Why Terpenes Matter When You’re Breeding Medical Cannabis
By Taylor Kirk, VP of Operations
In this occasional series, Compassionate Cultivation’s in-house experts offer a breakdown of the science behind cultivating, harvesting and processing medical cannabis, and share insights on Texas-regulated cannabis-based medicine.
Cannabis plants are complex, containing a number of compounds that affect the body in different ways. While much attention is given to the cannabinoids CBD and THC, there are additional components we continue to learn more about, such as other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, omega fatty acids and more.
Research shows that terpenes have significant benefits and play a key role in the efficacy of medical cannabis.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are organic compounds produced by plants that give them distinctive scents.
If you’ve ever walked through a pine forest, a citrus grove or a field of lavender, you’ve experienced a high concentration of terpene molecules in the air you breathe. Consider these three examples, those different experiences, and how your body might have responded. You may remember moments of mental clarity, stimulation or relaxation. Those experiences and body responses were greatly influenced through your interaction with the terpenes you encountered.
Terpenes are the primary ingredients in the essential oils derived from many types of plants, and they’re widely used in many industries such as biotechnology and the manufacturing of foods, beverages, cosmetics, cleaning products and pharmaceuticals.
Terpenes and the Entourage Effect
It turns out that terpenes aren’t just the source of certain scents: They affect our brains and bodies, often in powerful ways. Researchers have determined some terpenes are analgesic (pain-relieving), some are antifungal and others are anti-inflammatory.
Research of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) indicates that cannabinoids may in fact be more effective and therapeutic when working in concert with terpenes—a phenomenon commonly referred to as “the entourage effect.” In a groundbreaking 2011 study, Dr. Ethan Russo argued that terpenes “display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts.”
Terpenes and Medical Cannabis Breeding
We started an in-house breeding program at Compassionate Cultivation to better serve Texas patients and meet manufacturing demands. Cannabis breeding enables us to target specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles and optimize our genetic portfolio. In 2018, we bred Waterloo—the first-ever legal cannabis cultivar or “strain” created in Texas—and have followed that up with the creation of a second cultivar, which we’ve dubbed Brazos. Both Waterloo and Brazos were bred to be hardy, healthy, CBD-rich plants—and each has a unique chemical profile. Referred to as chemovars, cannabis plants with different chemical profiles vary considerably and are unique beyond their CBD to THC ratios.
Medical cannabis use across the country is widespread and patients have reported different symptom relief and effects from different cannabis chemovars with the same CBD and THC content. These reports suggest how influential terpenes are in cannabis. A 2016 report in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science notes: “It is now well accepted that the health benefits of fruits, vegetables and other plant foods are due to the synergy or interactions between the different bioactive compounds or other nutrients present in the whole foods, and not to the action of a sole compound. Similarly, cannabis-based therapeutics exert their pharmacological effects in humans via synergistic or antagonistic interactions.”
The opportunity to create new and more effective medicine is why breeding and genetic innovation is central to Compassionate Cultivation’s mission. Educating Texas physicians and patients about medical cannabis and being transparent about our manufacturing processes are also part of that mission.
This is why every batch of medical cannabis oil we make comes with a Certificate of Analysis (COA) that details cannabinoid content and lab-test results to ensure there are no pesticides, heavy metals or microbials. But for those who don’t want to delve too deep into the COA science jargon, the key takeaway is that Compassionate Cultivation’s plant-extracted oils are safe, consistent and effective.
We’ve only scratched the surface of the medical cannabis breeding potential; as scientists continue to explore the ECS and entourage effect, new chemovar profiles will be targeted to provide more options for physicians and patients.
Get more insight about Texas medical cannabis from the Compassionate Cultivation team.
Vice President of Operations Taylor Kirk is an experienced agronomist. In addition to overseeing the daily operations of plant cultivation, processing and product manufacturing, he directs the in-house breeding program, which creates original medical cannabis cultivars. He holds a bachelor of science degree in agronomy from Texas A&M University.