Magical Terpenes & Marijuana Mysteries

I’ve spent decades as a cannabis user never appreciating the diversity of aromas emanating from different strains and varieties of herb. I’d never heard of terpenes, never thought about my stash smelling like anything other than skunk or pine. Admittedly, it wasn’t easy to get premium flower strains back in the day, and more often than not I had a baggie half full of seeds and stems that smelled more or less like dirt. It was like being a connoisseur of cheap, watery beer, and only being able to compare Old Milwaukee to Milwaukee’s Best (hint: there is no difference!) There was no top shelf, connoisseur hybrid strain of the week. Seeds, stems and dirt were it!

With maturity has come a bit of sophistication and a desire to experience marijuana’s deeper properties. As if on cue, legalization has provided the opportunity to appreciate the subtle characteristics of countless strains. In the same manner that a sommelier differentiates and describes all the qualities of a fine glass of wine, there are now many marijuana experts fascinated, if not obsessed, with terpenes, the chemicals which give different strains of cannabis a variety of sweet, rich and pungent aromas. One of the helpful budtendresses at The WEED first brought terpenes to my attention, explaining that the effects produced by the flower as experienced by the user are as much a reflection of his enjoyment of a given aroma as it is the result of THC content.

I started to read more about terpenes and the different kinds of aromas produced and thought that perhaps I would start writing regular reviews of strains and their characteristics. This seemed like a great idea, until I ran into a few problems. First, I’m not great at differentiating and identifying subtle differences in aroma. In attempting to list out terpene-produced aromas I realized how subjective it was and that I could write whatever I wanted, with few exceptions. Second, I’m not good at differentiating the effects produced by different strains, unless those effects are completely clear and pronounced and different than I usually feel. A good example of this exception would be my recent review of Inferno Gold’s Fire Sticks, which provided an unmistakably euphoric, creative high.

Nonetheless, there are those who happily review strains and cite their terpene characteristics and the highs produced, asserting a degree of correlation between terpenes and the effects one experiences. Ed Rosenthal, in his Marijuana Growers Handbook, includes a very helpful series of pages describing a large variety of seeds / strains, listing a number of characteristics for each. As I read through this section I noted that of all the legacy strains included, I had only seen or heard of a few, and it occurred to me that we’re at a point, because of legalization, that new strains are appearing all the time in different places. Consequently, this means that only a small number of people might be able to find one strain or another at his dispensary, because a dispensary can only carry so many strains.

Of all the helpful information gleaned from testing and included on compliant labels, terpenes are generally not shown. Thus the patent must rely on his own sense of smell to determine which terpenes are in which strains, and the subjectivity of it all suggests that it would be just as easy to misidentify an aroma and purchase the wrong strain as it would be to come home with the right one.

Terpene Chart
Chart of Terpenes and their Effects – Objective or Subjective?

With this in mind, and considering my poor scent identification skills, I gave up on the plan to review strains as a regular feature of Swedish Flying Saucer. Before I reached that point, however, I decided to go through all of these descriptions in Rosenthal’s book and list out all the aromas mentioned, as well as all the effects. These descriptions are as much a function of the sniffer’s command of language and writing ability as they are a reflection of the actual terpene smells. Same with the descriptions of highs. I can’t say that there’s any necessary relationship between specific terpenes and highs, again, because it is so subjective, but others don’t see it that way. In any case, there was always a certain mystery underlying the experience of cannabis and as much as I appreciate all the information available nowadays, I fear the demystification may lesson the wonderment that characterizes for some people, like myself, their relationship with marijuana.

I’m glad to know about terpenes, because knowing about them allows me to ponder the chemical mechanics that happen on such a micro level to affect such a fundamental part of my cannabis experience. And since I’ve begun dry herb vaping and low temperature dabbing, I’ve finally begun to notice the variety of aromas and related effects. I also noticed that a clean bong will allow sweeter fragrances to waft through the smoke. The ability to notice and identify aromas and effects is as much a function of the user as it is the flower, and there are some strains that are better than others at emitting clear aromas and producing specific effects just as there are users who are better or worse at detecting them.

But that’s as far as I’d like to go. I would much rather pay deference to terpenes as part of the greater marijuana mystery and forgive these aromatic chemicals any further analysis and dissection. The terpenes will live on in my imagination, magically emitting aromas and producing effects in a way I’ll never understand, but either way, I’ll always love the variety of scents and highs, whatever language is used to describe them.

