Are Terpene-Enriched Cannabis Concentrates Bad for your Health?

Are Terpene-Enriched Cannabis Concentrates Bad for your Health?

Cannabis products infused with non-cannabis derived terpenes are gaining popularity for their consistency, convenience and delicious flavor, but a new study out of the University of Pernambuco in Brazil suggests that mixing cannabis with non-cannabis derived terpenes may not be the best thing for your health.

Terpenes, the molecules responsible for the smell of cannabis, not only have their own individual medicinal properties, but they also work in conjunction with each other and the other cannabinoids to create the overall effect of a particular strain. They are largely responsible for why one strain feels, smells or tastes different from others. Terpenes aren’t just in cannabis either, they are in all plants. And many plants share terpenes in common with cannabis. Beta caryophyllene for example is also found in black pepper; myrcene is found in mangos; and linalool is found in lavender.

As the demand for terpene-rich products has increased, a variety of product lines have come out, featuring cannabis concentrates infused with isolated terpenes. But, rather than using terpenes derived from cannabis, often these essential oils are extracted from other plants. While the resulting extractions will be very similar, it is very challenging to create an extract that doesn’t have some remnant of the plant it was extracted from. If you take myrcene from a mango, there will be trace amounts of the other substances in mangoes left in your extract. If you take myrcene from a cannabis plant, there will be trace amounts of the other substances in cannabis left. This means there can be very slight difference in the extracts taken from cannabis and non-cannabis derived terpenes.

The products made with elements based from plants other than cannabis taste great because they are in a higher volume and they are also incredibly consistent because the makers can use the same mixture of terpenes and cannabinoids each time. In addition, adding terpenes can add viscosity to a concentrate, allowing these types of extracts to be put into convenient vape cartridges.

This practice creates concentrate cartridges that are delicious, consistent and convenient, but are they healthy? According to the recent study the answer may be “no”. The research focused on cannabis and beta caryophyllene. While beta caryophyllene is one of the most common terpenes found in cannabis, they used non-cannabis derived beta-caryophyllene for this study and found that using the two mixed together may cause more harm than benefit.

In the study, scientists exposed rats to a mixture of non-cannabis derived beta caryophyllene and cannabis smoke. In stark contrast to the either substance on its own, rats exposed to the combination were more likely to develop kidney problems. When they analyzed the chemical effects of mixing these two, they found that the cannabis smoke had degraded the beta caryophyllene into chemicals known to be toxic for consumption. The authors warn that mixing these compounds is not advised for humans.

This news is troubling, considering the practice of mixing non-cannabis derived beta caryophyllene with THC oil is becoming more wide-spread. More research needs to be conducted in order  to understand whether there are other health risks associated with concentrates enriched by beta-caryophyllene or the other terpenes. In the meantime, choose your concentrates carefully.

What do you think? Is there a reason to be concerned about vaping terpenes that are not derived from cannabis?

Dr. Emily Earlenbaugh is a cannabis patient consultant and wellness researcher. She is the author of the online course “The Mindful Guide to Cannabis” and has a doctorate in philosophy of science from UC Davis.

12 Comments

  1. Dallas

    July 25, 2017 at 3:09 am

    Why is this article still up? It hinges on a “study” that has nothing to do with the title or topic of the article.

  2. Brittany

    March 9, 2017 at 5:16 am

    I would recommend this article is retracted because the cannabis space is already stigmatized enough and to put out articles that are significantly flawed and provide a steep slippery slope argument supports the major immaturity of the industry. The study was for BETA CAROTENE (not a terpene!!) not BETA CARYOPHYLLENE . Saying plant derived terpenes (other than cannabis) are unsafe with cannabis and using one study that is flat out not about terpenes is wrong and a horrible slippery slope argument that means misconceptions and unfounded fear. Follow the money… Cannabis vaping is a highly competitive space and Cannabis Now is a paid advertiser. Not a positive way to support continued research. Then they state it has been fixed in a reply and it hasn’t. C’mon Cannabis Now- be better.

