Botanical Terpenes vs. Cannabis-Derived Terpenes

Terpenes are aromatic, non-intoxicating compounds that are present in countless plant species. While terpenes have been popularized by their presence in Cannabis sativa, these beneficial compounds certainly aren’t limited to hemp and cannabis.

In fact, terpenes derived from non-cannabis plants might be more desirable for a variety of reasons. Learn the detailed definitions of cannabis-derived and botanical terpenes, and discover the pros and cons of each terpene type.

What does cannabis-derived terpenes mean?

What are cannabis-derived terpenes? They’re terpenes that are derived from Cannabis sativa.

Cannabis is one of the countless plant species that bears terpenes. Just like the terpenes present in other plants, cannabis terpenes have flavor and aromatic properties, and they can offer medicinal benefits.

Unlike terpenes from other plants, however, cannabis-derived terpenes might contain trace amounts of other substances found in Cannabis sativa. Terpenes derived from cannabis are also governed by a unique set of legal and regulatory structures.

Is it legal to buy terpenes online?

Yes. Terpenes are fully legal.

Depending on the plants they’re sourced from, however, terpenes might be subject to different laws and regulations. Terpenes derived from non-cannabis plants are unquestionably legal, but depending on the circumstances, cannabis-derived terpenes might not be legal.

Are cannabis-derived terpenes legal?

Potentially, but not certainly. The regulatory and legal framework surrounding cannabis-derived terpenes is relatively complex.

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) remains the piece of legislation with the single greatest relevance to U.S. cannabis law. In its section on “marihuana,” the CSA reads in part:

“[T]he term ‘marihuana’ means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.”

This term does not apply to areas of the cannabis plant that don’t bear cannabinoids or terpenes. As a result of the 2018 Farm Bill, this term also no longer applies to industrial hemp, which is defined as Cannabis sativa containing less than 0.3% THC.

Notably absent from the CSA’s definition of “marihuana” is any mention of terpenes. Since terpenes aren’t singled out by name, they’re included within the category of “every compound… of such plant [marihuana]” by default.

So far, there have been no instances of the government cracking down on producers of cannabis-derived terpenes. Strictly following the letter of the law, however, inevitably leads to the conclusion that terpenes derived from Cannabis sativa plants containing more than 0.3% THC are technically “marihuana,” a Schedule I controlled substance.

Terpenes derived from industrial hemp may be legal, but there remains room for debate. The majority of cannabis-derived terpenes, however, are taken from cannabis plants that contain THC concentrations considerably higher than 0.3%.

What are plant-derived terpenes?

The term “plant-derived terpenes” can refer to any natural terpenes derived from plant sources. Within the terpene industry, however, this term most commonly refers to terpenes harvested from non-cannabis sources.

What are botanical terpenes?

Botanical terpenes are terpenes derived from non-cannabis plant sources. The term “botanical terpenes” is often used interchangeably with “plant-derived terpenes.”

What are naturally derived terpenes?

Naturally derived terpenes are terpenes derived from natural plant sources. This term is roughly synonymous with “botanical terpenes” and “plant-derived terpenes,” but it can also refer to cannabis-derived terpenes.

What are the differences between cannabis-derived terpenes and botanical terpenes?

There are a few significant differences between terpenes that are derived from cannabis and terpenes that aren’t:

Legality

There’s no dispute that terpenes derived from non-cannabis plants are fully legal. Strict interpretations of the law, however, lead to the uncomfortable realization that cannabis-derived terpenes might be considered illegal drugs.

Flavor and aroma

Some purists insist that cannabis-derived terpenes taste and smell more authentic. It’s possible, however, to fully replicate the flavor of any cannabis strain using botanically derived terpenes. Plant-derived terpenes may even be more flavorful and aromatic since it’s easier to isolate and maximize concentrations of specific terpenes.

Price

Botanical terpenes can be harvested and packaged at relatively low cost. Only the cheapest cannabis-derived terpenes can compete with the pricing of botanical terpenes, and low-grade cannabis terpenes offer the worst flavor profiles and repeatability of any bulk terpenes.

Repeatability

Cannabis is a fickle plant. Even using the exact same genetics, it’s almost impossible to cultivate two cannabis crops that smell and taste exactly alike.

As a result, cannabis-derived terpenes aren’t very repeatable. Since botanical terpene blends consist of isolated terpenes expertly combined at exact ratios, however, it’s easy to produce reliable, repeatable results when you derive terpenes from non-cannabis plants.

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Cannabis-derived terpenes pros and cons

Let’s summarize the pros and cons of cannabis-derived terpenes:

Pros

  • May offer more authentic flavor and aroma experiences
  • Purists like keeping things within the cannabis family

Cons

  • Cost more for worse results
  • Poor repeatability
  • Cannabis terpenes derived from plants containing more than 0.3% are technically illegal
  • Cannabis-derived terpenes commonly offer reduced purity
  • Bulk discounts aren’t very common
  • Without costly isolation processes, cannabis-derived terpenes are limited to mimicking cannabis strains

Botanical terpenes pros and cons

Here’s what you need to know about the benefits and detractors of plant-derived terpenes:

Pros

  • Expert botanical terpene mixers can replicate the exact terpene ratios of specific cannabis strains
  • Botanical terpenes can be used to mix delicious non-cannabis flavors
  • Not derived from any form of Cannabis sativa, so they’re unquestionably legal
  • Improved purity and repeatability
  • Reduced cost for better results
  • Bulk discounts often available

Cons

  • May not provide the “authentic” cannabis experience purists desire
  • Introduce non-cannabis substances into cannabis products

What are the best terpenes?

The best terpenes are lab-tested, reasonably priced, and fully legal. Due to the potential legal concerns surrounding cannabis-derived terpenes, responsible brands conclude that botanical terpenes offer the most worry-free and reliable results.

Let’s answer a few common questions to help you choose the best terpenes for your needs:

Should terpenes be lab-tested?

Yes. Just like any other botanical compound, terpenes need to be lab-tested to determine their authenticity and purity. Some manufacturers may also test their terpenes for residual solvents and other contaminants, but this step isn’t strictly necessary.

Why is terpene repeatability important?

Repeatability is important in any industry, but this factor is rapidly becoming an especially important sticking point in the hemp and cannabis industries. CBD and THC consumers want to experience the same results every time they use a product, and terpenes can make a big difference in how cannabinoids work.

Should I choose strain specific & non-strain options?

When formulating cannabinoid products, strain-specific terpene profiles might be uniquely desirable. Long-time cannabis consumers associate emotionally with strain names, and cannabinoid products with strain-specific terpenes are more credible to new cannabinoid users.

Non-strain terpene blends, on the other hand, provide flavors that cannabis cannot. They’re desirable for non-cannabinoid products, and they help differentiate products that contain cannabinoids.

How much do bulk terpenes cost?

Botanical terpenes are considerably less expensive than cannabis-derived terpenes. The price you pay for plant-derived terpenes usually reduces in relation to the quantity you buy, further widening the cost disparity between cannabis-derived and botanical terpenes.