PhytoFacts: Standardizing the Way We Talk About Terpenes


PhytoFacts didn’t appear out of thin air. It came from an urgent need in the cannabis sector. Breeders, buyers, producers, and ultimately consumers needed a quick reference and easy-to-understand guide to know their products.

Admittedly, PhytoFacts did also come from somewhat serendipitous beginnings. Throughout my studies toward a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and Biochemistry PhD at Purdue University, I continually found myself studying under researchers who were embedded in hemp or cannabinoid studies.

Despite cannabis circling back into my professional life on a semi-regular basis, it wasn’t until my move to California that all the pieces began falling into place for Napro Research. Through my own interest in this plant’s chemistry and a dire need for standardized chemometric reporting, PhytoFacts was born from our work at Napro.


Early Days of Cannabis: Inaccurate Testing & Incomprehensible Results 

Analytical testing was not required in California during the early years of the commercialized medical cannabis sector (circa 2007 to 2010). Still, many dispensaries were spending significant funds to have their offerings tested. These tests offered a way to secure objective data on product quality to share with patients. But, as I examined the chemistry behind these lab results, it became evident that it was imprecise at best — and at worst, completely flawed.

When we founded Napro Research in 2011, it was in response to the failings of the testing sector in California. Dispensaries were paying exorbitant amounts for unsound results. What began as a scientific critique of erroneous chemistry behind cannabis testing soon became a comprehensive redevelopment and standardized testing methodology for both cannabinoids and terpenes. [1]

Few people within the exploding cannabis sector had any background in testing or chemical analysis. From budtenders to buyers and beyond, most standard lab test results looked like incomprehensible data on lines of paper.

Every lab used different color coding, spit out in a different formula. There was no standardization, which meant buyers, retailers, and consumers struggled to read between the lines to get valuable information from these results. People were essentially trying to compare apples to oranges.

For dispensary owners, it was challenging to compare qualities and profiles during intake. For cultivators, it wasn’t easy to breed new standout cultivars. Most importantly, for consumers, none of these jargon-laden data sheets were easily digestible to inform purchasing decisions.


Making Cannabis Chemometric Results Valuable and Intuitive

PhytoFacts began as an attempt to finally make lab results legible and valuable for everyone, no matter their position in the supply chain or educational background. We began in 2011 when we took a snapshot of the marketplace and tested just about every cultivar commercially available in California at the time. This database of thousands of results yielded tens of thousands of useful data points.

We first developed what we dubbed PhytoPrint to be the “fingerprint” of the terpenoid data for any plant. Our extensive data set determined there were seven dominant terpenes, with an extended 17 displayed in the PhytoPrint. We’ve developed this information into an intuitive and actionable classification graphic.

Instead of miscellaneous color coding, PhytoPrint applies an instinctive formula to each terpene. For example, limonene, the terpene associated most with lemons, is yellow; and pinene, a terpene present in pine needles, is green, and so on.

Beyond basic terpene percentages, the report also displays a web graph for a clear snapshot of the aroma and fragrance intensity levels. Finally, we developed a quick reference for top terpene recognition as three distinct color-coded bars across the top of each report.

Besides aromatic profile, effects are one of the most important characteristics for consumers. At the time of development, consumers discovered a cultivar’s effects through self-testing or budtender intel. This was largely based on problematic associations to the outdated indica, sativa, and hybrid terminology.

Through extensive terpene testing at Napro and review of the relevant body of research, we’ve developed a rubric that displays the expected entourage effect produced by the terpenoid contribution. Now, the consumer can visually scan the PhytoFacts report to glean insight into predicted entourage effects.

Napro’s standardization of testing and reporting has erased – actually fixed – the problematic name game. We’ve replaced it with PhytoFacts, which relies on color pattern recognition—a much more powerful visualizer for the human brain. With one glance, it’s easy to understand the specifics of each cultivar to make intelligent decisions as a business or as a consumer.


PhytoFacts to Become an Industry Standard

Our work at Napro Research began with standardizing testing across the cannabis industry but, with the development of PhytoFacts, we ended up standardizing the way an entire industry will communicate about terpene content in cannabis plants and products.

For breeders trying to secure a competitive edge with exciting new cultivars, to buyers needing to fill gaps in their product menus, to consumers attempting to predict effects, PhytoFacts finally makes lab test results accessible to those without a chemistry degree.

Mark Lewis is President of Napro Research, a company that develops and applies advanced technology and insights to create groundbreaking, novel, safe, and sustainable products that maximize the biosynthetic pathways in the cannabis plant. He developed proprietary software such as Phytoverify and PhytoFacts to help companies at every stage of the supply chain drive new sales, improve breeding and manufacturing processes, and increase profit margins. He published the first validated and peer reviewed high-throughput analytical methodology for analyzing terpenes and cannabinoids in cannabis and hemp. [1]


[1] Giese M, Lewis M.A, Giese L, & Smith K.M. (2015). Development and validation of a reliable and robust method for the analysis of cannabinoids and terpenes in Cannabis. Journal of AOAC International. 2015;98(6):1503-22. [journal impact factor = 1.36; times cited = 62]


About the author

Mark Lewis, Ph. D., Napro Research

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