What are terpenes? Are terpenes only found in Cannabis or are terpenes found in other plants? What is the difference between cannabis derived terpenes and plant derived terpenes? Do they work the same? I hear these questions on a daily basis which tells me a couple of things. Number one, there is a huge need for terpene education, sort of a terpenes 101, and number 2 people really are interested in the effects of terpenes and how to use terpenes in your everyday life for their effects, health, and wellness.
Terpenes: Old, but New to the Cannabis Industry
As the world of cannabis, (and hemp) explodes we are (and have been) experiencing cannabis in a multitude of new formats never before seen on this earth. Most are familiar with things like cannabis flower, edibles, and now more than ever, concentrates. However, the hottest new and exciting thing about the cannabis industry is not necessarily the THC and/or CBD heavy products themselves but the products that have long since existed in other industries that the cannabis community is now just beginning to discover. Yes, I’m talking about Terpenes. There are already a bunch of products available on the market that utilize terpenes as an ingredient. Everything from perfumes to beverages and this is with out knowing that terpenes as an ingredient is a highly marketable product given the current state of the cannabis industry. Even La Croix was found to be using water-soluble terpenes in their beverage formula.
When did humans discover terpenes?
Terpenes were first successfully “discovered”, isolated, and extracted in the 1800s but have been in use since antiquity for things such as food, incense, and other fragrance and spice products. Terpenes are one of the most complex classes of natural products and terpenes are most often found in plants, some of the large chain therefore more complex types of terpenes can be produced in the animal kingdom more specifically, insects. While the smells, flavors, and effects of terpenes have been sought after for thousands of years, when they were first identified extracted for the specific purpose for use in products is up for debate.
Cannabis Terpenes vs Plant Based terpenes: the Argument
These days cannabis businesses are young, hungry, and very ambitious. It seems everyone is doing everything they can to set themselves apart from the pack. From packaging, production techniques, operation locality, strain profiles and literally anything else that can be converted from a statement of fact to a marketing advantage, is fair game. This is no different when it comes to terpenes, terpene infusions, terp treatments, enhancements, or strain specific terpenes for reintroduction processes. Is every vape cartridge created equal? No. But one thing is for certain, from a scientific and chemical perspective, all terpenes of the same type are 100% equal because they are defined by their chemical makeup. This means that a terpene, let’s say limonene, derived from cannabis will have the exact same chemical make up and smell as those derived from lemons. Limonene terpene isolates will always be lemony no matter which plant it was sourced from.
How are terpenes extracted?
Most plants contain few primary terpenes (the terpenes that are most abundant in nature) however, cannabis flower can often have 10-30 primary terpenes making it very difficult to produce terpene isolates directly from the flower. On top of that there are essential oils in cannabis that tend to have a higher tolerance for the extraction process than most common terpenes, but are not nearly as pleasant smelling. These essential oils make it to the end process while most terpenes present only in small amounts, don't. That being said, it is very common for extracted terpenes from raw cannabis flower to smell closer to an old essential oil blend than a pure terpene blend. Cannabis derived terpenes usually smell very earthy and less vibrant pure terpenes.
The cons of using cannabis derived terpenes in your products
So is there a downside to using cannabis terpenes in your products? In short, yes. The biggest issue with using cannabis derived terpenes is the flavor loss. You will lose most (if not all) of the bright citrus, sweet, piney, and gassy notes during this process. In addition, the insanely high price of growing cannabis to process into a product that may be worth more when it comes to weight by volume, is actually worth less when it comes to the overall profitability. Selling the raw flower vs the cost of getting a cannabis license, building out a compliant facility, and running it through the extraction process just to sell a small amount of product is just too far apart for most smart entrepreneurs to get excited about. Many companies mislead new consumers by intentionally advertising their plant based and synthetic terpenes as real cannabis terpenes when they are in fact not. This is becoming a huge problem that stems from the lack of general consumers knowledge of terpenes which hopefully will change over time.
