The High Cost of Vaping

Written by Lynn Churchill

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 [1], and anti-fungal properties [2], 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 [3] and treating insomnia [4], 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 [11], 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. [12] Let’s use the ever-popular CBD oil as an example. Some people who use a pure CBD oil for pain [13] or even epilepsy [14] say it helps, but others found better relief when they switched to a full spectrum CBD oil [14], 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. [17]

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.


[1] Nuutinen, T. “Medicinal properties of terpenes found in Cannabis sativa and Humulus lupulus”, Eur J Med Chem, 2018, Volume 157: 198-228. [journal impact factor =2.896; cited by 8]


[2] Nazzaro, F. et al. “Essential Oils and Antifungal Activity”, Pharmaceuticals (Basel), 2017, Volume 10(4): 86. [journal impact factor =3.80; cited by 21]


[3] Klauke, A. et al. “The cannabinoid CB2 receptor-selective phytocannabinoid beta-caryophyllene exerts analgesic effects in mouse models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain”, European Neuropsychopharmacology, 2014, Volume 24(4): Pages 608-620. [journal impact factor =4.369; cited by 75]


[4] Linck, V. et al. “Inhaled linalool-induced sedation in mice”, Phytomedicine, 2009, Volume 16: Pages 303-307. [journal impact factor =3.610; cited by 102]


[5] Ames-Sibin, A. et al. “β-Caryophyllene, the major constituent of copaiba oil, reduces systemic inflammation and oxidative stress in arthritic rats”, J Cell Biochem., 2018, Volume 119(12): Pages 10262-10277. [journal impact factor =2.959; cited by 0]


[6] Rogerio A. et al. “Preventive and therapeutic anti-inflammatory properties of the sesquiterpene α-humulene in experimental airways allergic inflammation”, British Journal of Pharmacology, 2009, Volume 158: Pages 1074–1087. [journal impact factor =6.81; cited by 49]


[7] Rufino, A. et al. “Evaluation of the anti-inflammatory, anti-catabolic and pro-anabolic effects of E-caryophyllene, myrcene and limonene in a cell model of osteoarthritis”, European Journal of Pharmacology, 2015, Volume 750: Pages 141–150. [journal impact factor =2.896; cited by 39]


[8] Rufino, A. et al. “Anti-inflammatory and Chondroprotective Activity of (+)-α-Pinene: Structural and Enantiomeric Selectivity”, J. Nat. Prod., 2014, Volume 77(2): Pages 264–269. [journal impact factor =3.281; cited by 58]


[9] Komiya, M. et al. “Lemon oil vapor causes an anti-stress effect via modulating the 5-HT and DA activities in mice,” Behavioural Brain Research, 2006, Volume 172(2): Pages 240–249. [journal impact factor =3.002; cited by 143]


[10] Harada, H. et al. “Linalool Odor-Induced Anxiolytic Effects in Mice”, Front. Behav. Neurosci., 2018, Volume 12: Article 241. [journal impact factor =2.622; cited by 1]


[11] Giese, M. et al. “Development and Validation of a Reliable and Robust Method for the Analysis of Cannabinoids and Terpenes in Cannabis”, Journal of AOAC International, 2015, Volume 98(6): 1503-1522. [journal impact factor =1.12; cited by 52] [12] Russo, E. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects”, British Journal of Pharmacology, 2011, Volume 163: Pages 1344–1364. [journal impact factor =6.81; cited by 393]


[13] Russo, E. “Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain”, Ther Clin Risk Manag., 2008, Volume 4(1): 245–259. [journal impact factor =1.824; cited by 71]


[14] 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, 2018, Volume 9: 759. [journal impact factor =3.552; cited by 9]


[15] Johnson, J. et al. “Multicenter, Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel-Group Study of the Efficacy, Safety, and Tolerability of THC:CBD Extract and THC Extract in Patients with Intractable Cancer-Related Pain”, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 2010, Volume 39(2): 167-179. [journal impact factor =3.249; cited by 195]


[16] Blasco-Benito S. et al. “Appraising the “entourage effect”: Antitumor action of a pure cannabinoid versus a botanical drug preparation in preclinical models of breast cancer”, Biochem Pharmacol., 2018, Volume 157:285-293. [journal impact factor =5.009; cited by 9]


[17] Troutt, W. and DiDonato, M. “Carbonyl Compounds Produced by Vaporizing Cannabis Oil Thinning Agents”, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 23(11): 879-884. [journal impact factor =1.868; cited by 3]

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Lynn Churchill

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