The Genes of Terpenes: Scientists Discover Pot’s Smell Predictor

By now, most even casual consumers of marijuana are familiar with “terpenes,” the compounds found in the essential oils of plants, responsible for a plant’s distinctive taste and aroma—and, with cannabis, which also play a role in how the plant affects the mind and body.

But according to a pair of scientists from the University of British Columbia, to find which terpenes a plant will produce, to determine if a cannabis plant will smell like skunk, funk or sweet apple pie, you can look at the plant’s genes.

Let us attempt to explain.

Terpenes are prized not only because they have profound impact on the humans who consume them, but because they’re not predictable. Similar or identical strains of cannabis will produce different levels of terpenes. (And as anyone who’s waded into cannabis genetics can tell you, “identical” strains, i.e. two varieties of Blue Dream, will have very different genetic makeups.) We have a fine idea of what terpenes are and what they do, but less of a handle on how to predict with precision what terpenes a finished product will have, and why.

“Concentrations and ratios of cannabinoids are relatively predictable for different strains,” the researchers wrote, “but terpene profiles are often unknown or unpredictable.”

We have a better idea now.

As reported in an article published in the journal Plos One on Wednesday, after studying both the genetic makeup and the terpene count of a variety of hemp called “Finola” and in a cut of Purple Kush, researchers Judith K. Booth, Jonathan E. Page and Jörg Bohlmann believe they’ve identified as many as 30 genes that may predict how a plant produces and synthesizes terpenes.

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As the Vancouver Sun reported, the scientists looked at the genomes of cannabis plants to identify genes associated with resulting terpenes, or which genes lead to “terpene biosynthesis,” as they wrote. They believe they’ve found a “cannabis terpene synthases gene family”—that is, a set of genetic markers that determine how a plant produces terpenes—associated with terpenes including mycrene and limoene, the “fruity” and “piny” flavors found in many strains of popular cannabis, including Cookies, GG#4 and O.G. Kush.

What to do with this information, and why should you care?

Consumers can look forward to more and better terpy products, for one. Armed with this information, plant scientists can breed a plant to produce terpenes, or at least know what starting-off seed material will produce an aromatic product.

This is also a major step forward in cannabis genetics.

For a long time, plant breeding was focused on traits that would predict levels of THC and CBD. Now, we know terpenes play a role, along with cannabinoids, in determining a plant’s effect.

After this first step towards predicting a plant’s terpene count, someday, we may be able to expect marijuana producers to make available finely-tuned cannabis, for precisely the effect we’re seeking.

Thanks, science.

eSense-Lab clinches terpene distribution agreement for lucrative UAE market

eSense-Lab (ASX: ESE) has clinched a A$1.1 million distribution agreement to take its plant-based terpene strains to the United Arab Emirates market.

The company secured the three-year binding sales and distribution contract with IC ACCESS, which has a minimal annual commitment of A$366,000.

As part of the agreement eSense-Lab will modify its terpene product line to suit the United Arab Emirates market and IC will have an exclusive right to market, sell and distribute the products in the region.

“United Arab Emirates is an extremely attractive market, with many applications for our products,” eSense-Lab chief executive officer Haim Cohen said.

“The United Arab Emirates has unique needs and new applications for our terpenes strains may arise from this market,” he said, adding IC had the means and connections to ensure implementation of the terpene products in the United Arab Emirates market.

This latest distribution deal follows a memorandum of understanding in mid-December with Australian brewer Young Henry’s Brewing Company to develop a line of terpene infused beer products.

Meanwhile, in November last year, eSense-Lab finalised its beta cannabis terpene infused chocolate with Healthy Chocolate Florida in an attempt to get a foothold in the United States’ US$4.5 billion retail cannabis market.

According to eSense-Lab, the companies are working on the product’s consumer requirements and are targeting finalising the product by mid-year.

eSense-Lab created the world’s first natural reformulated cannabis terpene profiles. The company has 10 formulations available and is developing a further 20.

