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The Secret to Unlocking Full Cannabis Flavors and Effects: Boiling Points

(fotokris/iStock)
This article is sponsored by NWT Holdings, a San Francisco-based technology company that specializes in the research, design, and manufacturing of cannabis vaporizer hardware including the Firefly.

For decades, the main attraction in cannabis was its most famous psychoactive compound, THC. But the recent and rapid evolution of the cannabis industry has fueled a growing awareness that THC is just one of many biochemicals that make cannabis special.

“What’s become clear in the last few years is that many of the effects we attribute to cannabis are not only from cannabinoids like THC and CBD, but from the way they work in concert with compounds like terpenes,” says Cameron Hattan, lead grower of the California cannabis company Fiddler’s Greens.

That’s why today’s savvy cannabis consumers are paying more attention to other aspects of the plant. Visitors to dispensaries take their time in-store and online examining terpene profiles, exploring the more than 85 cannabinoids found in the plant, and trying to experience every flavor the flower has to offer. Rather than simply seeking the flat psychoactivity of THC, they’re seeking more nuanced results associated with cannabis, such as the creativity, stress relief, and anti-depressant qualities influenced by these other compounds. Many are also seeking the best way to appreciate the spice of caryophyllene, the citrus taste of limonene, the evergreen notes of pinene, and the rest of the complex flavors cannabis can present.

Why Boiling Points Matter

The key to experiencing this array of flavors, aromas, and effects in cannabis is understanding the boiling points of these myriad compounds. Terpenes and cannabinoids work together to produce the complex effects of cannabis. Each of these compounds, though, boils at a specific temperature. If you don’t heat it to that point, the biochemical won’t activate.  Go beyond the boiling point, though, and you’re likely to scorch it beyond recognition.

If you imagine cannabis as a piece of music, every compound in the plant is like an instrument. Some are loud and attention getting; others are barely audible; but each adds a distinct voice to the work, without which it is incomplete.

“There are more than 125 terpenes found in cannabis, and it’s these diverse compounds that give the plant its flavor and its essence,” says Hattan. “If they get destroyed during the process of consumption, you’re going to end up with a one-note experience that doesn’t really do that plant justice.”

And just like instruments in an orchestra, each individual terpene and cannabinoid needs to be addressed individually. After all, you wouldn’t use the techniques that work for a tuba to play the flute!

Moving to Vaporizers

That’s part of why many modern cannabis consumers are bailing on combustion. While setting fire to cannabis activates some compounds in the plant, it scorches many others. This process is known as pyrolytic destruction, and it’s about as good for your cannabis as you’d expect for a phrase with the word “destruction” in it.

Rather than putting a torch to carefully cultivated flowers or extracts, vaporizers offer the ability to heat contents to a specific temperature. That activates the compounds users want without burning down everything around those compounds.

All vaporizers aren’t created equal, though. If your vaporizer of choice isn’t hitting the boiling point of each terpene and cannabinoid in your cannabis, it’s still not delivering the best possible expression of the plant.

(Courtesy of NWT Holdings)

Targeting Temperatures

As vaporization has grown in popularity, the field has gotten crowded with a variety of products. Vaporizers that let users set a temperature of their choice, and hit that temperature quickly and accurately, are fairly easy to find. But hitting one temperature reliably rarely reveals the whole story of any cannabis flower.

The universally popular strain Blue Dream, for instance, is high in the sweet citrus terpene limonene, which boils at 350° degrees Fahrenheit. That’s much higher than the 264°F degrees it takes to boil beta-caryophyllene, which gives the strain it’s woody and earthy undertones. But many of these symphonic notes are most often being missed or only partially experienced because the terpenes are being burnt – even by vaporizers.

Plenty of vaporizers on the market can hit precise temperatures—but being precise isn’t the same as being complete. Even the most accurate of these tools can treat one compound well while leaving others out in the cold—or overheating them, causing the same pyrolytic destruction that consumers came to vaporization to avoid.

(Courtesy of NWT Holdings)

Get to Know Your Flower and Concentrates

To solve this problem and help cannabis consumers get the fullest experience of their flower & concentrates, the vaporizer specialists at Firefly have introduced a new technology to their latest product line—dynamic convection heating. Rather than heating to a specified temperature, dynamic convection heats the air around your cannabis across a gradually increasing range in temperatures. This process activates the whole spectrum of terpenes and cannabinoids because it allows them to boil into inhalable gas form at each of their individual boiling points.

