The cannabis plant undergoes a unique life cycle that ends with a bountiful harvest of trichome-soaked buds. Throughout the drying and curing process, trichomes and by extension, terpenes, can be lost. Terpenes dry up at a faster rate due to their relatively lower boiling points compared to cannabinoids such as CBD and THC.
If the buds undergo an extraction process, most terpenes are more than likely lost due to the high pressure and heat processes involved. As a result, extractors and consumers are left with a diluted product compared to its original terpene profile. Some extraction systems, however, have refined their operations to preserve the maximum amount of terpenes.
Why Terpene Retention is Important
Cannabinoids have been the primary focus of cannabis clinical research. Terpenes, however, are showing tremendous promise as complementary therapeutic agents. For medicinal users, full-spectrum extracts containing the entire spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other essential oils produce an amplified therapeutic response.
Terpenes may play a small part in the internal chemical dance between cannabis compounds and our endocannabinoids system, but they can provide a sharper and more complex experience over the relatively blunted effects of THC or CBD alone. Preliminary studies have shown that terpenes have the following health benefits:
Cannabis extracts such as vapes, oils, and concentrates have increased the importance of terpenes in products. Terpenes in shelf-ready products can be derived from the cannabis plant, other plants, or made synthetically. Some producers may infuse multiple sources of terpenes to recreate a signature smell that can be lost during extraction.
Natural cannabis terpenes play important supporting roles for major cannabinoids. As a foundation of aromatherapy, native cannabis terpenes provide consumers with a more authentic smell and flavor and a subtle boost in buzz.
Terpenes derived from cannabis strains, especially, facilitate the plant’s “entourage effect.” Each cannabinoid has a unique function in activating certain cells. THC affects the nervous system. Some terpenes can increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier to increase, lengthen, or accelerate the health benefits of cannabinoids.
Holding on to as many of these aromatic oils as possible becomes a critical aspect of producing artisanal extracts that keeps customers coming back for more. For users, preserving these pungent oils is a part of the therapeutic process. Terpenes are no longer an after-thought. Today’s cannabis consumer has developed a nose for terps.
Early Harvesting and Processing
Terpene retention is most important during the harvesting stage. Some cultivators have adopted an early harvesting technique to hold on to more of those aromatic compounds. Instead of waiting until the flower buds have fully matured, growers may harvest their cannabis plant slightly before it’s ready.
How does this work? A premature cannabis plant doesn't have fully-developed stomata. Stomata are plant organs found on leaves that open and close to release gas. Early harvesting reduces the number of stomata available and, thereby, reduces the amount of gas exchanged. Less gas exchange means more terpenes are locked inside the plant.
After harvesting cannabis, many terp hunters prepare their fresh buds by freezing them. Farmers vacuum seal their buds and put them in an industrial freezer at extremely low temperatures to preserve its flavors, terpenes, and cannabinoids. Afterward, extraction companies can extract the material for a superior product.
Storage and Handling
In the interim between harvesting and extraction, proper storage can help preserve terpenes. Cannabis buds should ideally be kept below freezing temperatures when stored or transported to manufacturers or retailers. Similarly, extraction equipment and solvents should be chilled or be able to handle cooler temperatures during the extraction process.
Apart from regulating temperatures, flash-frozen cannabis should be kept away from any light source. Exposure to light can break down the vulnerable molecular bonds of these volatile compounds and degrade the buds’ authentic terpene profile. Most growers and extractors use walk-in freezers to keep cannabis cool and away from ambient light.
In the hands of consumers, the same preservation techniques apply. Whole-flower and extracts should be stored in a cool and dark space. Exposing products to heat and light can break the fragile chemical bonds. As a consumer, sourcing high-terpene full-spectrum extracts (HTFSE) is key to enjoying and preserving the most amount of terpenes.
When purchasing whole-flower products, minimal handling is advised to avoid breaking off its glistening trichomes. Users should keep their buds in a low-humidity environment. Humidity packs or even cannabis humidors can regulate moisture to prevent mold and mildew and dry weed. Vaporization is the recommended way to avoid burning off those pungent oils.
Extraction methods are notoriously harsh on volatile terpenes, especially the lighter ones with a lower boiling point. Heat, pressure, agitation, and solvents are all needed during extraction but can be a double edged sword for the preservation of terpenes. Fine tuning internal temperatures and runtime can reduce terpene loss.
For maximum terpene hoarding, light hydrocarbons such as butane and propane provide a gentler touch on the temperature-sensitive terpenes. Butane and propane feature non-polar traits and relatively low boiling points compared to other solvents. As a result, hydrocarbon extraction can create a terpene-rich full-spectrum product.
Butane hash oil (BHO) production generally requires less post-processing than ethanol or carbon dioxide solvents. Because of the efficiency of some automated BHO systems, extractors only need to use vacuum ovens at low temperatures to reduce the trace amount of solvent left and keep the terpenes around.
Super-efficient extraction units can extract cannabinoids and terpenes without its undesirable components such as chlorophyll, lipids, fats, and waxes. These closed-loop systems can create a wide range of extract types including BHO shatter, wax, crumble, live resin, terp sauce, and so much more. BHO is truly the king of terpenes.
Luna Technologies Extraction Equipment
Luna Technologies provides extraction companies with automated solutions for a superior BHO extract. Our fully-automated IO Extractor can create terpene-rich concentrates time after time using pre-programmed recipes and industry-leading cooling capabilities. Our extractor features five times the cooling power of our competition. This translates into better terpene yields.
Our extraction system helps companies produce the most aromatic crude oil available. This refined crude oil is the basis for a range of extracts including live resin, sauce, diamonds, shatter, and vape cartridges. Aside from the retention of terpenes, hydrocarbon extraction can have up to four times higher throughput than conventional extraction equipment.