Pop quiz! What is the difference between Blue Dream and Durban Poison? These two strains have similar cannabinoid profiles, are both considered to be sativa strain, and both even have a similar bud structure and color palette. So what makes these two strains – and the associated high – completely different from one another? Need a hint? Follow your nose.
Any particular strain’s aromatic profile can be broken down into hundreds of unique compounds that, when combined, form the “bouquet” of a strain’s scent. These aromatic compounds can include flavonoids, esters, ketones, and fatty acids, but the most abundant – and arguably important – are a class of chemicals called terpenes. Terpenes, together with the other aromatic compounds in cannabis, are what differentiates one strain from another. Long thought to be only responsible for the aroma of different cannabis strains, research has found significant evidence that terpenes are also responsible for the different kinds of highs associated with different strains. There is even evidence of therapeutic benefits of terpenes when taken together with cannabinoids, a phenomenon dubbed the “Entourage Effect.”
The analysis of terpenes has benefits across the spectrum of the cannabis industry, from cultivators, to extractors, to consumers. Knowing the terpene profile, as well as the cannabinoid profile of a given strain gives power and knowledge when making decisions about one’s health or their desired experience with cannabis. At Lab Link Testing, we utilize Gas Chromatography coupled with Mass Spectroscopy (GC-MS) to identify and quantify 65 unique terpenes in flower, concentrates, and vape cartridges.
Unlike cannabinoids, terpenes are semi-volatile, which means that they are more likely to evaporate at ambient temperatures – that’s why we smell terpenes and not cannabinoids after all! Due to this unique challenge, gas chromatography is the industry standard when it comes to terpene analysis. Another challenge facing accurate terpene analysis is the similarity in chemical structure. Terpenes are a class of chemical, which means that they all have similar chemical properties. This can make separating α-pinene from β-pinene incredibly difficult. Add on another 64 unique terpenes and it becomes a veritable mess of imprecision and uncertainty. This is where Mass Spectroscopy comes in. While each terpene is like a cousin to every other terpene, Mass Spectroscopy is able to take these similar compounds and separate them out by comparing known spectra – a unique “fingerprint” for every chemical (not just terpenes!).
Lab Link’s methodology combines the separation power of chromatography with the specificity of mass spectroscopy to accurately identify and quantitate more terpenes than most other labs, with the robustness to add more terpenes and aromatic compounds to our repertoire in the future.