One of the questions our budtenders often get from shoppers looking to get the best bang for their buck is, “which strain has the highest THC levels?” This would seem like a fair question since THC is the cannabinoid most responsible for the high which we get from marijuana. You’re paying for the buzz, not the bud, right? But the idea that the bud with the highest THC content is the best bud is a misconception. It’s based on limited knowledge of how cannabis works in our bodies. A factor that is just as important as cannabinoids are terpenes.
A good metaphor for this concept is that of shopping for alcohol. You don’t walk into a liquor store and ask for the bottle with the highest alcohol content. Most people who buy alcohol are looking for a superior experience, such as taste, smell, quality, drinkability, and effects, rather than just trying to get as drunk as possible. That experience not only depends on which kind of alcohol you choose — be it beer, wine, or some type of spirits — but the setting in which you’re using it, the food that’s being served, and, of course, personal taste.
Even within a particular category of alcohol, there are a variety of choices to be made. A lager beer is different than an ale. Red wine and white wine have similar but different effects. Whiskey and tequila have vastly different tastes and effects.
Also, the quality of the alcohol you purchase can mean the difference between feeling great in the morning or waking up with a pounding headache.
The same is true for cannabis. Different strains provide different effects and experiences. Two buds with identical THC percentages might provide vastly different effects. For instance, sativa strains are known to provide an energizing effect, whereas indica strains are known to have a relaxing effect. And within each of these families, there are often subtle or even dramatic differences in effect. Each strain also has its own unique aroma and flavor.
Why is this? What accounts for the variety of aromas and effects provided by different strains of cannabis? Sure, the levels of cannabinoids have a lot to do with the high, but there’s another family of compounds produced by cannabis which is responsible for not only the scents and flavors of cannabis, but the type of effects which a particular strain offers. These compounds are called terpenes.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a class of volatile hydrocarbon compounds produced by plants. The term “volatile” means that these compounds readily evaporate at room temperature, producing an aroma. Our noses are extremely sensitive to terpenes, each of which has its own unique scent. That’s why terpenes have been used for centuries in aromatherapy.
Terpenes give plants their bold scents, from herbs to citrus to spices. They are also responsible for the notorious pungent cannabis smell. Over 100 terpenoids have been identified in cannabis plants, and the combination of terpenes found in a particular strain gives each strain its distinct aroma. They are produced in the highest concentrations in unfertilized female flowers.
A great example of how the inclusion of a particular terpene can overpower a higher level of THC is a terpene called myrcene. Myrcene has the unique effect of making the blood/brain barrier more permeable. This makes it easier for THC and other cannabinoids to enter the brain, enhancing the effects of any strain which has high levels of myrcene. High myrcene levels can result in the well known ‘couch lock’ effect of classic Indica strains. It is also found in mangoes, basil, and lemongrass.
Another terpene called linalool is most well-known as the scent of lavender. It’s relaxing effects are why it is commonly found in soothing lotions, perfumes, and candles.
Pinene has a very identifiable earthy scent. Found in pine trees, rosemary, and juniper, pinene is a major ingredient in Pine Sol cleaner and turpentine. The woody pine scent is naturally uplifting, so it is commonly present in many sativa strains.
Limonene is responsible for the aromas of citrus fruits. It’s often an ingredient in aromatherapy oils formulated to treat depression and anxiety due to its stimulating and energizing effects. In topical preparations limonene increases absorption of other terpenes through the skin.
The medicinal benefits of humulene have been known in Chinese medicine for millennia. Humulene is also found in hops and gives beer its distinct aroma, as well as black pepper, sage, and cloves.
Terpineol is a flowery smelling terpene. It gives lilacs and other flower blossoms their sweet scent. Terpineol is known to have calming, relaxing effects, so it is often found in aromatherapy oils, cosmetics, and perfumes.
Eucalyptol has a pleasant minty aroma. Most commonly known for giving eucalyptus leaves its famous scent, it breaks down acetylcholine in the brain, allowing nerve cells to communicate more effectively with one another. Eucalyptol is a refreshing smell often present in sativa strains to add to the uplifting effects.
Citronellol is found in geraniums, rose, and citrus. It’s also commonly used in mosquito and moth repellents.
Camphene’s aroma conjures up the scent of damp woodlands. It is a component of camphor oil and a common ingredient in vapor rub formulas.
What Is the Entourage Effect?
The entourage effect exemplifies the combined effects of the various cannabinoids and terpenes found in a particular cannabis strain.
A good example of a literal entourage is a baseball team. The team travels and works together, but each player has their own special set of skills. The effectiveness of a team depends on how skilled each player is at their particular position. A baseball team can have the best pitcher in the world, but if the other positions aren’t covered, you have a losing team.
The same is true of cannabis strains. Although each cannabinoid and each terpene has its own particular effects, the combination of these can produce an overall effect which is far greater than the sum of its parts. You can have a strain which is high in THC, but without the other active compounds, its effects are actually very limited.
Here at Silverpeak, we produce a variety of strains of cannabis which are highly valued for their terpene profiles and the experiences and effects which they impart to the user.