Identifying Terpenes in Cannabis

When thinking about the effects of a particular cannabis strain, cannabinoids like THC and CBD aren’t the only compounds you should consider. Recently, terpene content in cannabis has been receiving more attention. And for good reason—it can determine the smell, flavor, and even the therapeutic effects of a strain. Here’s why terpenes are important and how we test for them.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes represent a diverse class of organic compounds produced mainly by plants. Complex biological pathways in plants can modify the basic structure—comprised of hydrogen and carbon atoms—to produce a wide variety of terpenoid molecules with different functions and characteristics.

Terpenes are a major component of essential oils derived from plants. They’re known for having strong and distinct aromas. Although its thought that terpenes evolved to help plants ward off predators and parasites, these compounds are now highly sought after in the food, fragrance, and cannabis industries.

Terpenes in Cannabis

Terpenes are what give the cannabis plant its unique smell. But more importantly, new evidence is emerging that terpenes have their own therapeutic functions. When combined with varying cannabinoid profiles, naturally varying terpene combinations can create distinct therapeutic effects, a phenomenon referred to as the entourage effect. We go into the science behind terpenes in greater detail here.

New Requirement for Terpene Testing

With more attention being paid to the beneficial effects of terpenes in cannabis, growers and producers often request terpene analysis from cannabis testing labs. But recently, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) in California began requiring cannabis manufacturers to test for terpene content in commercial cannabis products.

How We Test for Terpenes

At Encore Labs, we use gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to both identify the type and quantify the amount of individual terpenes present in a product sample. GC/MS is an analytical method frequently used in the food, beverage, and perfume industries to identify volatile, aromatic compounds.

The method requires two types of instruments. The gas chromatograph separates small molecules in a vaporized sample while the mass spectrometer identifies and quantifies the separated molecules. The combination of these two methods allows us to detect a wide variety of terpenes with a high level of accuracy and sensitivity.

Knowing the terpene content of your cannabis strains and products is becoming increasingly important. It gives consumers and patients the information they need to choose the strain that’s right for them. And for growers, knowing a plant’s unique terpene profile can help them select and breed strains for new desired effects.

Closing Thoughts

While most people look for the cannabinoid content on a product label, terpenes are becoming an important facet in the world of cannabis. As a result, the BCC now requires terpene testing for all cannabis products sold in California.

At Encore Labs, we use GC/MS, a highly accurate and sensitive analytic method, to identify and quantify terpenes in your cannabis samples. Along with our other testing options, we can help provide you with clear scientific analysis to ensure the quality of your cannabis products.