In the ever-evolving world of cannabis, there’s more to consider than just the strain or the THC content. The way cannabis is processed and consumed can significantly alter its effects, flavour, and overall experience.
This post covers a recent study about the science behind cannabis processing, from drying and curing to extraction and vaporization, revealing how each step can drastically change the composition of the final product.
We’ll explore the fascinating world of terpenes, the aromatic compounds that give cannabis its unique scent and flavor, and how they are affected during various stages of processing.
What Happens to Terpenes During Vaporization?
When you heat cannabis in a vaporizer, the heat causes the terpenes and cannabinoids to evaporate, turning them into a vapor that you can inhale. However, not all compounds in cannabis respond to heat in the same way.
Monoterpenes, a type of terpene, are particularly sensitive to heat. They have a lower boiling point than other compounds, meaning they turn into vapor at lower temperatures.
So, when you start vaping, the monoterpenes tend to evaporate first, before the cannabinoids like THC (the compound that gives cannabis its psychoactive effect).
Terpenes: The Flavorful Powerhouses of Cannabis
Terpenes are responsible for the unique scents and flavors of different cannabis strains. They also play a crucial role in the ‘entourage effect’, a theory suggesting that cannabinoids and terpenes work together to enhance the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
However, terpenes are highly sensitive to heat and can evaporate during the drying, curing, and extraction processes, significantly altering the flavor and potential benefits of the final product.
The Hidden Impact of Drying and Curing
The drying and curing process is essential for transforming freshly harvested cannabis into a consumable product.
However, the study found that this process can lead to a significant loss of monoterpenes, the most volatile terpenes, resulting in a change in the aroma and flavor profile of the cannabis.
How Does This Affect the Cannabis Experience?
This means that when you vape cannabis, you’re likely inhaling more terpenes early on and more cannabinoids later.
This can affect the overall experience of vaping cannabis. For example, since terpenes are responsible for the aroma and flavor of cannabis, you might notice that the taste changes over the course of vaping.
More importantly, this could potentially impact the ‘entourage effect’ – the theory that all the compounds in cannabis work together to enhance its overall effects.
If you’re inhaling more terpenes at the start and more cannabinoids later, it could alter how these compounds interact and, therefore, the overall effect of the cannabis
Extraction: A Double-Edged Sword
Extraction methods used to create cannabis oils and concentrates can also lead to terpene loss. While extraction enhances the potency of cannabinoids, it can also cause terpenes to evaporate, especially if high temperatures are used.
This results in a product that may be high in cannabinoids but low in terpenes, potentially affecting the entourage effect.
Terpene Evaporation During Vaporization
Vaporizing, or ‘vaping’, is a popular method of cannabis consumption due to its convenience and perceived health benefits compared to smoking. However, the high temperatures used in vaporizers can cause rapid terpene evaporation.
This means that when you vape, you might be inhaling more terpenes at the start of your session, with the balance shifting towards cannabinoids as your session progresses. This can change the flavor and effects of the cannabis over the course of your vaping session.
Implications for cannabis consumers
Every step taken after harvesting cannabis, even those at low temperatures like drying and curing, changes the makeup of the final product.
This means that most medical cannabis products you find on the market are different from the plant as it was when harvested. They’re not exactly the “whole plant” or “full-spectrum” products you might think they are.
One key difference is that these products have fewer terpenes, the compounds that give cannabis its unique flavours and smells, compared to the freshly harvested plant.
This is especially true for a type of terpenes called monoterpenes.
Since other compounds like cannabinoids and a type of terpenes called sesquiterpenes don’t evaporate as much during processing, the balance between these compounds and monoterpenes changes a lot.
This could affect the so-called ‘entourage effect’, where all these compounds work together to enhance cannabis’s effects.
The rate at which compounds evaporate changes a lot with temperature, even with small temperature changes. For example, a monoterpene called β-myrcene evaporates about 2.1 times faster at 120°C compared to 100°C, while THC, a cannabinoid, evaporates about 4.3 times faster at 120°C compared to 100°C.
In large-scale operations, it’s almost impossible to heat all the cannabis evenly, especially when dealing with large amounts of material. This, combined with how much evaporation rates can change with temperature, means that the final products can vary a lot in their composition, even between batches.
Contrary to what many sources say, the temperature at which cannabinoids start to boil is actually much higher, above 400°C, not around 160°C. However, cannabinoids can still evaporate at the temperatures used in vaporizers.
It’s important to note, though, that when you’re using a vaporizer, you’re likely inhaling most of the terpenes before the cannabinoids.
These insights are important for everyone involved in medical cannabis, from producers to caregivers to users.
There’s a lot of room for improvement in making sure that medical cannabis products are accurate, consistent, and optimized for the entourage effect.