Head Change #3 - Talkin' Terpenes with Dr. Raber
Jeff Raber is a PhD chemist and innovative entrepreneur based in Southern California. As a medical cannabis patient himself, Dr. Raber recognized early on that there was a tremendous need for quality control and assurance within California’s medical cannabis arena. Dr. Raber formulated a concept for an analytical testing laboratory that provided services to the medical cannabis community. He founded The Werc Shop in 2010 which quickly became a leading cannabis laboratory. Currently The Werc Shop is leading the identification and classification of cannabis varietals through pioneering terpene fingerprinting and advanced metabolomics approaches. I spoke with Jeff abot Cannabis Terpenes on Head Change #3.
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Levi: Welcome to Head Change, the podcast the puts you in a better headspace. I'm your host Levi Strom. On this week's episode I speak with Dr. Raber, that's PhD chemist. Jeff Raber about terpenes. I wanted to talk to you today about terpenes because I know this is really an area where you are an expert and the thing that really fascinates me about terpenes is that terpenes are legal. So cannabinoids are heavily regulated, but the other important phytochemica, the plant terpenes are not regulated. So I think we have some leeway here to lean on more research in the world of terpenes to talk. Openly and safely about the medicinal properties of them and I think a lot of people don't even know what terpenes are so I kind of want to cover the basics because there's nobody better to do that than to have Dr. Raber on and I know you I know you've talked so much about this, but I'm hoping you can at least kind of give like a basic overview of what terpenes are why they're important to cannabis and then we can kind of dive into share and that deeper dialogue around.
Jeff: [00:01:19] They're common almost all plants fruits vegetables and things of that type. So the word terpene to a chemist means isoprene units and building blocks of carbons certain types of building blocks that are used to create these molecules and they can be relatively simple and exceptionally complex. So a more famous terpene might be known as taxol. It was found on the Pacific yew tree. It's a strong anti-cancer agent and it is amazingly complex and its chemical structure the ones we find in cannabis are nowhere near that type of complexity. Some of them are simple hydrocarbons some of them then get oxygenated. There's also some you know other pieces that get added that then affect their properties from an olfactory standpoint and from a physiological impact standpoint. So and I think these molecules are made by the plants more so to have the plants communicate with their environment and talk to the rest of their world. You have a poor little defenseless, you know being basically that sits there it can't run away from anyone trying to attack it. It doesn't know how to call for help vocally like we do. Do so it sends out molecules to you know, either ward off folks or attract the right ones to take care of the current problem that's on them. One of my favorite documentaries is [00:02:34] What Plants Talk About and it really kind of talks a little bit about this, you know communication if you will and we're probably trying to be like chemical translators like understand the language of the plants and understand how that impacts our bodies chemical language biochemical language and our physiology and how might we understand which ones are and how that would relate to our, you know enjoying liking or need for what's there as long as we're getting it in a certain form. So in a general sense, these are the molecules that smell, we call that volatile the ones that are able to leave the plant a lot easier. Cannabinoids you cannot smell from the plant whenever you put your face to the cannabis plant and try and notice what you're recognizing. It is terpenes that you're smelling and other volatile like compounds like that. So, you know, I think colloquially we use the term very very broadly in cannabis to say all the things that generate smell chemically technically, they're not all technical terpenes. There are other molecules that would not be designated as terpenes. But I think we'll just proceed with like all these things that impact with smell and then taste and then also our knowing now to cause impacts for physiological effect and feel we call generally speaking terpenes. Terpenes, terpenoids, you know aldehydes, ketones, esters. There's all sorts of other funky chemical names we can give them but for the sake of conversation and to keep it easy on everybody because not everybody liked chemistry like I did [laugh] we'll go ahead and just call them terpenes. But each of the Cannabis cultivars, you know, there are about a hundred and twenty or so different terpenes known to cannabis, you know, there are tens and tens of thousands of these molecules known on on the planet in the botanical world. So, you know, there's a very small subset of them that are present in cannabis. And a lot of these things are not only found in cannabis. There are very very few that are specific to cannabis as we know today. We haven't looked at every plant on the planet. So you can't rule out the possibility that you find some of these other ones elsewhere, but there are ones that are very common like limonene is found in you know citrus. So the orange juice industry, you know limes, lemons, they have tons of those things. Linalool is another popular one that you find that's present in lavender. So we might understand hey, lavender that's been standardized as