How much do cannabis derived terpenes cost?
A lot. Think of it like this. Let’s say you had 1 pound of high quality flower with a sharp pungent nose that would demand the rooms attention the moment the bag is opened. You know this flower has a great terpene profile and want to extract the terpenes from it to recreate it in a cartridge. You can expect to get a 2% return on the weight of the product, most flower tests between 1 and 1.5% Terpenes. If a pound is 453.592 grams then 2% would equal out to be 9 grams, roughly 11ml.
Let’s use the break down below.
1ml = 20 drops of Cannabis derived terpenes
1 drop of Cannabis Derived terpenes = $20
If we have 11ml of Cannabis Terpenes for sale that equates to 220 drops (roughly 20 drops per ml). The flower broken down and sold as is using the average market price of $14.29 per gram ($50 eighth of dried flower) equals a total resale value of $6,758 vs the 4,400 potential dollars to be made from selling the terpenes retail which doesn't include any of the labor in between the start and end points. This doesn't sound too bad for a terpene wholesaler but for the company buying the terps to put in cartridges for resale, they would incur an additional $20 PER CARTRIDGE. Cartridge costs from larger suppliers are usually between $5-$8 per unit and are usually sold to a distributor for $15-$20 per single cartridge which is then sold to dispensaries wholesale at $20-$35 per unit. Once it hits the dispensary shelves they are then resold to the consumer for $40-$65 per unit. Using this mark up as a guide which nearly triples the starting cost of the vape cartridge, would mean the end product should be sold in dispensaries for at least $100. Ever seen a non-sauce distillate pen with real cannabis terps in a dispensary for over $100 in a legal state? Neither have we.
Are Cannabis terpenes cost effective to use in vape cartridges?
The short answer? No.
1ml = 10% of 10ml or 10 one milliliter vape cartridges at a 10% terpene infusion.
Therefore one 1ml cartridge will have about 2 drops to reach a 10% dilution which is more or less the average dilution ratio used in the industry; meaning that if we assume a company is purchasing a liter of distillate from a manufacturer for $5 per ml and has an average price of $1.5 per cartridge and $0.50 per unit of packaging then we can calculate that the cost for that particular cartridge is about $47. Does that sound like anything you’ve ever seen before in a dispensary or on the BM?
This does not apply to those who can cultivate, manufacture, and package their own product which would of course significantly reduce the cost despite the increase in cost factors such as extraction equipment, additional employees, and all expenditures under the cultivation umbrella. If we take all this into account and generously assume that they are able to cut their costs in half.... you are still looking at a $20+ cartridge at cost which would translate to roughly a 120-180$ cartridge after it has been passed from cultivation site to the distribution company to the dispensary and then finally to the consumer.
This may come as a shock to most but if someone tells you they are reintroducing REAL CANNABIS TERPS into their distillate(sauce and liquified shatter carts excluded) they are most likely lying or being lied to. This is excluding those few and far between educated and legitimate craft companies that do charge over $150 per cartridge, because they do exist.
Are Cannabis Derived terpenes really worth it compared to plant derived?
Unfortunately there are tons of companies making a killing off unsuspecting companies and consumers that failed to do the research. To them, I’m sure it is worth it but for anyone looking to preserve the reputation of their company, I would be extremely wary of purchasing “Cannabis Derived Terpenes” or advertising their product as “infused with Cannabis derived Terpenes” as there is currently no lab in existence producing enough of these strains to supply another operation assuming they are also fully licensed and selling their cannabis flower or other concentrates as well. When it comes to cost, plant derived terpene strain profiles, which are a blend of terpenes formulated to emulate certain cannabis strains, are about $2 per ml compared to $800 for 2ml of cannabis derived terpenes…
Conclusion? It is probably not the most cost effective choice for companies looking to turn a profit which is why these products are not more prominent in the legal market but definitely would be something fun to do for the home connoisseur.