Cannabinoids & Terpenoids: The Future of Cannabis Connoisseurship
The cannabis industry is evolving at a pace both unexpected and impossible to plan for. While working to keep a pulse on daily developments, we can't help but revel in the possibilities of what lies ahead. It's not every day that you can participate in shaping an industry from products to policy to social attitudes. Some would even call it a once in a lifetime opportunity. This level of influence is empowering and serves as forceful motivation to learn and share all that we can as fast as we can so that when we look back years from now, when cannabis is in most household medicine cabinets or kitchen pantries, we will be proud of where we are. The time is definitely now.
Listed below are some observations and predictions to chew on — what does your vision look like?
Concentrates are Trending
If one thing was made clear at the Los Angeles Cannabis Cup, it's that concentrates are trending. Whether it be vape pens or dab rigs, oil or shatter, concentrates have officially arrived and (policy permitting) are here to stay. But it may be for good reason: concentrates come without almost all plant matter which is combusted when smoking flower. Also, while high potency creates apprehension associated with increasing tolerance and dosage control, concentrates are also the most efficient, cleanest consumption method when handled correctly.
The Cup's panel assembly kicked off with "Generation Dab" and covered topics ranging from parallels between Monsanto and cannabis genome trademarking to the disparity between Colorado's aggressive residual solvent testing and higher human exposure thresholds, which pose a threat to market production. However, the dominant thread was undeniably cannabinoids and terpenes, or you could say, the nuts and bolts of concentrates.
Cannabinoids and Terpenoids are the Strain Blueprint
If you're unfamiliar with cannabinoids or terpenoids, it's time to learn. Each strain can be defined by a specific chemical makeup, i.e.., its combination of cannabinoids and terpenoids. The exact relationship between cannabinoids and terpenoids is uncertain, but the ineffectiveness of single cannabinoid extractions (e.g.., Marinol THC capsules) prove the significance of the synergistic effects of both compounds — often referred to as "the entourage effect." Whether terpenes increase bioaccessibility of cannabinoids or vice versa, terpenes have been connected to the flavor and aroma of the plant whereas cannabinoids are well-known to influence effects.
Combining these findings, we can conclude that certain flavors and smells will induce specific effects. Have you noticed a cherry flavor in multiple different strains? Those strains have been found to exhibit high CBD profiles. In fact, the general consensus is so assured that we're seeing an influx of high CBD cherry-flavored edibles. This sparks visions of an expansive connoisseurship market, one that could rival wine in sophistication and depth. How many years until we are blown away by the palates and education of those starring in the cannabis version of Somm?
Regulatory Testing Will Drive Flavor Profiles
Concentrates allow for chemical manipulation of the plant, increasing control over the cannabinoid-terpenoid profile of each strain and opening up a limitless landscape. One day we will reach comprehensive screening that will include all cannabinoids and terpenoids, but we still have a ways to go. As the industry grows and technology develops within the space, standardization of extraction practices take priority, ensuring a clean product free of the chemicals needed to manufacture it. Steep Hill Labs, a leader in cannabis quality assurance, aims to pave the way for certification testing with robust equipment that can process large quantities of product. With regulatory testing will come an influx of data that will increase our understanding of these compounds, how they interact, and how they relate to each strain.
This will naturally lead to improved flavor profiles. So far we have identified upwards of 80 cannabinoids and over 100 terpenoids, but haven't reached comprehensive profiling due to low detection levels — particularly terpenes which dip into the parts per billion. Steep Hill offers profiles of 15 cannabinoids and 8 terpenoids, whereas The Werc Shop specializes in terpenoids, accounting for only 5 cannabinoids but 37 terpenes.
Charts like the one below are the beginning stages of these profiles; once we develop methods to account for the entourage effect, we can synthesize these profiles into labels directly applicable to consumers. Where these fall between prescription and nutrition labels, only time will tell.
Strain Effects Fall Along a Scale Between Indica and Sativa, Not One or the Other
As these profiles develop, our understanding of sativa, indica, and hybrid deepen. Initially, indica and sativa were used to describe the differences in the botany of cannabis, delineated by their appearance and growing characteristics. Then parallels were drawn between the two and contrasting effects: indica associating with intense body sensation and sleep-induction and sativa associating with psychoactive, high-energy effects.
Like most things in life, this characterization tends towards overgeneralization, a point Jeffrey Raber, PhD, of the Werc Shop, aimed to express but was ironically overgeneralized by LA Weekly, prompting blanketed debasement from one of our Leafly staff. Raber's intended point is valid, in that the host of effects cannabis provides operate unilaterally alongside the plant's morphology; yes, some strains will provide uplifting effects and yes, some strains will induce couchlock, but these are contingent upon the strain's cannabinoid and terpenoid make up, not the plant's physical structure.
The evolution of these three categories is natural, as language is fluid, but repurposing these terms requires updating our understanding to a continuum ranging from indica to sativa (hybrid marking the middle of the two), as opposed to three separate distinctions.
A Market the Size of Alcohol, But Health-Focused
The connoisseurship market will drive the divide between medical and recreational, but both spheres can benefit the other. The pharmaceutical industry can provide the resources to fully understand this plant and harness all its benefits, and recreational will provide the cultural acceptance of the plant as more than a drug. One paramount difference between cannabis and alcohol is the medical component. From creative boosts to increased focus, cannabis allows for a functionality unlike alcohol that makes this burgeoning market all the more exciting. Demoura, co-founder of Steep Hill, reflects on this:
"[People with ADHD] can usually handle a lot more cannabis than most people. The professionals I know that run businesses and are very successful — they all dab. Fifteen, twenty million dollars a year — they're successful — and they do it because with this new medicine, you can take a tiny bit and get back to work."
Murmurs surrounding the ever-deplored big pharma takeover are muted because we understand and can manufacture the product from the ground up. Demoura continued,"The problem with cannabis that you don’t see with Vicodin and the other drugs that make a ton of money: you can’t grow Vicodin in your backyard. That’s why [government has] never had the control they want and why they will never get it."
This reality is an interesting challenge for government. Given that prohibiting BHO production risks an increase in DIY production and home explosions, what is the appropriate regulatory action? Where does control end and human trust begin? The same follows for concentrates and dosage — these products are already a part of the landscape, so how can we ensure safe consumption?
If any parallels can be made between cannabis and alcohol, perhaps it's that education is our greatest tool. And the benefits of increasing public knowledge extend beyond safety: once cannabis artisans are producing clean and safe products, they can compete on an even playing field that measures product quality based on composition profiles, not accessibility to information or resources. This is the consumer vision.
It will start with the breeders, curating the freshest flower with the most dynamic effects and flavors, all characterized by strain. This will supply both providers and extractors who will harness robust testing to develop profiles for each product, each slapped with a consumer-driven brand. What will be the Budweiser of cannabis? The Patrón?