an extract can have very good utility for kind of relaxation and anti-anxiety so might we be able to extrapolate that if there's some linalool in this cannabis plant it's doing that? I think that's a very risky extrapolation, because there could be, you know, five other terpenes on the other side that are going to exacerbate the problem and not allow linalool to do what it does. We have to think of it in specific compositional terms. And that's where I think it gets even more complicated. And so these plants make the molecules to talk to their environment to talk to each other to ward off pests or attract, you know things that could help them from the pests and we're here looking at them saying this is pleasing to me smells good to me. This will impact my taste [00:05:38] and ultimately we believe that this is a big part of that Ensemble or Entourage Effect that is driving the physiological utility of cannabis, right? We think of it, you know cannabinoids have a large part of that but one cannabinoid by itself is not nearly as effective as adding all the other molecules predominantly terpenes if it was we would all have Marinol be satisfied with that and that definitely isn't the case for a lot of physiological ailments. It also doesn't open up the plethora of products that we see, you know, while you were saying you can't regulate plants that well. I mean, I don't know if everyone's going to be in their home making some of these sophisticated products or you know, I wouldn't go through the whole process of making a single vape cart from the entire plant that I had. [00:06:21] So, there are other benefits to, you know, regulating, educating, taxing and making sure this supply chain for consumers is really, you know, well checked and free of impurities and stuff like that. And I think terpenes are a huge part of the Cannabis space. But as you mentioned they are they're not regulated yet that's coming though. There are some states starting to kind of regulate what of these types of molecules and are these ingredients going into inhalable products because we saw if you don't want some of that closely people might not use a terpene, but they might use something else to put inside of a vape card and cause the EVALI problem that we saw at the end of 2019.
Levi: Right? I want to because I know I know you're an experienced manufacturer and I wanted to talk to you about vape pens a little bit and kind of safety levels with terpenes, but just kind of backup so, I really like the way you put this because I've never really heard it put this exact way but sounds like basically saying terpenes are the language of plants. It is how they are communicating with their environment, because they are a rooted. The DNA of plants is from what I understand more complex than humans. They're actually a very intelligent life form.
Jeff: They have networks. They talk to each other. There's all sorts of, you know community interplay going on.
Levi: It's unbelievable. I mean, it's really psychedelic when you break it down, but I really like diving in. I mean science is psychedelic, especially chemistry. There's no other way to think about it.
Jeff: Lot of facets to it for sure.
Levi: Just so people can understand the basics when we're talking about terpenes, like if you take an orange and you scratch an orange peel and you you're going to get a really vibrant smell, those are terpenes that you're smelling.
Jeff: Yeah, and most of the essential oil from the orange peel is limonene. So you're predominantly getting that but it takes very very very little of any molecules certain ones can be exceptionally small amounts to impact the olfactory sensory system. So even you know, even to the extent where good analytical equipment can't detect them and you need really sophisticated great stuff to start to get that hint and then be like, okay, I got to you know figure out how to go after that. Our noses are exceptionally sensitive much more so than the equipment that we use in the lab all the time. So a little you know, you might be able to measure 95% of this is limonene, but that smells slightly different because of the other 5% then just pure limonene.
Levi: Hmm. Interesting. Do you have an opinion on because I know in the cannabis industry terpenes are a really big deal to cannabis manufacturers and to consumers whether they know what they are and the chemistry of it or not. We consumers typically buy cannabis flower with their nose. That's why in the old days you go in you get the you get the mason jar you crack it open you smell it and you're like I want that one. Now. It's a little different with the regulations made that a little harder. Yeah. And do that now people shop by THC percentages and other kind of things that are on the label or they just kind of know that well OG Kush has the the effect and the smell that I like, so I'm gonna go down that path. I think it's interesting like, you know, you're talking about how these terpenes, you know, they attract certain insects and repel others for their own protection and a lot of the terpenes that I'm familiar with like like one of the most popular smells in cannabis is that gas smell that diesel, petrol? That's OG Kush. That's the classic, like strong, you know, when people talk about fire, they're usually talking about that jet fuel gas smell. And in nature that's one of the most offensive smiles that a plant puts out to repel pests from what I understand, but yet people seem to be really attracted to the to the funky, skunky, gassy smells, so I wonder like, you know, do you think that cannabis is is aware of humans and this is maybe getting a little bit esoteric, but . . .
