Terpenes or Bust: The Best Indicator of Quality Cannabis


When customers come in to shop at a dispensary, there’s one question that never goes unasked — “which strain is highest in THC?” While THC percentage might be a good indication of quality for many, that question can make budtenders cringe. 

If you were to walk into a liquor store, would you immediately ask for the highest proof alcohol? Of course not! Everclear, for instance, may have a high alcohol content, but it is far from the highest quality liquor on the shelf. Even people that do not consume alcohol know that there is much more to the quality of a drink than its alcohol content. The smoothness and flavor are not just contributing factors, but can make the defining difference between a high shelf or a low shelf liquor. 

Cannabis is no different. THC percentage is just one of the many factors that contribute to a strain’s overall quality. To most people versed in cannabis, it can be a misleading number that is overly relied upon. In all actuality, one of the most vital components of a cannabis strain are also the most overlooked–terpenes.

Terpenes exist in far more than just cannabis. They are organic compounds that give any plant its distinctive taste and smell. Lemons and blueberries smell and taste differently due to their varying terpene contents, for example. 

Any given strain’s terpene profile helps provide that strain with its distinctive high. It is the unique composition of terpenes in each strain, not just the cannabinoid percentages, that differentiates Bubba Kush’s high from Sour Diesel’s high, for example. This is because each terpene can either enhance or mute effects of cannabinoid consumption. They can even provide added medical benefits. 

Linalool, for instance, is a terpene characterized by its floral, lavender-like scent. The calming effects of this terpene helps offset some of the anxiety caused by THC. It’s also analgesic and antiepileptic. Pinene smells, as you might guess, piney. Pinene is a terpene that can enhance memory and concentration. Strains that have a high pinene content may offset the short term memory loss caused  by THC. It also helps reduce inflammation, is antiseptic, and an expectorant. Mycrene is one of the most common terpenes found in cannabis. It is also found in hops and characterized by a clove-like smell. Mycrene has calming effects that can enhance the relaxing qualities of a strain. Scientists have found over 100 terpenes present in cannabis, so there is no limit to how many different strains can be produced by varying terpene profiles.

Many dispensaries try to capitalize on the public’s obsession with potency by growing solely for strength and ignoring the advanced terpene profiles that provides a strain with its distinctive high. The result is a harsh smoking, bad tasting strain that produces a strong, heady high. However, the high is not well rounded. It might produce an empty, unsatisfied feeling considering the expectations that the THC percentage has provided. A user will be more likely to suffer from some of the negative effects of THC consumption, such as paranoia and anxiety, since there may not be enough terpenes to offset these negative effects. 

The best way to determine if you will enjoy the high of a strain is simply to follow your nose! Just as you may walk past some good smelling food that whets your appetite, a good smelling cannabis strain is likely to please your palate and provide the effect that you’re looking for. 

So, trust your nose, not the numbers. Consult with your budtender about the different terpene profiles present in your strains so that you can get a full bodied high worthy of your purchase–don’t just settle for THC percentages.

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