The company claims its terpenes provide health and medical benefits including its cannabis-based formulations.

Medicinal cannabis market

eSense-Lab joins the ranks of numerous ASX-listed medicinal cannabis stockstaking advantage of easing restrictions across the world to develop cannabis-based products for a myriad of purposes.

US cannabis retail sales are anticipated to have grown 30% during 2017 on 2016 levels, with the global market forecast to be valued at $500 billion by 2029.

Shares in e-Sense-Lab were at A$0.29 in mid-morning trade up 1.75%.

‘Interpening’: Interpreting terpenes to know how cannabis will make you feel

On a warm winter day in Denver, Max Montrose, the 29-year-old president of the Trichome Institute, is “on a weed hunting mission.”

Montrose’s quest involves locating proper samples of cannabis to teach the students in his class how to detect specific characteristics of the cannabis flower. He’s been providing cannabis education classes in Colorado for more than eight years.

In addition to being the Trichome Institute’s president and co-founder, Montrose has authored several textbooks on cannabis sales training and products, and written for many cannabis-related magazines. He’s also developed his own tools, such as the “Interpening Loop,” to help users determine the effect a cannabis sample might have.

“My passion is cannabis, and has been since a young age, young teens,” he told ABC News. “My passion has led me down a road of daily research, growing, caregiving, activism, jobs, businesses, and now I am an expert witness in high-level cases and lecturing around the world. I have researched this plant incessantly from credible sources, and worked with it daily for 15 years.”

The class Montrose is shopping for on this outing will be a combination of Trichome’s Level 1 and Level 2 “Interpening” course. The class starts with a three-hour lecture, where Montrose discusses several topics including the history of cannabis, the anatomy of the plant and how to tell good quality from bad.

Following the lecture is an olfactory workshop, where students have the opportunity to get hands-on with the plant. There they learn how to use their senses to determine good and bad cannabis samples, and how to figure out where on the spectrum of psychoactive activity a cannabis sample falls.

To do this, Montrose instructs his students to use their senses in order “to break down real, true and noticeable characteristics [of the plant].” He calls his self-taught theory “Interpening” — a hybridization of the words “interpreting’ and “terpene.”

Terpenes are chemical chains that, among other things, give a plant its fragrance. Moreover, it’s widely held that terpenes have a pharmacology, meaning they have certain properties or reactions which can have a therapeutic value.

“I discovered Interpening in my later teenage years,” Montrose said. “I discovered all the ways to correlate psychotropic effect with bud structure and smell, and scent perception analysis.”

There are three levels of certification for Interpening at the Trichome Institute. For Level 1, the class costs $165 when taken in Denver, and consists of a 3-hour lecture on cannabis basics, the strain name dilemma, trichomes (outgrowths or appendages on plants), strain structures, quality analysis and the methodology behind Interpening. Montrose says the class can sometimes be taught outside the state of Colorado because it doesn’t involve any cannabis samples.

Level 2 classes, which Montrose says usually have about 30 students and account for about 95 percent of the Trichome Institute’s Interpening Colorado classes, cost $249 when taken in Denver. The Level 2 classes include the Level 1 lecture, plus an additional olfactory workshop with samples of cannabis. It wraps with a certification test on the skills and information taught in the class.

The highest level of Interpening certification — Level 3 — is by invitation only.

“Level 3 gets more microscopic, hashes and concentrates, horticulture, history and more,” said Montrose.

During the first stop on today’s mission, Montrose interpened more than a dozen cannabis samples, and left with several teaching examples for his upcoming class. While shopping for samples, Montrose says that often it can be difficult to tell the budtender that he’s not looking for what the typical cannabis consumer might be seeking. While on his bud quests, he’s “needing to really… focus on the jar and see it and really smell it [and] determine if this is a proper sample for class or not,” he says.

Why interpret terpenes?

Montrose points to several studies that found each cannabis sample contains over 200 terpenes. According to Montrose, by identifying the dominant type of terpene on a cannabis sample and where that smell is being felt in the nose, a user can determine what sort of impact a particular cannabis sample might have on a person when smoked.