Jeff: There's a a really interesting book called the Botany of Desire. I don't know if you've ever heard of it?
Levi: That's kinda what I'm thinking of when I'm thinking about this.
Jeff: Did we evolve with cannabis or to cannabis, you know influence our evolution with it, which way is that interplay and crosstalk kind of going. I mean there are a lot of species with conserved endocannabinoid systems for quite some time. So you might say well what's the plants around and that's how I developed this system, but I built up my own network of molecules, but now I can kind of harness it back in there. I'm depleted for a variety of reasons. How does that cycle kind of continue for millions of years. It's a hard question.
Levi: It is and I mean, I don't know if we'll ever have the answer until we can actually understand the language of plants and literally communicate with them. And then maybe they'll tell us.
Jeff: Ask them directly like. Yes. I've been playing with you guys for a long time. Thanks for keeping me around that was worried that I was going to be eradicated. But I heard your plans and I said no no gotta come up with something better.
Levi: It sounds like stoner theories like something you had come up with your friend smoking a joint, but there's real science to back this up and it doesn't probably get explored enough and I just think it's fascinating that plants produce all of these chemicals that don't necessarily like we're not really sure why they're doing it and in the cannabis plant is producing a wide variety of of well, maybe simple chemical structure but still it doesn't necessarily seem to be in its direct advantage to produce all of these chemicals. It seems like it would be a little better off saving some energy.
Jeff: Everything it does cost its energy. Right? I mean, it's always coming at some sort of price or expense to whatever else it can do. Should I you know Harvest light and turn that into some other molecule that I'm using to grow my stocks or should I use it to create a cannabinoid or a terpene because I need to protect myself. I mean there is a real delicate system of balance there and I think you can see like different cultivars and different environments produce different profiles of cannabinoids and and terpenes because they're adapting to their environment, right? So there is an interplay there with what's around them. So, you know, why did it produce this this profile? Well, maybe it's low in pining because it was next to a Pine Forest and it's like well, I don't need to put that one out there so much because you know, that one's already around and I don't have that pest problem that this one was warding off. You know, I think those those questions are so complex. I don't know if you really know the answer we can sit here and theorize probably for days. Knowings a different story but you do see different chemical profiles based on environmental expression based on what else might be around it and how it's trying to find its own balance with, you know, its own environment. And I think if there's anything we can probably assess that we you know makes reasonable sense. It's not doing something to produce these molecules because it just feels like doing it. It has some sort of purpose from its perspective because it would be a waste of energy to do so and I think they're they've just it evolved for too long to really be that wasteful.
Levi: Yeaeh, this plant wouldn't have lasted the millions of years it's lasted on this planet by being wasteful with it's energy production which I think gives some credence to the Botany of Desire thesis which is that the plant is actually producing chemicals to some extent to please us because it knows we're taking care of it, but that we may never know the answer to that question, but it's a fascinating one.
Jeff: For those that are very curious like go after [00:13:48] John Mcpartland work. He's done like DNA barcoding and really seeking you know when did cannabis evolve, where did it go from starting and its origination and how did it proliferate across the the globe, real fascinating type of work and really kind of interesting.
Levi: I'm definitely gonna check out. I've never heard that I'm definitely check that out. [00:14:07] And so somebody that's run laboratories, cannabis testing laboratories for years. Can you talk a little bit about how important this is for the advancement of the Cannabis industry to have good accurate lab testing.
Jeff: Yeah. It's of paramount importance, right? If you don't know what you have your never destined to repeat having the same thing. For those that are using it as medicine it's very important to say here's what I produced last time and my next batch is the same and the next one is the same and you know, what defines the same? Is it the same amount of THC, but yet my terpene profile was wildly different. I think we have enough experience from folks now that even if I called it the same name but its chemical profile is different. I got different effects. Even though I consumed exactly the same amount the same way. So something else was going on there. So if a lab can't discern those differences or can't start to you know, highlight or tell you hey, these profiles were a little different than the one before then we're never going to be able to advance our understanding of which ones are right for which individuals at which times or that we're got a good consistent process of saying this is being produced the same every single harvest and I think it won't it won't allow us to advance our knowledge base or are using utility of the plant and with the plant if we don't have good accurate analytical. So it's really a lynchpin and fundamental keystone to the whole, you know picture in my mind.
Levi: Yeah, and I know as a cannabis product manufacturer myself the not all labs are created equallly.
