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Terpenes & Product Labels, Revisited

Cannabis sativa offers a wealth of just about everything – from striking, majestic photos to opportunities for marketing, product formulation, and/or scientific investigation into the panoply of medicinal molecules including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. These plants are so much more than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its natural precursor, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). Same goes for cannabidiol and cannabidiolic acid. In fact, depending on your source, the current tally is something like 90 cannabinoids and > 100 terpenes [1] or 113 cannabinoids and 120 terpenes. [2, and references therein]

That’s a lot of different molecules regardless of the exact number. Many are likely at such trace levels that they may not impact the plant’s complete medicinal efficacy. For example, terpene concentrations of 0.05% and greater are considered of pharmacological relevance. [3] Many might be in lesser amounts than this threshold and may or may not contribute to a plant’s organoleptic properties. Funky fenchol provides a sound example of a “minor” terpene playing a much larger role in the scent of a particular plant. [4]

Some states have gotten the point of the terpenes’ multi-headed relevance on product labels, for medicinal and experiential reasons. To date, however, many more geographies have not required analytical results to be labeled, a deleterious lack of action given that terpenes have been demonstrated to be cultivar differentiators [5,6], and just as medicinal as any cannabinoid that I’ve yet seen. At least, according to the myriad of studies in the scientific literature. The beauty when discussing the medicinal attributes of terpenes, however, lies in the fact that terpenes are ubiquitous in nature, providing fragrant weaponry to hordes of different legal plants.

Terpenes extracted from cannabis are no different from terpenes from other plants. Nerolidol and bisabolol, common to citrus and chamomile, respectively, are the same molecules in cannabis. The change in plant means nothing to the terpene. It will perform its job regardless.

Just like terpenes help differentiate C. sativa cultivars, they can provide extra distinction between downstream, commercially available products such as vape cartridges and tinctures. Savvier businesses have identified this already and are maximizing their products’ efficacy with the inclusion of choice terpenes, such as myrcene for insomnia, or limonene for an uplifting product personality. After all, the ensemble effect isn’t just a fancy-sounding marketing term. Rather, including communal molecules extracted from cannabis has been demonstrated to hold much more power for the patient than cannabinoids acting alone. [7]

Some businesses are now opting for terpene analyses, required or not. This trend will likely escalate as more manufacturers and consumers enhance their understanding of what terpenes add to their products. So, whether you’re looking to augment therapeutic efficacy, differentiate your cultivar from the competition, design unique products with defined intents, and/or provide reproducible experiences for your customers, this all starts with obtaining terpenes on your certificates of analysis.


  1. Andre, C. et al. “Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules.” Frontiers in Plant Science, vol. 7, 2016, open access. [journal impact factor = 4.106; timed cited = 214 (SemanticScholar)]
  2. Aizpurua-Olaizola O. et al. “Evolution of the Cannabinoid and Terpene Content during the Growth of Cannabis sativa Plants from Different Chemotypes.” Journal of Natural Products, vol. 79, no. 2, 2016, pp. 324–31. [journal impact factor = 4.257; timed cited = 82 (SemanticScholar)]
  3. Adams T. & Taylor S. “Safety Evaluation of Essential Oils: A Constituent-Based Approach” In: Baser KHC, Buchbauer G (eds). Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications, 2010, CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, pp. 185–208. [journal impact factor = n/a; timed cited = 5 (SemanticScholar)]
  4. Fischedick, J. “Identification of Terpenoid Chemotypes Among High (-)-trans-Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol-Producing Cannabis sativa L. Cultivars.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, vol. 2.1, 2017, pp. 34-47. [journal impact factor = n/a; timed cited = 8 (SemanticScholar)]
  5. Reimann-Philipp, U. et al. “Cannabis Chemovar Nomenclature Misrepresents Chemical and Genetic Diversity; Survey of Variations in Chemical Profiles and Genetic Markers in Nevada Medical Cannabis Samples.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 2019, open access. [journal impact factor = n/a; timed cited = 2 (SemanticScholar)]
  6. Marcu, J. and Lewis, M. “The Lesser Known Smell of Cannabis.” Terpenes & Testing Magazine, Nov-Dec 2018.
  7. Pamplona, F. et al. “Potential Clinical Benefits of CBD-Rich Cannabis Extracts Over Purified CBD in Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy: Observational Data Meta-Analysis.” Frontiers in Neurology, vol. 9, 2018, pp. 759. [journal impact factor = 2.635; timed cited = 31 (SemanticScholar)]

Image Credit: Pixabay

About the author

Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.

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