Do you know the difference between cultivar-specific terpenes, liquid flavorings, and e-juice? Don’t be fooled by flashy websites and ads with vague product descriptions! Here’s what you need to know.
In the world of vaping, one thing stands out for many people: confusion. This confusion isn’t confined only to what type of vaporizer to buy or whether to use flower or concentrates. There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to the differences between liquid flavorings, e-juice, and cultivar-specific terpenes.
Let’s clear that up.
There are Terpenes…
The much-talked-about cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are not the only therapeutic compounds present. Terpenes are the compounds in plants that give them their delicious – or terrible – odors and flavors, sort of like rosemary vs. skunk cabbage. They are secreted in the plant’s resin glands and help protect the plant from predators. Terpenes are medicinal powerhouses no matter which plant they come from, cannabis or otherwise.
Terpenes are the reason behind the huge boom in the essential oil industry, and not just for their aromatics, as terpenes present anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsive, anti-diabetic , and anti-fungal properties , to name just a few of the “anti’s”. Many terpenes are also analgesic.
For example, the terpenes caryophyllene and linalool can be helpful for relieving pain  and treating insomnia , among other things. Caryophyllene, along with myrcene, pinene, and humulene are known anti-inflammatories [5-8], while limonene and linalool can help with depression, stress, and anxiety [9, 10]. And almost all these terpenes contain some variation of antiseptic, antifungal, and antiviral properties as well.
These protective and healing compounds make essential oils a popular choice for both holistic medical professionals and their patients.
And like the herbs and spices used for cooking and health products, the cannabis plant contains these amazing compounds as well. How many different terpenes are present in cannabis seems to be up for debate, as some sources peg the number at 140 , while other sources report over 200 [12, and sources therein].
Whether 100 or 200, each cannabis cultivar possesses its own unique set of terpenes, giving each plant its distinctive smell and taste. Much like the vintners, sommeliers, and wine lovers who enthusiastically swirl, smell, taste and describe a wine’s individual notes and flavors, cannabis connoisseurs can smell and taste both the subtle and not-so-subtle notes and nuances of various cultivars.
And there are Cultivar-Specific Terpene Blends
That’s where cultivar-specific terpenes come in. Many cannabis companies are purchasing terpenes to infuse into their edibles or vape cartridges, and for good reason. Cannabis without terpenes is like a margarita without the orange liqueur or French fries without salt.
The reason for this goes beyond having a product with a pleasant taste. There’s also the entourage effect.  Let’s use the ever-popular CBD oil as an example. Some people who use a pure CBD oil for pain  or even epilepsy  say it helps, but others found better relief when they switched to a full spectrum CBD oil , or one that also included THC [15, 16].
The reason a hemp-derived CBD oil containing no THC might not work for some is because it’s an isolate, meaning during processing, CBD was extracted from the plant but any THC or other cannabinoids, as well as the terpenes, were left behind. A full-spectrum product on the other hand, will include THC and all the other cannabinoids, terpenes, and essential oils present in the plant.
And as for the terpenes, there’s a common misconception that the cultivar-specific terpenes should taste exactly as their names describe them. Take Banana Kush or Ice Cream Cake terpenes for example. You might see these names on the labels and assume that the products inside will taste just like sweet, ripe bananas or sugary ice cream cake – but they don’t. They’re not supposed to.
Just as you wouldn’t expect the Banana Kush or Ice Cream Cake cultivar of the cannabis plant to literally taste like their names, neither can you expect it of the cultivar-specific terpenes. The main flavors of the Banana Kush cultivar are described as tree fruit, sweet and tropical. Ice Cream Cake is described as vanilla, flowery, and sweet. But we all know that these two cultivars are not going to taste exactly like bananas, flowers, sugar, and vanilla extract!
And just as the flavors in cannabis plants are reminiscent of certain things in nature (or not so natural, like diesel in Sour Diesel), so are cultivar-specific terpenes. The infusion of these terpenes into vape cartridges, tinctures, food, or drinks will provide flavors of specific cultivars, even as those plants, in turn, possess flavors that are reminiscent of certain things in nature. Or your local gas station.
The Sweet Spot
On the other hand, the market plays host to an almost unimaginable variety of flavors, both natural and artificial, and sometimes a mixture of both. There are the liquid flavorings that can be added to baked goods and drinks, most of which contain questionable ingredients.
Then there is e-juice, which is often confused with plant-specific terpenes. Opposite to what we discussed above regarding the terpenes, e-juice is all about in-your-face taste and smell, and often syrupy sweet at that. Here is where you’ll find those sweet flavors of bananas and pretty much any fruit you can think of, plus cookies, pies, cakes, chocolate, caramel… the list goes on.
Much of that sweetness can come from vegetable glycerin or VG. E-juice contains either VG, PG (propylene glycol), or PEG (polyethylene glycol, aka PEG400). These ingredients are what cause the vape smoke to appear. Both PG and PEG are claimed to be safe, but toxins are released when heated to 446 °F. 
No More Confusion
Now you know. E-juice is completely different from the run of the mill liquid flavorings used in things like baked goods and beverages (think flavored syrups for soda pop). Even the more subtle juice flavors are going to be more intense than cultivar-specific terpenes.
Next time you’re buying cultivar-specific terpenes, remember the wine connoisseurs. Better yet, remember the cannabis connoisseurs, and the various notes and nuances in the different cannabis plants that are reminiscent of the smells and tastes of nature (and sometimes gas stations).
The subtle flavor profiles of these plants are what cultivar-specific terpenes are meant to capture.
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