Jeff: No, no, unfortunately and I think you know, if you're looking for like one molecule say something like aspirin and a tablet like we have lots and lots of rigorous science that's gone to saying this procedure will get you the accurate results for that and it's not in a complicated matrix right? I've got a couple of things in a tablets that are excipient. I've got this one active ingredient that's you know, easy to find I'm not looking for a hundred things right? I'm not even looking for 10 things. Right? So if I say look at this one and a simple matrix, that's pretty easy. If I start to say look for these 10 and with varying matrices and all sorts of different product types like it's a lot harder and I think you know, it may be easy to say like the pesticide problem. Right? We say hey go look for 65 pesticides or a hundred different pesticides in all these cannabis products. You're like, well one I have to look for a hundred things that's really hardened in and of itself to every type of product is different even every cultivar is somewhat different. Does my equipment that I've tuned for one work for the other? So if I can find it in, you know, say a simple extract because I've taken out a bunch of the plant matrix. Does that extrapolate well to the entire aw plant and how would that translate to a gummy bear or a [00:16:57] brownie matrix? From a technical standpoint in the laboratory? That's super challenging just to be sure that you're getting that right across the plethora of products that we see in cannabis is is a huge, huge effort.
Levi: Yeah, I empathize with the labs to a large extent and you know I've been using labs and you know, I used the workshop back in the day when you guys were around because, because I knew, I was growing my own cannabis. I knew my plants really well, I knew their terpene profiles. Generally. I generally knew what I was going to get when I would do my infusions and I you know send those samples out to different labs and sometimes I'd get crazy data back, you know, just stuff that made no sense at all.
Jeff: Unfortunately, right?
Levi: Yeah, and then I'd find labs where it was like, okay, yeah, I'm getting pretty consistent R&D reports. And I know I can trust that at least this is within a very small margin of error an accurate lab test result and then as someone that you know has always in the PROP 215 days I had my collective and I was giving products to cancer patients and people with compromised immune systems, and I wanted to know for sure that what I was giving them was was accurately tested that it did not have pesticides in it. It did not have heavy metals. No one was testing for this stuff back then. I mean very very few people were going to the length of and terpene testing give me a break. I mean it was going to terpene testing 10 years ago. I'm not only did the standards even exist?
Jeff: We started in 2011, so I mean the standards were there but you know tuning them to kind of look through cannabis and start doing that it became apparent to us after about a year of operating like this. This is not just THC and CBD like there is no way that is all this is about how do we make that next step into at least starting to scratch the surface on on terpenes and it's so complicated. It's just a complicated analytical problem in its own, right? But to then kind of you know make the endeavor into cannabis and seeing the whole world of complexity it has to offer it's a there's a lot there, unfortunately, and you were right to point that you know labs have a window of accuracy, right? I will never give you the same number two or three decimal points on everything and if I do I'm probably copying and pasting so you should probably run from that lab. That's not right. I strongly feel it's almost better and perhaps even safer to have no info then the wrong or bad info. Yep. I have a false sense of you know, I got something it was in accurately told to me that I had this in my hand. I approach that differently than if I don't really know it's here and maybe I give it a little bit more caution. You know, someone says hey you only have 10 milligrams in there, but they did the math wrong. It was a hundred you're going to say. Oh ten. All right. Now if I get like, I don't know what's in here be careful start slow and you know go with the fraction of it. You wouldn't consume the whole thing. So there's you know, I think an inaccurate lab can cause a lot more harm than no lab.
Jeff: And you know, we really still don't see great lab standardization across the board. We don't have a single method to point to for every product or even you know, simple products. We don't have every state kind of approaching that in the same way. I think there are there is some things in the works that is definitely are going to see that get a lot better in the near future. So that's coming, but it's not a great level lab playing field yet today, unfortunately, and the consumers and the operators all kind of suffer a like from that one.
Levi: Definitely, and you know, the reason I was kind of hinting at with with the question for the industry as a whole. I think the lab having good lab test results is essential for the advancement of Industry because I think what will what will derail cannabis ultimately is bad lab testing, you know, if somebody goes to a legal dispensary and buys a product that says it has 10 milligrams of THC and turns out that it has 4,000 or something that really messes them up and and you know, they wouldn't overdose on it, but they could get into a car crash. I mean you can't really bad could happen because of a bad lab tests. Yeah, and you know and in California, it's been it's been a mess and I've always wondered you know, what's your thoughts on should should the states have a lab?
