I remember when there were only three kinds of weed: schwag, Mexican and super expensive, which was anything from Colombian Gold to Thai-stick, varieties you seldom saw in the 1960s in the Midwest. Now there are hundreds of strains and navigating the marketplace is getting tricky.
Ever since Rick Simpson popularized the use of oil to treat cancer, there’s been a steady growth in oil production and use. Seven years ago, the oil being offered on the black market varied wildly, and some samples undoubtedly contained poison, just as some cannabis flowers being sold on the black market have mold or other potentially deadly contaminants.
For decades the cannabis world has been obsessed with THC, and now it’s all about CBD. But soon, the world will focus on the importance of terpenes, at least one of which fits into a THC brain receptor, but all of which influence medicinal effects and taste and smell. I don’t know about you, but I judge cannabis mostly on taste, and pure THC apparently has a pretty nasty taste. There’s a lot of study yet to be done with over 200 terpenes known to exist in cannabis, although most labs only check for the most prevalent half-dozen or so, believing the others offer no influence. Which is sort of like saying trace nutrients have no effect, when, in fact, they may be crucial to optimum health.
The most important trade in the ancient world was control of the Incense Route. This was a trail merchants used to transport the terpene-rich plants of the East to the West. Whoever controlled this trade, ruled the global economy. Of course, the Romans seized it over from the Greeks, who seized it from the Egyptians. But after the advent of bigger, better ships, the trade moved from land to sea and got a new name. “The Spice Route,” and Venice took over for a while. Up until the 1880s Venice was its own country, and exercised tremendous influence on politics in Europe and North America. Opium was always a big part of this trade, and so was cannabis and black pepper. Eventually, Holland and England battled, and England won.
The reason we use the word “drugs” today is for the Dutch word for plants, or dried goods.
I find it interesting the study of cannabis moved to Amsterdam in the 1990s, just as that city played an important role in the distribution of dried plants through the the Spice Trade. We like these terpene-rich plants because that’s nature’s way of guiding us to the medicine we need. And I don’t think you’ll can find another plant on earth so rich and complex in terpenes as cannabis.
I wrote a blog the other day on Rick Simpson Oil and made the mistake of saying it was made with Butane. (In fact, Rick promotes only the use of Naptha). When Steve Elliot corrected this obvious blunder, I changed it to read “hydrocarbons.” Now I’m thinking I need to go back to school and get a degree in chemistry so I can say something intelligent about cannabis and where the plant is headed in the next few years because it suddenly hit me: terpenes are hydrocarbons. But while the hydrocarbons produced by chemical factories are mostly poison, the hydrocarbons produced by plants are are mostly medicine.
Everyone is scrambling to find the best way to manufacture oil, and everyone has their favorite method. But the proof is going to be found in the lab profiles that will soon accompany every major strain and oil legally being sold. Right now, production of oil is stripping away crucial terpenes, and then terpenes from other plants are being added back for flavor. Not everyone does this, but I have a feeling the practice is gaining momentum. Pretty soon, buying oil is going to be like buying orange juice. You’ll be looking for the not-from-concentrate, no-added-terpenes on the label before making a purchase.
So become familiar with these terpenes and their effects:
Linalool (S)-linalool found in coriander, palmarosa, sweet orange; while [R] found in lavender, bay laurel, sweet basil; this terpene is used in 80% of hygiene products and also as an insecticide and mosquito repellant.
Caryophylene found in clove, black pepper and oregano.
Myrcene found in ylang-ylang, wild thyme and parsley.
alpha-pinene found in pine, rosemary, eucalyptus; (also beta-pinene found in pine).
Limonene found in lemon and orange.
Terpinolene found in cumin.
Nerolidol found in jasmine, ginger, neroli, tea tree and lemon grass.
Right now some people on the West Coast say the most flavorful dabs come from Butane oils, and that CO2 extraction removes the flavor. Meanwhile, science says dry sift extraction will produce the best quality hash, better than any oil extraction simply because the evaporation process strips terpenes. In terms of taste, high-quality water hashes are probably better than oil because they do less damage to the plant profiles.
So welcome to the New Spice Trade, which is about to become just as important as the old Incense Route and an important element in the new global economy.
(Photo of New York City Diesel oil by Alec Pearce, who added “a recently extracted sample containing gas bubbles, no smell, sticky to touch, hard metallic taste and minimal effect.”)