This new approach allows consumers to experience the full lineup of cannabinoids and terpenes present in every strain, revealing the true character of innovative new strains while uncovering unexpected sides of old favorites.

“One of my favorite strains is a Durban we’ve been growing for years, and one of the notes in there is just this slight, sharp hint of overripe grapefruit–a little tart and a little sharp,” says Hattan. “I love that note, but you’re only going to get it using the Firefly. It’s a great way to really experience the breadth and depth of any strain.”

  • Ryan McCourt

    “Go beyond the boiling point, though, and you’re likely to scorch it beyond recognition.”

    No, if you boil a solid or liquid terpene it becomes a gas, and if you go beyond the boiling point, it’s still a gas…

    “There are more than 125 terpenes found in cannabis, and it’s these diverse compounds that give the plant its flavor and its essence,” says Hattan. “If they get destroyed during the process of consumption, you’re going to end up with a one-note experience that doesn’t really do that plant justice.”

    >But, boiling terpenes doesn’t destroy them, so….

    “While setting fire to cannabis activates some compounds in the plant, it scorches many others. This process is known as pyrolytic destruction, and it’s about as good for your cannabis as you’d expect for a phrase with the word “destruction” in it.”

    >No, this process is NOT known as “pyrolytic destruction”: the process of setting fire to cannabis is called “combustion”.

    “The universally popular strain Blue Dream, for instance, is high in the sweet citrus terpene limonene, which boils at 350° degrees Fahrenheit. That’s much higher than the 264°F degrees it takes to boil beta-caryophyllene, which gives the strain it’s woody and earthy undertones. But many of these symphonic notes are most often being missed or only partially experienced because the terpenes are being burnt – even by vaporizers.”

    No, the terpenes are not being “burnt” at 264°F degrees, or at 350° degrees Fahrenheit: they have been boiled, converting them from solid to gas. No “combustion” has occured at these temperatures, which is why it is called “vaporizing” and not “burning”.

    “Even the most accurate of these tools can treat one compound well while leaving others out in the cold—or overheating them, causing the same pyrolytic destruction that consumers came to vaporization to avoid.”

    No. Again, “pyrolytic destruction” is not the same thing as combustion.

    I understand this is an advertisement, but even so, it seems very confusing and, ultimately, misleading.

    • Sopro Blyno

      Thank you for your contributions to this ad. You quickly cleared up the confusion caused by the writer’s slippery use of words that normally have very clear meanings. But on a different topic, do you have a favorite decarb method that you’d like to share?

    • Waited for Impeachment

      Logical points, I agree Ryan.
      So the question is: Do you think the smokers get the same amount of 125 terpenes same as the vaporizer users, say, Fire Fly 2?
      If so,they can’t detect/perceive them for the heavy smoke from burning flower?
      What say you?
      Thx.

    • Justin Rosicki

      Ryan, it’s really YOU being scientifically unclear. After looking at some of your other comments on sites, it seems your secret life of trolling articles is your attempt at egomaniacal self-congratulation for being literate. However, most of your attempts at corrections to this article are absurd. I’ll try to help…

      “No, if you boil a solid or liquid terpene it becomes a gas, and if you go beyond the boiling point, it’s still a gas…”
      ##Actually, Ryan…nobody’s arguing that a gas is not created. What does happen (and why it’s called pyrolytic destruction) is that when something is heated significantly higher than it’s boiling point, it turns into a VOLATILE GAS as a result of it’s vapor pressure. A volatile gas is next to impossible to contain outside of a hyperbaric chamber, which is why pyrolytic destruction is aptly named.

      “But, boiling terpenes doesn’t destroy them, so….”
      ##Again, pyrolytic destruction does occur, making the terpenes impossible to capture. The term destruction can be misleading, but it’s still apropos to the attempt to consume the terpenes that have been made impossible to consume.

      “No, this process is NOT known as “pyrolytic destruction”: the process of setting fire to cannabis is called “combustion”
      ##Combustion of cannabis leads directly to pyrolytic destruction of terpenes, but I can understand your need for semantic clarification on something like this. Trolls will find anything to nitpick….

      “No, the terpenes are not being “burnt” at 264°F degrees, or at 350° degrees Fahrenheit: they have been boiled, converting them from solid to gas. No “combustion” has occured at these temperatures, which is why it is called “vaporizing” and not “burning”
      ##Here, your repeated attempts at semantic distinction show your intent to muddy readers’ understanding of these concepts. Pyrolytic destruction occurs when these terpenes are heated to temperatures significantly higher than their boiling points, even if combustion level temperatures are not reached. The state of becoming a VOLATILE GAS makes the terpenes unavailable to the user as a direct result of overheating. Yet you take issue with the term ‘burning’ to signify overheating? Maybe you’re a troll for hire?