Jeff: Yeah. I do think they need to be a reference lab. So in the absence of being able to take these products and ship them across the country so that we could have You know ten other labs and ten geographies that may not be competing directly with each local market check each other and check themselves. You know, I think the state needs to run a state reference lab and running one will kind of allow it to say. Hey, look here's the benchmark you at least I'll have to do this. We know from a technical standpoint these methods that they've been using, you know have worked. So the other labs can adopt those or if they feel they're too slow or non economical they can validate against it so I can say I ran this one from the state lab and I got the results right. I made my new way and it's faster cheaper so I can offer better competitive pricing. But I know I can get the same results that that state lab gets, great then we're in a good spot because the state's going to tell you you have to be able to at least do this and kind of set, you know more of a it's a operational and provable benchmark than just saying go find these things at this level where someone's like, but I didnt calibrate my stuff right and I can tell you I was at this level or I can fudge these, you know procedures in certain ways to think that I got a result, but I'll give you a 45% flower result of that's what you really need. You know, some of that stuff is I think we laugh but it's really harmful especially to someone that's looking for dosing or to some operator that's like, I'm trying to figure this out the right way for a brand that's going to last for eternity hopefully and I can't compete against those gaming the system that are you know, just trying to get a higher number for a higher sale price today, but don't really care if they trash their brand reputation. It's not really a fair level playing field. It's really not good for the honest operator.
Levi: I think you're right. The only way to really to level that playing field and to maintain some consistency is to have a state-run lab, a reference lab.
Jeff: They get tax revenue, right? They're not thinking, I'm gonna push a number higher or I'm gonna purposely try to like, you know not do so well on my you know, right filling your blank test result.
Levi: I don't want the government involved in any other aspect of the business. I don't want the government growing the flower ,I don't want them manufacturing the products, I don't want them selling the products ,like they do in Canada. I don't want any of that, but I think they should be involved in laboratory testing and probably what needs to happen is every state will have its own lab and then at the federal level there will be a federal lab run by the FDA I would imagine there would then oversee all those state labs that would give us the framework to actually have a federal recreational model. Does that seem logical?
Jeff: I don't know if the feds need to run a lab they could rely on all the states combined. I've got like 50 different data points, right that would be plenty to run statistics on and be assured and there's you know, a great body of knowledge and effort there to say like hey look and if some State wants to go further than the other state. Okay. I think it would be the federal job to say. Well, here's the harmonized platform that at least at the bare minimum everyone has to do this and we see that you know today and then California goes we gotta go further. Okay, and then some things thankfully you are going further because maybe that's not quite enough. And I think you know states rights and allowing everybody to have that flexibility. That is the system that we all embrace here. And I think it can lead towards hey here, you know, you guys didn't think this was necessary, but when we took that extra step we found all of this out and everyone was like whoa, maybe we should go take that step too. If you don't give the opportunity for that exploration or that individualize kind of picking you might not know what you don't know or find out those things that were really important, but I think you know like one centralized Federal lab would be like that be like catastrophic in my opinion.
Levi: Yeah, I think you're right. Let's keep the feds out of it.
Jeff: They need to play referee just like this dates going to need to play referee on these systems. Like somebody needs to say Hey, you know, we don't think that's in the best interest of you know, everyone because if I allowed you to do this stuff unchecked we know it would go in a direction that causes harm and you know, none of us at least none of us like are looking to see this is going to cause harm, but you could accidentally do something you might inadvertently do something you might unknowingly do something that without independent verification and checking you could have a big problem that you know causes great public harm health and safety issue and sure most of the people especially that you and I talked to her like I don't want to have any interest in harming anyone we're here to help people. We're here to offer physiological tools. We're here to make this, you know, and now available to those that have a need to feel better and whatever case they want to define that as whether its medical, recreational, you know, whatever you want to put on a tax label might be different than what someone is actually seeking, but if you don't check that, I mean I can assure you you saw a to in the early days when it's a voluntary testing market and there's no regulations you have cultivators preemptively spraying pesticides on things so they're sure they could take it to market. They're like, I don't think it hurts anybody. Well it may if very well may it's probably not a good idea and you can do it without it. So why are you not doing it without it? You know, it forces good practices, if forces good operations and actors if forces great product quality and kind of like raises the quality bar across the playing field and playing that referee in the right fashion. I think is is only good for all of the patients, consumers and everyone else there and the operators can figure it out. It's not you know, we didn't have thousands of businesses get licensed and then say I could never sell a product because your regulations are so crazy. I mean Things that are difficult not easy to deal with and you know, but none of them have proven to be completely impossible. Yeah, so, you know could things be better, absolutely. It should be a system that involves and I think you know, we're all understanding it's going to take a little while to keep evolving it to get to a better place, but it's we're certainly better off than not having any and we're certainly better off than not having access at all. [00:27:15] It's a balance right? It's all about equilibrium and balance and cannabis teaches homeostasis. And you know, we've got a socio-economic one. As much as a physiological one.
