be easily scaled or produced at all in areas where cannabis remains illegal. They do provide a complete, true and accurate terpene profile of the original strain, but being concentrates, can also contain impurities and other undesirable chemicals.

    USP terpene profiles are produced from pure isolates, so they can be produced and reproduced consistently and reliably. They are much less expensive than cannabis terpenes are are much more suited for food, aromatherapy and other higher volume uses than cannabis terpenes. As research is done into terpenes in cannabis, USP terpene ratio producers can add more to their repertoire as more terpenes are discovered and associated with cannabis, and also have the option to create entirely new and novel designer profiles that provide targeted effects.

    Two different products. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

    1. Zacariah Hildenbrand

      Hello Captain Fogg,
      Thank you for your correspondence. You hit on an important point: USP terpenes may be the most viable on the market. However, not everyone who is performing terpene reconstitution is using supplemental terpenes of that grade, so that’s one problem. Secondarily, most folks, based on what I have observed, are only reconstituting with two or three of the major terpenes without considering a majority of the lesser concentrated molecules. Lastly, during supplementation, the concept of recreating the natural stoichiometric terpene ratios is something that is very difficult to do. While terpenes are incredibly therapeutic molecules, more of them is not necessarily better (in toxicology it is often the dose that is the poison). As such, failing to recreate the natural terpene ratios will result in a failure to recreate the targeted aroma profile, and could even render a bland concentrate/extract even less valuable both therapeutically and financially. Collectively, it is my opinion that extractions experts should make it their primary goal to preserve the natural terpenes throughout the extraction process so that terpene reconstitution is not a perceived requirement on the backend.

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