Understanding Terpenes Is the Future of Cannabis Consumption. So Why Does Oregon Not Require Testing For Them?

While there is no immediate plan for the OLCC to require terpene profiles and percentages on cannabis packaging, some labeling changes are coming.

Ask anyone who follows the recreational weed industry about the next step in cannabis connoisseurship, and they'll probably tell you about terpenes.

Those are the hydrocarbons in the plant that can make you feel a specific kind of high, and it goes a lot deeper than THC, CBD, sativa or indica.

"Terpenes are what's responsible for the different smells and tastes that we associate with just about everything," says Will Thysell, founder and co-owner of White Label Extracts in Eugene. "All plants have terpenes."

Right now, sophisticated cannabis consumers are more concerned with terpenes than cannabinoids, since they can give the user a more accurate reading of what their experience might be. Ingesting the terpene myrcene, for example, generally gives users a sedated feeling—it can be so potent, in fact, that smoking a sativa-dominant strain high in myrcene could give someone the exact opposite of the racy, uplifting feeling commonly associated with sativa strains.

For that reason, White Label lists terpene percentages on its products' packaging. In Oregon, though, that's not the norm.

As of now, the Oregon Health Authority does not require testing for terpenes, and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission—which controls the state's cannabis packaging and labeling requirements—requires only that companies list THC and CBD percentages.

But that's not true in every state.

Nevada, which was among the first states to put legal weed on the books in any form, requires that terpenes be listed on packaging.

Stephanie Klapstein, spokeswoman for the state of Nevada's taxation department, says the requirement traces back to the early days of medical cannabis, which was legalized in 2000. (Nevada voted to legalize recreational use in 2016.)

"Patients often seek very specific terpene profiles to achieve particular results," Klapstein says,

Given that Oregon legalized the medical use of cannabis two years earlier, why is that not the same here?

Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority, says terpenes are occasionally discussed by rules advisory committees, but making testing for them mandatory isn't likely, in part because they pose "no public safety concern."

"Without more scientific information about terpenes," Modie says, "it is not clear what the state or consumer would be gaining by requiring testing."

Modie also cites the added costs for businesses and consumers that are baked into additional testing mandates. Thysell confirms that testing for terpenes is not an insignificant expense—he estimates it costs his company an extra $50 to $100 per batch.

But, Thysell adds, customers greatly appreciate the extra information—to the point he believes listing terpene percentages has helped offset the associated costs.

"We debated early on about whether having terpene information on the label is something we wanted to do," he says, "and we think it has been well received."

But while there is no immediate plan for the OLCC to require terpene profiles and percentages on cannabis packaging, some labeling changes are coming.

Because it is more expensive to deal with cannabis-derived terpenes, there is a practice within the industry of taking terpenes from non-cannabis sources and synthetically reintroducing them into extracts. (Thysell says White Label does not reintroduce terpenes, but adds it is "something the people who are doing it don't like to talk about too much.")

Beginning June 1, the OLCC is instituting new rules to make information pertaining to non-cannabis-derived terpenes on extracts and concentrate packaging more conspicuous.

"There were licensees who were concerned there was no distinction between artificial versus natural [flavors]," says OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger, "and that there was no requirement with regard to providing information on the sourcing of non-cannabis-generated terpenes."

As for listing terpene percentages, Pettinger says that could also change in the next year or two.

"Anything is possible in terms of modifications of the rules that affect any aspect of marijuana in Oregon," Pettinger says, "including packaging and labeling."