Levi: Yeah, it's a complex issue. I'm bolstered by the fact that the majority of people want cannabis legalized, including Republicans now and that's new. Now 51 percent of registered Republicans want legalize cannabis. That's big news. And I think that as we get better research and data and now I mean how many states the majority of states have legalized cannabis in some form or another? I mean, it's a snowball.
Jeff: It was 17 actually have some form of that now, I think yeah number?
Levi: Yeah, so once we get up to 25, New York legalizing and I think is going to be a big tipping point. Mexico and Canada both being legalized. I wonder if they'll be like a West Coast we're booking and yeah, well you have a pipeline on the west coast from Mexico from Baja to British Columbia. Like is there going to be a compliant pipeline? I wonder?
Jeff: Right? I mean, yeah, like when does it become, you know more free trade? I mean the West Coast
Levi: Cannabis free trade Alliance, you know. I mean that should happen that that would be the first step. I think towards a [00:28:27] federal model to say. Hey, look we're successfully doing interstate and international commerce with cannabinoids and no one's died, you know crimes, you know, again, we have to go jump through all the same hoops every time to prove to people this is legit, but really interesting stuff.
Jeff: The Farm Bill should be a good step in that direction right over. We physiologically now and there's a lot of scientific and medical. Information that says hey THC might not be as bad a guy as you think like there are some people that definitely need that type of molecule to have their you know rewarding medical effects. So I don't think we can just throw that out and say ignore it. I mean there's a place for it but to regulate it well because it's could be subject to all sorts of other things and you know, I think watching it accordingly. So there's a balance there with it. You can't say none, but you can't say infinite amounts are fine too, you know. Like the right balance and I think it's a good step.
Levi: I like the 1% . I like the 1% THC model right now. That's what the European Union is doing that.
Jeff: And that's on plant and for ingredients but not for final products?
Levi: I mean for me, that's a lot.
Jeff: That's a lot is a lot. It's too much. You wouldn't that just being sold with no one checking ID and all the sudden.
Levi: Sure. You could get high off of the one percent product.
Jeff: 200mg of THC, yeah that could be a problem.
Levi: But I think for the cultivators for the hemp farmers that are taking huge losses because they're their biomass tests .04% then they have to burn their crop.
Jeff: Or .031% right because the lab just can't do better. I mean, I agree with you there. I mean there should be ways of either saying hey since you're over that limit, you can't even move it off your property as you know hemp so why don't you meet remediated or mitigated here and then ship it somewhere else or all right it's all packaged up we can watch this, track and traceability to go to a processor who will go ahead and take care of it and make sure that that's not entering the market and we've got all those track and traceabilities on those things too. So they're definitely ways to manage it and I'm 100% behind you we should not be trying to you know, curtail and cripple farmers on especially something that's new to them and new seeds in their new environment and we don't really, you know, there's got to be a window and margin of error.
Levi: It's a difficult standard. I know I know a lot of the hemp I'm getting for the hemp products I'm making, the farmers are actually harvesting the plants really early to avoid them testing too hot. I guess CBD production maybe happens a little earlier. I'm not really sure?
Jeff: I don't think so. I think they're pretty similar but but it is a safety mechanism right? Like hey, I'm just going to make sure I'm not going over if I let it go too long. I've got more ability to see that happen.
Levi: As the plant ripens the cannabinoid profile increases. So if you harvested two weeks earlier that seems to be something they're doing.
Jeff: But then they may be sacrificing crop yield and economics and things of that type, so why don't we enable them. And I think you know, okay we started with some magic number, .3% I don't think anybody really knows where that came from?
Levi: A Canadian botanist apparently.