Dr. Donald Land, chief scientific consultant for Steep Hill Labs, Inc. in Berkeley, California, told ABC News that while the Interpening method isn’t a substitute for scientific laboratory testing, it’s certainly better than nothing. Land cautions that the only true way to know what terpenes are on a cannabis sample is to perform scientific testing.

A specific terpene scent may not represent all of the undetectable terpenes on a sample, Land says. He adds that without validation of the Interpening process in a laboratory, there is no way to know if the results are correct.

Steep Hill’s lab is an independently owned and operated analysis, biotechnology, and research and development facility that seeks to “empower cultivators, dispensaries, manufacturers, and consumers with a transparent understanding of science,” according to its website. Land is also a tenured chemistry professor at UC Davis and co-founder of Halent Laboratory, which later merged with Steep Hill.

Land says that there are some contaminants that may be found on a cannabis sample that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Just as with terpene analysis, he says, the only true way to analyze a sample is with proper lab testing.

Montrose, however, reminds his students in every class he teaches that Interpening is his own theory. He’s claiming that terpene laboratory tests will not tell you the psychotropic value of a cannabis sample, but the theory of Interpening will.

And Montrose readily admits that Interpening does not replace standard lab testing. But he says he’s currently in talks with scientists who have attended his class and saw the value in the Interpening theory. The scientists have begun to negotiate investing in the system, as well as working on developing mechanized systems that can implement Interpening techniques.

‘A mission to end cannabis misinformation’

Montrose and his partner Jim Nathanson founded the Trichome Institute in 2014. Nathanson is the institute’s CEO.

“The Trichome Institute is really just a mission to end cannabis misinformation by educating people on cannabis things that we know to be real and true,” Montrose said.

The institute is an approved Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) Responsible Vendor Program Provider. The content of its curriculum has been approved and found to meet the requirement of MED regulations by MED and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Revenue confirmed to ABC News.

Colorado’s secretary of state website indicates the Trichome Institute is currently in “good standing.”

Now is a great time for marijuana education in the Centennial State, as business is growing. According to data from the Colorado Department of Revenue, more than $19.6 million was remitted to the state last June for all marijuana taxes, licenses and fees — a 7 percent increase from the same month in 2016. For the first six months of 2017, the total was more than $94.8 million.

Activists, writers, growers, budtenders, lawyers and product specialists have all attended the class, Montrose says. “What’s really cool about Interpening is there’s not one particular type or group of person who comes more often than other groups…it’s really a mixed group of people,” he added.

Colin Fletcher, a Denver-based attorney specializing in marijuana law, has an Interpening Level 2 certification. “I utilize the knowledge I learned in the course primarily with product specifications,” he told ABC News.

Allie Greenstone, who is Montrose’s girlfriend, also has an Interpening Level 2 certification. As a sales rep for Mary’s Medicinals, her job centers mainly around education and training dispensary staff and patients on the company’s products — including cannabis-infused transdermal patches, gel pens, topicals and other non-psychoactive products.

Mary’s Medicinals is a Denver-based company that, according to its website, “creates the most effective, accurately-dosed natural pain-relief products utilizing clinically tested, clean and accurate delivery methods. Most importantly, Mary maintains “industry-leading accountability driven by her patient-first mentality.”

“The reason I was so excited about it was to be able to learn more about actually looking at the plant, and being able to ignore something so ambiguous as a strain name or even THC content. I feel so many people go into dispensaries just looking, ‘Oh, this one has 26 percent THC, this one has 15 percent THC, so I’m going to go for this one,’ when in actuality, that really plays very little factor,” Greenstone said.

On that winter day, Montrose ended his “weed-hunting mission” with more than a dozen suitable fresh cannabis samples in hand. He’ll add this fresh crop to his existing stockpile of samples — both good and bad — for his students to learn from.

