Researchers are currently studying the therapeutic effects of terpenic odor
Terpenes are essential oils aromatics found in all cannabis strains, including hemp. But, as the synthetic terpenes industry is poised to experience exponential growth, what are the ramifications for the medicinal nature of this plant? Despite what appears on the marketing materials of terpenes producers, the medical evidence behind the smell of cannabis is only at the very beginning.
Thanks to decades of research, there is no doubt that terpenes have interesting therapeutic properties. It's also one of the main reasons people fall in love with cannabis. Each strain (or cultivar) produces a unique blend of scents, often described in the name of their strain. For example, Sour Diesel, Gelato and Wedding Cake. However, could the smell of cannabis contribute to the medicinal properties of medical cannabis? or is it just an idea launched by companies looking to make a profit?
Many organizations are banking on the medical potential of the smell of cannabis. Consumers want a flavor profile, and the industry is responding. But what is the scientific basis for this idea?
The development of the terpenes industry
As the cannabis industry grows, it has introduced consumers to new strains, new taste profiles and new products. This ultimately resulted in a shift in consumer preferences. Instead of high THC, a new wave of consumers want flavorful flavors. This is forcing breeding and cultivation programs around the world to adapt.
With the new demand for flavors, the concentrate industry has also had to pivot. Traditionally, extracts were designed to create super potent concentrations of cannabinoids. Unfortunately, they did not protect the aromas. No one ever said that butane hash oil (BHO) tastes delicious, but it has what THC consumers want. With the new demand for terpenes, extractors have had to adjust processes to protect these valuable compounds, or reintroduce them in post-production. For example, live resins and full spectrum terpene extracts (HTFSEs) are popular new concentrates that seek to preserve terpenes.
What does reintroducing terpenes in post-production mean? Traditional extractions (living resin and HTFSE excluded) destroy most (if not all) of volatile compounds, such as terpenes. Producers are now purchasing botanical terpenes that match the profile of the original strain and putting them back into the post-extraction formula.
Botanical terpenes come from natural sources. They may smell like cannabis, but don't necessarily come from cannabis. It would cost an astronomical price. Instead, terpenes companies use essential oils of citrus, lavender, and other cheap sources to replace those found in cannabis. It's the exact same compound, but it comes from more affordable materials. Although they are not synthetic in the true sense of the word, they are in this process. This is because it recreates the original terpenes to mimic the aromatic profile of the original strain. But they do not for all that originate from it and are therefore not "authentic".
Thanks to the growing demand for big flavorings, an entire industry has grown around the analysis, extraction and sale of these “synthetic” cannabis terpenes. In 2019, this global market was already worth $ 510 million, according to a New Research assessment.
Do “synthetic” cannabis terpenes have medicinal value?
In 2019, Plant Science has published “Terpenes in Cannabis sativa“, Exploring current claims about the therapeutic value of cannabis-based terpenes. The authors concluded that the only evidence for the effect of terpenes in cannabis on humans is that different strains cause different scent impressions. And this is what can affect consumer preference ”.
In addition, "other characteristics attributed to terpenes in cannabis products, including medicinal properties, remain for the time being outside the space of scientific evidence."
Terpenes have been studied but not the smell of cannabis
In truth, there is a lot of scientific evidence for the value of individual terpenes, but researchers have yet to get to the bottom of it. Most importantly, the combinations of terpenes or the combinations of terpenes and cannabinoids, which are found in most cannabis products, are little explored.
As Ethan B. Russo, neurologist and director of research and development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, said, "We are only just beginning to understand the therapeutic potential of cannabis." Which, as he explained, also means that "we haven't taken the necessary steps to actually harness the abilities of some of these minor cannabinoids, especially in conjunction with optimized terpenoid profiles."