      “I understand this is an advertisement, but even so, it seems very confusing and, ultimately, misleading.”
      ##Your understanding of the basic science at play here is what is confusing and misleading to me. Not ALL the applicable science of the fields of physics and biochemistry can fit into every article. But even if they could, your pseudo-scientific critique seems to be less about delineating cannabis science, and more about your NEED to add your non-sensical two cents to everything you read.

      • Ryan McCourt

        “After looking at some of your other comments on sites, it seems your secret life of trolling articles…”

        Yes, because that’s what normal people do when they see a comment the disagree with on an article: stalk that person and judge their comments on other unrelated articles. Interesting. I’ll take your word for it.

        I thank you for adding your comments to rebut mine, but would thank you to avoid the personal attacks. We’re strangers, remember. Some courtesy goes a long way.

  • Highway 69

    I absolutely agree that using a quality convection vaporizer is the way to enjoy the flavors and fragrances of your herb.
    Before I switched to one, my chief complaint was only being able to taste the flavors after first lighting up. After the first hit it was pretty much “gone up in smoke”. With a vaporizer, each hit is full of the smells and flavors that caused you to choose that strain to begin with.

    Other things I love are the freedom from odors (vaporizers are quite stealthy that way) and stained teeth. I also like knowing I’m not inhaling harmful byproducts that occurs from combustion.

    • Barry Manson

      One wonders why folks didn’t think of vaping earlier. It’s not that difficult of an idea.
      Indeed, in the TV series “The Romans”, two of the ladies are seen inhaling through a metal straw the vapors of kif from a metal plate heated with a small oil lamp. One of them points out that it’s “Macedonian hemp, much better than our Italian hemp”.

      • Highway 69

        My only response to that would be convenience. But yeah, even though I can see how that example could work, today’s high tech vaporizers make it soooo easy to use. I haven’t bought any lighters in years.

    • Ryan McCourt

      I agree: vaporizing is much better than smoking.

      I just wish I could find an unbiased, non-sponsored article somewhere on the internet (preferably here on Leafly!) that would present actual credible science on this exact subject, rather than a misleading sales pitch.

      I am not a scientist myself, just a cannabis enthusiast, so I’m not qualified to tell the difference between truth and bullshit all the time when it comes to scientific subjects related to cannabis, but I’m smart enough to be skeptical of an ad pitch.

      Leafly: get investigating this subject, talk to scientific experts that are unaffiliated with a vaporizer company, but who understand the chemistry of vaporization as it relates to terpenes and cannabinoids, etc.! Inquiring minds want to know!

  • Daniel Ortega

    When will they produce a misty spray with different isolated turbine fragrances for perfumes and room deorderizers?

    • OniTenshu

      While not isolated look for essential oils. Some are even almost isolated. Otherwise look for companies that distill terpenes and they usually have them as well.

      • Daniel Ortega

        Now that hemp can be commercially grown once growers comply with regulation. We will see the manufacturing of hemp products evolve into Eco Friendly businesses.
        Vote Hemp!

  • Barry Manson

    Boiling point may be a good stand-in, but it’s actually the “vapor pressure” of the compound in question at a given temperature that matters. You can smell, say, limonene, at room temperature, well below it’s boiling point. That’s because it has a significant vapor pressure at room temperature.

    But it is a good way to visualize the increase in vapor pressure with temperature of each terpene component to rank them by boiling point. More volatile (high vapor pressure) components become detectable at lower temperatures.

  • Wolfalias

    At over $300 for the Firefly 2, my wooden bowl (same one for over 30 years) works just fine.

  • justadbeer

    OMG! $329.00 ! That’s a bit out of touch for the regular Joe. In fact, that’s expensive for anyone.

  • Angel Vasquez

    Actually vaporization temps are more important then boiling temps. Terpenes and Cannabinoids vaporize at a lower temp then they boil at.

  • Barry Manson

    It’s useful to remember that the boiling point of a compound is the temperature at which the vapor pressure of the compound equals the ambient pressure around it. That’s why compounds boil at a lower temperature under vacuum.
    But vapor pressure is not zero at temperatures below the boiling point–that’s how it is you can smell them at room temperature.