  3. Alia Dolphin

    September 13, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    This article is flat out wrong – the study out of the University of Pernambuco in Brazil uses Beta-CAROTENE – NOT beta caryophyllene, 2 very different compounds. Beta-carotene is already known to “reduces the incidence of many cancers, but enhances lung cancer incidence in smokers”. I do agree that there is definitely more research to do – specifically the difference between the 3 main ways we currently derive terpenes: Cannabis, Food Grade, and Lab synthetic. This study used a lab grade, synthetic, crystalline form of Beta-Carotene. Would the study have been different if they used food grade beta-caryophyllene? Research will only tell.

    • David

      February 22, 2017 at 1:51 pm

      What about smoking them vs eating?? There’s studies out about b-myrcene having carcinogens! Thoughts? I’m really concerned with the way people don’t understand smoking vs eating is a different chemical reaction. I’ve noticed higher terpene concentrates are extremely harsh and hurt! Concentrated terpenes are solvents themselves! I’ve heard of guys using limonene to extract!

  4. Jon

    August 29, 2016 at 7:23 am

    Did the author even read the study. He completely miss-interpreting the study which is probably a flawed study to begin with. Here’s the original study:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214750016300439

    The study is NOT even about terpenes. It focuses on β-carotene (a vitamin, not the terpene β-caryophyllene as the article reports.) They say they are studying the effect when it is subjected to cannabis smoke. To do this, they passed cannabis smoke though hexane/dichloromethane/methanol and then mixed the results with β-carotene to see how it is changed. I’m not even sure how this is relevant to how cannabis is consumed. I would not want the result of that process injected into me either.

    I continue to believe a chemical is a chemical whether it comes from cannabis or another plant. There has also never been a case of cancer or other health problems attributed to cannabis smoke/vapor. The study results just don’t support what happens in the real world.

  5. Mark

    August 25, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    The entire article is flawed; it should a serious critique of flawed ‘science’ and misrepresentation. Who soaks their pure carotene in hexane and pot smoke and then ingests the reacted maerial repeatedly???

    1. Beta carotene is NOT a terpene. 2. the cannabis may have been adulterated, by bug sprays and chemical fertilizers, etc., as it appears it was confiscated via law enforcement action. 3.
    Even ‘clean’ cannabis SMOKE contains all sorts of toxic compounds, although their effects are canceled somewhat by cannabinoids (Tashkin). 4 the carotene was dissolved in hexane, etc. and cannabis smoke was introduced to that mixture repeatedly over many hours. A number of possible chemical alterations can occur by doing this. The test has uncontrolled parameters (quality of cannabis)and introduces circumstances unnatural to users (9 hours of saturating carotene with hexane and smoke).

  6. Mitchell Colbert

    August 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    While there was an error in what terpene they were refering to, the study is accurate and it’s findings are still solid.

    Retract nothing, edit it instead. This is the first study to even begin to determine if terpenes are terpenes, or if terpenes sourced from different things are different. We still have no idea, but at least someone finally cares enough to research the combinations between cannabinoids and terpenes to better understand the Entourage Effect.

    • Jon

      August 29, 2016 at 8:43 am

      Except that the study did not even look at terpenes. Still work to be done here, but this article is just wrong.

  7. Captain Fogg

    August 24, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Honestly, I would suggest retracting this article completely. The author made a very large mistake that invalidates the entire article.

  8. Captain Fogg

    August 24, 2016 at 8:35 am

    Are you kidding me? The study was on BETA CAROTENE, not BETA CARYOPHYLLENE.

    Terpenes are terpenes. They are measured and identified by mole weight. If there is a difference between cannabis terpenes and non-cannabis terpenes, then one of them is not pure. More important than where the terpenes come from is how they are derived – solvent extracted or steam distilled.

    That said. Don’t smoke. Vape. At the lowest temperature possible.

    • Eric Geisterfer

      August 24, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      Embarrassing mistake by the author. In addition, this “study” claims that: “One study showed that the use of C. sativa is associated with higher susceptibility to infections and increased rates of head and neck cancer.” This is a bunch of baloney. Donald Tashkin’s study showed a decreased correlation between cannabis and Head & Neck cancer which means that cannabis offered some protection against cancer. It also showed a decreased correlation for lung cancer. In addition, I’ve never come across any studies that state that cannabis increases susceptibility to infections.

    • Ellen Holland

      August 24, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks for catching that error – we’ve made the correction.

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