In the future, Montrose hopes that the Trichome Institute will be able to harvest their own flower so that they can have better control over the variety types and freshness of the samples.

“For now, hitting a few of my particular dispensaries around town definitely works,” Montrose said. “It’s just hard to find exactly what you’re looking for when you’re as picky as I am.”

Simple Explanation Of Popular Cannabis Terpenes And Their Effects

Terpenes, sometimes called terpenoids, are aromatic organic hydrocarbons contained in the cannabis plant, which give it its unique aroma.

However, there’s a whole lot more to terpenes than just smell, and you might be surprised to learn just how vital the role of terpenes is in terms of a rounded medicinal effect from cannabis. To get technical for just a moment, terpenes are synthesized in cannabis in secretory cells inside glandular trichomes, and their production is increased with light exposure. Terpenes are mainly found in high concentrations in unfertilized female cannabis flowers prior to senescence.

Another important role that terpenes play is to protect the cannabis plant from bacteria and fungus, insects and other environmental stresses.

Terpenes are thought to act on receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain and act as serotonin uptake inhibitors, which enhance norepinephrine activity, according to studies. They work together with flavonoids and other compounds in cannabis to produce a strong medicinal effect for cannabis patients.

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In studies on mice and rats, a standardized cannabis extract of THC, CBD and CBN (SCE), another with pure THC, and also one with a THC-free extract (CBD) were tested on a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS) and a rat brain slice model of epilepsy. The study found that SCE inhibited spasticity in the MS model to a comparable level of THC alone, and caused a more rapid onset of muscle relaxation and a reduction in the time to maximum effect than the THC alone.

Enter Dr. Ethan Russo, who came up with the ‘Entourage Effect’ theory some years ago, claiming that terpenes compliment the active compounds in cannabis by inhibiting the effects of THC. According to Russo et al, terpenes increase the potential of cannabis-based medicinal extracts to treat pain, inflammation, fungal and bacterial infections, depression, and anxiety.

The Terpene Wheel is a handy diagram which illustrates the differences between terpenes and offers additional information about them. Green House Seed Co’s wheel identifies the various terpenes in each of their strains.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the main  terpenes found in cannabis, as well as in a variety of other plants, fruits and herbs.


Pinene has a distinctly piney aroma, and is also found in pine needles, rosemary, basil, parsley, and dill. There are two types of this terpene, α-pinene and β-pinene, and both have been associated with the treatment of asthma, containing antiseptic properties, and also anti-inflammatory elements. Pinene is said to promote alertness and memory retention, and can be found in strains like Jack Herer, Chemdawg, and Bubba Kush.


Mycrene is another well-known terpene which smells musky, earthy, and has been closely associated in aroma with cloves, with some citrusy notes. Mycrene is thought to enduce the well-known ‘couchlock’ effect, leaving the patient slightly numb and with a substantial body sensation. This terpene has been used in the treatment of numerous conditions, as it acts like a potent analgesic, with anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties. It is also known to be a terpene that enhances the effects of THC. Mycrene is prevalent also in mangos, and is found in strains like Pure Kush, El Nino, and White Widow.


Limonene is another top-shelf terpene which, as is suggested by its name, is very much on the citrusy scale, inducing a euphoric feeling, elevated mood and stress relief. Limonene-rich strains can smell of oranges and lemons, as well as being present in herbs such as rosemary, juniper and pine needles. This terpene is thought to be an ideal antifungal agent, and also could be effective when it comes to weight-loss. Limonene-rich cannabis strains include, Super Lemon Haze, Jack the Ripper, and Lemon Skunk.


Linalool is another favorite terpene among cannabis patients, due to its lavender, floral aromas, and sweet notes. Used in the treatment of anxiety, and as an anti-convulsant, and anti-depressant, this pungent terpene is thought to be very effective in the treatment of numerous medical conditions. You could find this terpene in high concentrations in strains such as, G-13, Amnesia Haze, and Lavender.


