Preventing Commoditization with Terpenes
Now that distillation gives us the tools to purify cannabinoids to a set standard we must realize that the things that originally made the extract unique is now lost. In purifying the extract, we have commoditized it. This means that there is no differentiation between sellers and the only thing to offer is a better price. This in turn forces other sellers to reduce their price and so on until only a handful of producers survives. While there are still certain selling points like purity, cleanliness, or color the market forces of commoditization will cause plummeting prices. If you are an edibles manufacturer this is the best thing to ever happen but if you make the distillate it’s a nightmare.
One of the advantages that the cannabis plant has is diversity. Years of prohibition have caused the number of strains to explode. Economies of scale, commoditization, and large monoculture farms were unheard of in the cannabis growing circles, but very common in normal farming. While each plant could differ in a myriad of ways like height, growth rate, or flower density the one thing that really made each strain unique was the terpene profile. A very subtle chemical change of the terpene profile could produce a very different smell.
Have you ever tasted an artificial strawberry flavor? If you have you would know that they taste and smell very different from real strawberries. The best food engineers in the world have yet to produce a worthwhile strawberry flavor and there is good reason for this. Complexity. A rough example would be maybe 80% of the volume of chemicals associated with the smell in a strawberry can be less than 10 chemicals, but the remaining 20% of the volume would be something like around 250+ chemicals. In some smells, it’s the 20% that really defines the smell and in some the 80% does.
Think about it like a symphony. There are some parts that can be played with only a handful of instruments and other parts where the whole orchestra must be playing to resemble the piece of music. If you wanted to reproduce the smell of oranges you would need less than 5 chemicals to produce a very similar smell, but as with the example with strawberries it is not economical to reproduce these scents.
What this means is that there are some terpene profiles in cannabis that are so complex that they cannot be recreated. Some strains like "Jack Herer" or "Trainwreck" can be recreated fairly easily with individual terpenes from non-cannabis sources and others like "Kush" or "Granddaddy Purple" cannot.
The cheapest way to obtain this scent is through the plant itself and if you own the strain then you have complete control over the market for it. If you want to add value to your distillate the best way to do so is by adding an authentic cannabis terpene profile. The farmer probably has done a lot of work to get a unique strain and terpene profile so don’t throw that away. Harvest your terpenes first directly from the plant material. Then do your extraction, then distill your cannabinoids, then add your terpenes back in. You now have a unique extract not a commodity.
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