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“Unlocking the Aromatic Diversity of Cannabis: Beyond Terpenes and into the World of Cannabis Aromas”

More than just terpenes

The 420 Gardener

In recent years, the world of Cannabis sativa L. cultivation has experienced remarkable growth, leading to the emergence of diverse and rapidly expanding industries. While high-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) strains have traditionally been the star of the show, grown for their intoxicating psychoactive effects, the rise of the low-THC, high-cannabidiol (CBD) hemp varieties has also been significant. However, the landscape is changing rapidly as cannabis legalization spreads.

Consumer expectations have evolved considerably, with THC content taking center stage, driving a race to increase cannabinoid concentration. But it’s not just about THC. The aroma of a product has also become a key factor in consumer preferences. This shift has brought terpenes into the spotlight, as these compounds are responsible for the unique scents and flavors associated with different cannabis varieties.

Terpenes, organic compounds found in various plants, including cannabis, not only contribute to aroma but are believed to play a significant role in the psychoactive and medicinal properties of cannabis. In particular, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes have become the focus of research due to their high concentrations in cannabis essential oils.

To overcome the limitations of the traditional indica/sativa classification, which often fails to accurately differentiate cannabis varieties based on their aroma and psychoactive effects, researchers have turned to terpenes. Terpenes like terpinolene, limonene, caryophyllene, and myrcene have been used to classify cannabis more accurately.

However, recent studies have challenged the assumption that dominant terpenes dictate the aromatic character of a cannabis variety. For instance, varieties with vastly different aromas can fall into the same terpene category. This suggests that terpenes alone do not provide enough information to differentiate cannabis varieties based on aroma.

In a recent study, volatile chemical profiles of 31 cannabis ice hash rosin extracts were analyzed, revealing a myriad of nonterpenoid compounds that strongly influence the unique aromatic properties of cannabis. Some of these compounds, like prenylated volatile sulfur compounds, are found in low concentrations but have a significant impact on odor. For example, a new class of tropical volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) contributes to citrus or tropical fruit aromas, while skatole plays a key role in savory or chemical varieties.

Sensory experiments correlated with the chemical analysis demonstrated that major terpenes often appear similar, even when the aromatic properties are drastically different. This highlights that terpenes might not be the sole drivers of a cannabis variety’s scent.

This research provides a deeper understanding of the chemical composition of cannabis beyond terpenes and sheds light on how various compounds contribute to the unique aromas it produces. It offers an exciting opportunity to classify cannabis varieties based on key desirable aroma attributes, moving beyond the traditional classifications.

In summary, the cannabis industry is evolving, and so is our understanding of its aromatic attributes. Terpenes are just one piece of the puzzle, and as we delve deeper into the chemical complexities of cannabis, we discover that there’s much more to the story than we initially thought. The future of cannabis cultivation and appreciation promises to be a fragrant and diverse one, guided by science and innovation.


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