This terpene is reminiscent of peppercorns, with a slightly spicy aroma, which come people describe as ‘woody.’ Caryophyllene, or Beta-caryophyllene, as it is known technically, is considered to be effective in treating gastro issues, arthritis, ulcers and autoimmune diseases. Caryophyllene is the only terpene known to interact directly with the human endocannabinoid system, with some studies showing it to hold promise in some cancer treatments. Strains rich with this terpene include, Hash Plant, Northern Lights, and Afghan.

One Israel-based company at the forefront of terpene extraction for medical applications is Eybna Technologies Limited. They claim on their website that by ‘analyzing the finest cannabis strains in the market, we have developed rich initiatory aromas containing a wide variety of terpenes. Our product line integrates high quality natural raw materials with special attention to the delicate nuances of each strain’s terpene composition.’

The Co-Founder and CEO of Eybna, Nadav Eyal, told Cannatech exclusively, “When we founded Eybna in 2014, awareness for the importance of terpenes was still very low in the industry, as most research was only carried out on common cannabinoids such as THC & CBD.” Eyal added, “We focused our research primarily on mapping out and isolating the non-cannabinoid compounds and their therapeutic effects, with the emphasis on terpenes. We already see fascinating, very positive results, but there is plenty more research to be done here.”

The wonderful world of terpenes is one that requires a lot more exploration and research. In order to gain a better understanding of how these gifts from nature could help patients around the world who are suffering from a variety of different conditions and ailments.

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Terpenes are next frontier of curated cannabis experience, experts say

For the marijuana novice, weed is just weed. But for the cannabis connoisseur, there’s a whole world of flavors, scents and effects – and it goes beyond just different types of strains.

The next frontier of curating a cannabis experience, experts say, lies not in a strain of the plant – the Sour Diesels and Pineapple Kushes that your dispensary will surely have on its menu – but in harnessing the terpenes within cannabis.

“Terpenes are essential oils found in different botanicals and plant matter. They’re why lemon has that citrusy smell, why pine needles smell like pine,” said Seth Yaffe, operations manager at Ermont Inc., a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary in Quincy, Mass.

Terpenes are mostly known for giving plants their unique aroma, which is why there are essential oils of lavender and eucalyptus. But when they work in conjunction with cannabinoids like THC and CBD, “it’s an entourage effect,” Yaffe said, meaning terpenes can actually change or heighten the therapeutic effects of marijuana.

To take advantage of terpenes, many labs isolate them when they process the cannabis into a concentrate.

“Most people processing for THC strip out the terpenes and other minor cannabinoids to get to a clear product,” explained Norman Olson of High Tech Extracts in Maine. “Then to get flavor and aroma, you add the terpenes back. That’s the sommelier art of it.”

Speaking of wine, Yaffe actually worked in the restaurant industry for 25 years, where he wrote wine lists. He’s seen how people can smell a certain strain and know right away what it is, “just like a sommelier would be able to blind smell wine.”

But with terpenes, his role goes above and beyond suggesting flavors and scents someone might like. It’s about the kind of high these terpenes bring with them, too.

“It might be the same level of cannabis, but by adding in different blends of terpenes, we’re able to promote specific effects … like promoting more relaxing sleep,” Yaffe said. “The four major effects of the line we carry are concentration, helping sleep, anti-anxiety and the ability to have more energy.”

This is the customization that is taking over the business side of cannabis, Yaffe said. People aren’t necessarily looking just for certain strains anymore, but for a curated high, and terpenes help achieve that.

Still, terpenes are “new to the game” in terms of what we know, Yaffe said. Though there hasn’t been a lot of scientific research around cannabis and all its components yet, experts in the industry hope that with its acceptance – like the legalization in Massachusetts – comes more knowledge about it.

“Regardless of medical or recreational, a tremendous amount of people are cannabis users that are really looking for an effect,” he said. “It’s the importance of those terpenes and how we understand them, how we move forward with science to be able to manipulate and safely add them, that will allow for the creation of new products.”