Terpenes are an important part of the marijuana experience. Over a hundred different terpene compounds are what make weed taste like weed.
Back in the day, this wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Remember how your grandpa’s weed tended to have an overpowering grass or skunky smell to it?
However today, some marijuana strains smell so delicious that you could actually imagine eating them in a fresh-baked pie. Better terpene profiles are responsible for this.
As growers and seed engineers learn more about them, marijuana just gets better and better.
More importantly, some science-minded cannabis lovers have delved into what terpenes actually do when you consume them. They are beginning to think that terpenes deliver a more well-rounded high as a result of what they call the “entourage effect.”
This effect would explain why certain strains may have a completely different “personality” to their high, even if they have a near-identical CBD or THC content.
Because terpenes are so important to the smell, taste and experience of marijuana, people are determined to get the best terpene profile possible out of their chosen strains.
Some are even finding clever ways to add terpenes to products that may not normally have them. By adding things like terpene drops to edibles and extracts, you can improve their flavor as well — and maybe even their high.
Ready to become a terpene expert? Learn how to get the best terpene profile through strain selection and terpene drops.
What the Heck Are Terpenes, Anyways?
Brace yourself, because we’re gonna get technical for a second here.
Terpenes are hydrocarbons. This means they are organic compounds made up mostly of hydrogen and carbon.
This chemical makeup is what makes the compounds oily. That is the reason that many people refer to pure terpene extracts and terpene drops as “oils.”
Plants make terpenes for a variety of reasons.
For conifer trees, like the spruce and pine tree, terpenes help make up the sticky, piney resin, giving the resin a “goopy” texture that helps plants defend against insects.
The strong scent of these terpenes also repels bugs and anything else that wants to munch on the tree.
In fact, some insect larvae purposefully eat resinous tree leaves just so they can store up terpenes.
They use these concentrated terpenes to defend themselves. When insects like the lime butterfly caterpillar feel threatened, they unfurl colorful yet stinky antlers called “Osmeterium” soaked in terpenes.
Terpenes do more than help make Pine-Sol, though.
They can also express delicate scents and flavors unique to certain plants. “Limonene,” for instance, gives citrus its trademark zesty smell. Hops, like the kind used to make beer, have their own signature compound called “myrcene.”
Types of Terpenes in Marijuana
Cannabis plants can make all kinds of terpenes based on genetics, growth conditions, and handling.
They are made by trichomes in cannabis flowers, the same organs that create THC, CBD and other compounds.
Put simply: trichomes are flavor factories that make all the things we love about marijuana.
The best terpene profiles come from plants given the right care and attention to keep their trichomes producing throughout the late stages of the growth cycle.
The main types of terpenes found in cannabis all have unique flavors and chemical qualities, like:
- Hoppy, earthy
- Burns at 198°C
- Piney, tree scents
- Burns at 155°C
- Floral, aromatic herbs, spices
- Burns at 198°C
- Pepper, basil, rich mahogany
- Burns at 160°C
- Musk, cloves, bay leaves
- Burns at 168°C
- Citrus, lemon
These six compounds are just some of the 120+ terpenes isolated and identified in marijuana strains. Other similar terpenes can offer more creative aroma variations or combinations between other terpenes to create distinct effects.
How to Get the Best Terpene Profile From Marijuana
Getting the best terpene profile from buds involves careful treatment.
The wrong trimming, curing and handling can lead to damaged trichomes. Therefore producing less-pure terpene profiles.
Harvesting buds too early, for instance, can mean that the trichomes have not yet expressed their full range of terpenes.
Exposing dried herbs to too much heat or over-drying them can also damage the more delicate ones.
In fact, drying plants at all can remove tons of terpenes.
Kenneth Morrow, author of the Handbook of Essential Oils, says “as much as 60% of a plant’s terpene content is lost during the drying process.”
That effect is why fresh rosemary and other herbs have a stronger flavor than the dried seasonings you buy in shakers.
With certain types of cannabis concentrate preparation methods, terpenes can also become damaged or completely destroyed.
For example, many types of butane honey oil don’t completely break down terpenes within the solvent.
In addition, preparing edibles at too high of a temperature can also bake out terpenes, leaving some great smells in the kitchen but not-so-great tastes in the final product.
Getting around this requires some careful planning and a bit of creativity…
One method flash freezes buds as soon as they are harvested, locking in all of the live compounds. This preserves a richer range of terpenes, creating more potent psychoactive effects and better flavor profiles.
Next, these frozen buds are put into high-pressure presses that basically squeeze all the resins out, including as many terpenes as possible. The resulting “live resin” concentrate then has a better taste, smell and high.
Even without these methods, plenty of marijuana strains have really amazing terpene profiles.
However, due to the sheer variety and personal preferences, no “perfect” profile exists.
Plants treated well and bred from quality seeds tend to have amazing terpene profiles, so it really just depends on what your preferences are.
What About Terpene Drops?
Terpene drops are created from pure extracts of uncured marijuana buds. Extraction methods vary, but the cheap stuff will generally use a type of solvent like alcohol, butane or isobutyl acetate.
More expensive terpene drops come from special extraction methods, similar to the processes for manufacturing perfume and other oils.
These methods are called “short path” and “long path” steam distillation. They have more control over the distillation, like how water evaporates from alcohol in order to make it more concentrated.
Terpene drops can give you a way to add flavor to cannabis concentrates, including dabs, vape oil cartridges, edibles and more.
You can also use terpene drops like you would normal essential oils, helping you relax or enjoy other aromatherapy effects.
Get the Best Terpene Profile, Terpene Drops, and More…
By knowing the ins and outs of terpenes, you can know what to look for when searching for higher-quality buds, concentrates and other products. Arming your stash with terpene oil also allows you to transform nearly anything into a treat for the senses.
Research when ordering from your favorite online weed dispensary or local shop. Enjoy all the terpenes your plant took the care to make for you.
For specific examples of strains that fall under certain terpene profiles (like sweet, fruity, and diesel), check out these weed flavors and categories!