Gassy and pungent or fruity and sweet, dank herb can really offer the senses a scintillating experience. But when it comes to the reason why certain cannabis cultivars smell and taste the way they do, the truth is in the terpenes.
Terpenes are a diverse group of compounds produced by a variety of plants. Thousands of terpenes are found in nature, but there appear to be a select number present in cannabis, where they also play a huge part in the varying effects each unique strain offers.
Puffin Farms — a Washington-based, Clean Green Certified, sungrown, adult-use cannabis company about to enter their seventh grow season — takes terps seriously.
“We only select strains [to cultivate] that have fragrant terpene profiles,” said Jade Stefano, co-founder and CEO of Puffin Farms.
Also a board-certified naturopathic physician, Stefano insists the team personally tests any potential cultivars prior to agreeing to produce them.
“We have to love how the aroma comes across, as well as how it tastes when we smoke it,” she said.
The company also works to preserve the robust terpene profiles of the strains they grow, gaining a fan base for their wide product catalogue, which includes bud, rosin, bubble hash, “trifecta” joints dipped in CO2 oil and rolled in kief or bubble hash, and their patented EVFO (short for extra virgin flower oil) concentrate.
“Our focus has been on terpenes ever since Puffin was started,” Director of Extracts Jeff Wilhoit said. “They’re the number one thing we strive to keep in their natural state. They’re just as important as cannabinoids to modulate your high.”
Stefano is quick to point out that just because an individual cultivar contains certain terpenes, does not mean their outcomes will be the same from strain to strain.
“Terpenes synergize in different ways depending on ratios [within the plant], so you may not get an expected effect,” she said, noting that the entourage effect, or the understanding that the compounds present in cannabis work best in synergy with each other, is the true explanation for how strains work.
“You’re never going to get that beautiful, complicated flavor from an attempt at recreating a cannabis strain.”
For example, if you see limonene present, you may assume it’s an uplifting strain, but the presence of other terps may actually make its effects more relaxing. Additionally, every person’s physiology is unique, meaning individual results may vary.
Some producers are also using plant-derived terpenes (or even synthetically produced terps) in their concentrates, mostly to cut costs. Consumers must be diligent in reading product labels in order to know what they’re actually ingesting.
Stefano argues there’s no way to synthesize what Mother Nature already offers.
“I don’t think you can ever achieve what the plant will achieve when it expresses its own genetic potential of a terpene profile,” she said. “You’re never going to get that beautiful, complicated flavor from an attempt at recreating a cannabis strain.”
So how do you figure out which cultivar is best for you? Researching anecdotal accounts of strain effects is definitely key, but the team at Puffin Farms also recommends keeping a personal journal outlining your experiences after consuming different terpene profiles.
Stefano also says to follow your nose. “People should take some time to smell their cannabis and really use their nose to guide them,” she said. “If you like the smell of it, chances are that’s a really good fit for your physiology and for your preferences, because that aroma that makes you feel good when you sniff is going to have a similar effect when you go to consume it.”
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.