How Cannabis is Building a Marketplace for Terpenes

by | Jun 19, 2019

Written by Eric Van Buskirk

While terpenes are not nearly as well-known as cannabis' primary compounds tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the pace of their popularization is nothing to sneeze at. With little more than minor medical research and word of mouth, terpenes have gone from obscure natural compounds to being featured at Kardashian family baby showers. The most exciting part? It's taken less than a decade for cannabis terpenes to complete their meteoric rise into the mainstream, and emerge as the next big thing in the cannabis industry.

A Quick Round-Up: What do we know about terpenes so far?

Terpenes are naturally-occurring compounds present in practically all plant life. Since their discovery in 1887 by German chemist Otto Wallach, we've learned much more than their unique structures and five-carbon isoprene composition. Terpenes are responsible for the flavors and aromas of flowers, spices, fruit, and vegetables – as well as the respective health effects of each.

In 1998, Israeli organic chemists S. Ben Shabbat and Rafael Mechoulam coined the term “Entourage Effect” to describe a process in which the over two hundred terpenes present in cannabis synergize with CBD to effectively amplify its effects. This breakthrough led to the establishment of the influence of terpenes over the endocannabinoid system in scientific literature. This discovery allowed medical researchers to completely reimagine the practical possibilities of terpene use in contemporary medicine.

Today terpenes are used in an ever-increasing range of topical and consumable products. In this post, we go over the evolution of the terpene industry; not only in terms of public perception but in the changing methodology used by terpene product manufacturers as well.

Creating an Industry: Terpene Products & Manufacturing Methods Through the Years

It's worth noting that terpenes possess a variety of medicinal and therapeutic benefits on their own, independent of other plant compounds. As such, they'd become increasingly sought out by the health and wellness industry – so much so that terpenes are now considered an industry of their own. Below are the most common methods of terpene product manufacture, in chronological order by popularization.

  1. Isolation is the most common process used in the manufacture of terpene oil, isolate, and health supplement products. There are natural and synthetic methods for isolating terpenes; while perfumers used animal fat and panes of glass to extract terpenes from flower petals centuries ago, today's methods are much more sophisticated. Common isolation processes include distillation, CO2 extraction, and vacuum vapor isolation.
  2. Flavor Infusion is a method in which terpene oils, isolates, or even specific cannabis strains are used to enhance the flavor experience of food and drinks. Today this is done with everything from tea and alcoholic beverages to pastries, steaks and even ice cream. In legal cannabis states like California and Colorado, taverns and restaurants are opening up all over major cities, with menus offering a range of terpene-flavored items.
  3. Topical Infusion is the practice of adding the benefits of specific terpenes to topical products such as tinctures, balms, and lotions. Terpenes are an especially attractive choice in the beauty industry, as they not only impart health-positive benefits but distinct aromas and fragrances as well.

Revolutionizing the World of Natural Medicine

While the terpene industry is already incredibly vibrant and fast-paced, both pioneers and investors believe this is only the beginning. As medical research continues to improve our understanding of this modern marvel of natural medicine, the terpene industry is likely to continue evolving with it. These advances will bring us not only a more excellent range of health products and supplements but a higher societal standard of living as well.