The first question most U.S. dispensary owners get from new customers walking through their doors usually has something to do with the percent of THC in their weed. It’s been all the rage in 2021. Based on conversations I’ve heard from leaders in the space, flowers on the shelves can fetch more money at 25 percent THC than flowers at 20 percent or less THC. Legal marijuana stores are upping the ante with plants reaching up to and over 30 percent THC.
The craziest part about the latest trend? It’s a little misguided.
In fact, some critics go as far as calling the industry’s craving for marijuana’s most popular cannabinoid a fallacy. Scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder, documented the experiences of 121 cannabis users last year — nearly half preferred cannabis flower over concentrates and the other half liked concentrates better than flower. The study gave flower users a strain at either 16 percent or 24 percent THC to smoke, while extract users ingested concentrates at either 70 percent or 90 percent THC. The study found participants’ self-reported intoxication levels were all about the same.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give many plants and herbs their smell. On the other hand, cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds specific to cannabis. But not all marijuana flower has the same cannabinoid and terpene profiles. In fact, variations of the compounds give different strains their unique smell and taste. Together, the combination of THC, along with popular cannabinoids like CBD, and terpenes is largely associated with producing what’s called the entourage effect. The main hypothesis around this, as outlined by HealthLine, is that terpenes “work in tandem with the cannabinoid content…to produce the effects people associate with different strains.”
Every terpene has a distinctive scent and flavor that impacts the experience a customer has. Brand leaders need to prioritize better understanding their products and identify how they can educate consumers on a given product, especially when it comes to terpenes.
The Five Most Common Terpenes
The five most common terpenes are myrcene, limonene, pinene, linalool and humulene.
• Myrcene, in my opinion, is the rockstar of the terpene world. It produces a spicy, herbal flavor; beyond cannabis, myrcene is in thyme, cardamom, hop and plenty of other plants.
• Limonene, probably the second-most popular terpene in my experience, produces a citrus-like aroma. The name of a strain — like Lemon Skunk and Super Lemon Haze, for example — usually tells whether a flower has high limonene counts.
• Pinene is most commonly found in nature: pine needles, fennel, rosemary, basil and parsley among a host of other organic elements.
• Linalool has a pleasant-smelling lavender hint to it.
• Spicy-scented humulene features strong antibacterial properties that protect the cannabis plant from unwanted bacteria and fungi while growing.
Implications for Brand Leaders
Instead of falling back on THC profiles, brand leaders should broaden the conversation to include terpenes. Properly educating marijuana buyers can help the industry establish greater trust and transparency.
Brand leaders should take the time to understand the terpenes in their products, so they can do their part and properly educate consumers instead of defaulting to only touting a strain’s THC. When biased customers enter stores determined to find the highest THC flower they can, there’s little opportunity to get in their way. But there’s certainly hope and an increasing number of promising models to follow.
For starters, brands can begin targeting their customers ahead of time by advertising the terpene profiles in their products. Instead of putting THC front and center, they can intrigue customers by pushing terpenes as an exciting part of the product. Even people who arrive knowing exactly what they’re looking for are compelled to explore new options when they’re warmly invited to. Consider offering consultations or escorting customers through the store during their entire shopping trip — from start to finish. Doing so gives the store, and its brands, ample opportunities to educate buyers and set the cannabis narrative straight.
One of the best examples of this in my personal experience has been Exhale Nevada dispensary in Las Vegas. Billed as a “comfortable and professional atmosphere” that “helps its customers find the right medicine for their specific needs,” its walls are decked out in colorful charts, posters and signs illustrating the value of individual terpenes and the entourage effect. Many of the signs are produced by Exhale’s in-house brands that aim to inform customers. By serving as a reliable source of information, the brands earn customers’ trust and their business.
We’ve made it this far as an industry by taking brave risks — cannabis is still federally prohibited after all. We must now have the courage to look past short-term profits offered by the THC craze and celebrate terpenes.