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Dear Culturalist: Why the New Obsession with Terpenes

December 5, 2018

Dear Culturalist,
My buddies from college and I get together a couple of times every year. Recently, we got together and hit up a few dispensaries in LA. Both of them were talking about nothing but terpenes the whole time. I felt so dumb. When did we start having to know everything about terpenes to buy weed with our friends?

Never. You do not need to know everything about terpenes to shop for weed. Which is how you have been doing it this whole time. That said, by the sound of it, you do need to learn something about terpenes to shop for grass with your friends without feeling dumb.

There is this magical thing about feelings, though. Despite popular opinion, most of the time, you can choose to just not have them. I learned this from my mother who is a robot. Not caring about feelings you feel is the first step in not having them. You can choose to not care about feeling dumb, or you can even decide to enjoy it.

Being in the presence of people who are having conversations that you cannot weigh in on is a great chance to learn, if you want to. Or you could just hum John Holt’s “Police in Helicopter” to tune the smarter-than-you humans out. If you want to learn, start asking questions and remember there is no shame in not knowing something.

Personally, when anyone starts to talk to me about terpenes I just respond by meowing like a cat that wants to be let out immediately. I find this does wonders to steer a conversation in a new direction. I am just avoiding this technique right now because I am not sure it would have the same effect in print.

The fact this is your first encounter with a rampant discussion about terpenes makes me think you have not shopped in the regulated market before? The industry has been evolving and will continue to change. Your local street dealer will likely never pull out a lab report when peddling you some grams, a dispensary might do just that.

“Yo, I got this weed that is high in Guaiol.” Never heard anyone say that. There are a lot of terpenes but there are only a few that most people seem to adore talking about. Pinene, Myrcene, Humulene, Caryophyllene, Linalool, Limonene. Those are some of the popular kids. I feel bad for the other terpenes. 

Why does no one care about Eudesmols or Selinadienes? They are classy. Ask your friends. Likely the answer is, some of the terpenes found in the greatest abundance are found in common varieties we know very little about and some may have no scent at all. Which is not super sexy to talk about.

Other than the incessant shallow chatter about terpenes everywhere I go, what irks me are the non-nuanced effect claims. I like to keep things vague and uncertain but people love telling me about how they only like cannabis varieties high in Myrcene because they are “relaxing.” Full stop. I ask people what they mean exactly by “high in Myrcene,” but they typically just meow like cats. Which I respect.

Eating mangoes will get me higher, black pepper will give me a good trip. Myrcene, ß-Caryophyllene, blah blah blah. People tell me all kinds of things about the wild and often smelly world of terpenes. I’ve been drinking mango juice and eating mangoes but I haven’t noticed anything other than their deliciousness. That is just my experience, everyone is different. 

Some people tell me they only buy cannabis products that contain ß-Caryophyllene because they don’t get stressful trips from those varieties. Cool, but isn’t life a stressful trip? Also, I’ve seen someone snort a huge line of black pepper. For several hours afterwards they seemed stressed out on account of all the sneezing. Effects are complicated. Dose and setting like to come into play.

Terpenes are found in all kinds of plants and trees and have been researched for many moons, but every time I ask people why they think Myrcene can produce relaxing effects, they quote me the same study. This study that seems to pop up in discussions every day of my life supposedly indicates that when mice were given a relatively large amount of Myrcene, they ran across the field less. 

I never run across fields, so it just does not feel like results that apply to my life. Also, the mice were not vaping or smoking cannabis. So… really not proof of effects that we can assume apply to hitting a blunt.

It is interesting to muse about terpenes having effects. It just sucks when people full-throttle perpetuate misleading tidbits from studies with results that should not be considered evidence. Also, why does no one obsessively talk to me about flavonoids and esters? Why must it always be terpenes, terpenes, terpenes? Variety is the terpene laden Allspice of life.

Sometimes I wake up in a lukewarm sweat from nightmares about people putting terpenes in their concentrates to change the viscosity of oil so they can load it into vape pens. There is this part in the dream where I ask them how much they can add before it isn’t worth the health risks and they meow like cats and I wake up. I have a similar nightmare where people trust LHO (extract made with Limonene) and tell me it would have no ill health effects because it is natural.

Terpenes can repel pests and lure humans in. They are powerful and deserve respect. Think twice before you vape tasty solvents. I agree terpenes might have magical powers, but I just do not get why people are so obsessed with talking about them and why people think they can do no harm. Especially when some of them are paint thinners in concentrated form.

I think it is cool if people are curious about terpenes and want to talk about them. I just don’t enjoy endlessly talking about emerging research unless the conversation includes nuances and the research methods and flaws. Clearly I’m just bitter about the raging popularity of spewing junk science tidbits about terpenes, despite all the weed cookies I have eaten. I guess I should take the first piece of advice I gave you and get over my bitterness before it wrecks my buzz.

People should talk about whatever they want. You should. Your friends should. Just do not forget there is more to life and weed than aromatic hydrocarbons. You can choose to be bitter like I was five seconds ago, or you can choose to not care if your friends know more than you—or you could just smile and nod and smell and smoke all the weed. No science degree required.


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