Here are the aromas and effects listed in Ed Rosenthal’s book:

SMELLS / FLAVORS

Aromatic, Highly Aromatic

Berry

Blackberry

Blackcurrant Jam

Blossom, Sweet Like Blossom yet Salty

Blueberry

Bubblegum, Bazooka Joe Bubblegum

Candy, Blueberry Candy

Caramel

Cherry

Chocolate

Citrus, Citrus Undertones, Clear Citrus Undertones of Nectarine & Ripe Orange, Hints of Pine/Citrus, Citrusy

Classic

Coffee

Complex

Cookie

Creamy

Diesel, Slightly Diesel

Earthy, Earthy Chestnut

Ethereal

Eucalyptus

Floral, Subtle Floral/Pine Notes

Flowery

Fuel, Acrid Fuel Note

Fruit, Fruit & Spice, Fruity, Tropical Fruit

Ginger, Spicy Sharp Ginger & Herbal Aroma

Girl Scout, Classic Girl Scout Flavor

Grape, Subtle Grape

Grapefruit, Zingy Sweet Grapefruit Edge

Hash, Hashy

Haze, Haze-Like

Herbal

Honey, Vanilla Honey

Incense, Over-strong Musky Incense

Intense

Kiwi

Kush, Kushy, Heavy Kush Undertones

Lavender, Sweet Lavender

Lemon, Lemon Peel, Great Lemon Tang Aroma, Lemon-Lime

Licorice

Lime

Mango, Fresh Mango

Melon, Strawberry-Melon

Metal, Metallic, Almost Metallic

Mint, Minty

Musk, Sweet Musk, Musky, Hint of Floral & Melon Musk

Nectarine

Nutty

Orange, Orange Peel, Accents of Orange & Lemon Peel, Light/Sweet Orange & Lemon Twang, Ripe Orange

Over The Top

Papaya

Peppery

Perfume, Subtle Perfume Notes

Pine, Whisper of Pine

Pineapple, Pineapple Punch

Pungent, Pungent Sweet & Sour Cherry, Skunky Pungent

Sandalwood, Note of Sandalwood

Skunk, Skunky, Heavy Skunk Aroma & Taste

Soft But Penetrating

Spice, Spicy, Spicy Sweet

Stinky

Strawberry

Sweet, Sweet-Sugary, Sweet & Sour

Tangerine

Tobacco

Tropical

Unbelievable

Unique

Vanilla, Wild Vanilla,

Warm, Warm Almost Peppery

Wildflower, Sweet Wildflower

EFFECTS

Active

Alert

Alleviating Stress

Balanced, Balanced Body-Stoned, Head-High

Blessed

Blissful

Blueberry, Refined Blueberry

Body

Brainy

Bright

Buzz, Buzzy, Bit of a Heavy Body Buzz, Breathtaking Body Buzz

Calming, Intensely Calming

Cerebral, Extremely Cerebral, Clear Cerebral

Chaotic

Chemical

Clear

Complex

Confusing

Contemplative

Couch Lock, Heavy Couch Lock

Cozy

Creative

Creeping

Daytime

Deep, Deep Physical Relaxation

Devastating

Dreamy

Electric

Energetic, Super Energetic Sativa, Fiery-Energetic

Euphoric, Calm Euphoric

Full On Brain & Body Melt

Functional

Giggly

Good For Active Lifestyles

Great

Happy

Head-Body Balance

Heady

Heavy

Heightened Senses

Hitter, Fast Hitter

Hybrid

Inspiring

Laid Back

Laughter

Long Lasting, Very Long Lasting

Lucid

Medicinal

Meditative

Mental

Mineral

Motivating, Motivational

Munchies

Narcotic

Numb

Old School

Physical, Very Physical

Playful

Pleasant, Very Pleasant

Playful

Positive

Potent, Very Potent

Powerful, Take Your Breath Away Power

Psychedelic

Purple Haze, all in my brain

Relaxing, Body Relaxing, Relaxes Tense Muscles

Sedative, Sedating

Sensual

Sleepy, Dreamy Finish

Smooth

Soaring

Social

Special

Spiritual, Sativa Spiritual

Stimulating

Stoney

Stratospheric, Stratospheric Cerebral

Strong, Extremely Strong

Surprising

Talkative

Teasing

Thoughtful

Trippy, Super Trippy

Up, Very Up, Up High, Sativa Up High

Uplifting

Primitive Zippo
Doing high dives into the California cannabis industry, cannabis culture, cannabis-friendly music and anything else cannabis-related residing in the vast expanse of my turgid cranium.

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