Jeff: This guy said, sure okay. Okay good place to start right, but now I think we have more data that we should take an intelligent informed decision and say that's probably a little bit too low.
Levi: That's asking a lot of the US government though to make an intelligent and informed decision on drug policy.
Jeff: Yes. Yeah. Unfortunately.
Levi: Unfortunately that seems to be true. Yeah and so is there such a thing as too many terpenes? I mean terpenes are solvents. I mean, Pine-Sol has pinene in it right? You can hurt yourself.
Jeff: You can start to see irritation. You could start to see that they are, you know causing allergic reactions to some folks. I mean there is definitely a limit and there are very potent powerful things and when you put multiple ones together, they're even more potent so you don't need much of those to actually have a rewarding physiological effect and [00:32:24] more is definitely not better. There is definitely a you know limit where you're like, no, I think everyone knows more THC is usually not better to we have a limit where like I was a bad experience. I felt like I didn't want to you know, get off the bed for a while. That's not okay. There is the same thing applying with terpenes. So you don't want, you know, 90% of your product to be terpenes and 10% to be cannabinoids right in the case of you know, certain types of product types or In certain terpene combinations, it's hard to say like is there not a terpene that you could have 90 95 % there are there probably are some that you would depending on what the product type is and what the terpene is so I don't want to over generalize it but in you know, there can be too much of the good thing as well in this case.
Levi: It's like essential oils and essential oils are essentially mostly terpenes, right?
Jeff: Yes, most definitely. Yep.
Levi: And with essential oils are a huge thing right now, and there's a lot of snake oil out there and there's a lot of legitimate stuff, but there's a lot of claims being made about essential oils and what they can do. Probably everyone knows someone in their family that's out there hawking essential oils now, you know doTERRA or whatever and you know, crazy expensive and anyway essential oils have really gotten big and I think that's great. And that's a natural product. It's made by distilling plant material from the way I understand it. Cannabis you can do the same thing. You can extract the terpenes out of the plant and isolate those and then you can pull the cannabinoids out later. There's all types of cool things you can do with extraction. Do you have an opinion on [00:34:04] cannabis derived terpenes versus synthetic versus natural source. What's your perspective on that?
Jeff: Sure. The cannabis derived ones while they come from cannabis they typically do not look like cannabis when you're done, right? So there can be changes in the chemistry of those via the extraction methodology that's used. So we're having chemical changes and transformations happen. So it's not always a direct representation of what was on the flower and I think you know if we're saying like, hey, we know this flower that as as has been presented to us on the plant has been beneficial and helpful. So that's the best model to say, here's how I can get that into a derivative product some sort of infused extract or you know, edible, topical, inhalable type of product. The closer I stay to that plant profile the better I'm going to be in delivering the desired physiological effect and also potentially mitigating toxicological concerns. If I take some derivatized form of that because it changed via all of my extraction techniques and methodologies. Am I still as close to the plan as I thought I was even though I'm labeling it cannabis derived? Maybe not, I mean in some of the profiles of those when you go and do an analysis, you're like I can tell you this is from cannabis, but I wouldn't tell you it is cannabis ,because it is, you know, only 50% of what's in here do I have a clue about, and since I know I'm looking at a lot of what cannabis has to offer I should be able to discern more than 50% of this, so there are a lot of changes going on to the molecules throughout that particular process. And there are many types of processes, you can have CO2, you can have distillations, hydro distillations. You can have all sorts of ways that people are trying to capture those cannabis derived terpenes. Some may be better than others in certain people's opinions, but I think they're their own types of products, right? Did I get it from a consistent cultivated product. Did I do this process in a consistent fashion, and can I reproduce what I gave you? Because if this work for you this time, can I come back, you know two weeks later with the next batch and give you the same result or did something else change along the way that I couldn't control and now you don't get that desired physiological result. So that's cannabis derive ones like. You know natural and synthetic. Those are interesting terms. You know, that's the same molecule. I think it comes down to where did you derive it? Say if I have 99 nine percent limonene and I got it from oranges or I synthesized in the lab from another starting material. Analytically you see they're both 99% limonene. They're the same molecule. Molecules a molecule. So if I think this molecule is good for me. Did it matter as much on the way that I got their? Marketing folks really will tell you it matters much. I think there can sometimes be this perception that naturally derived means it must be more inherently safe for toxicologically better. There are a lots of natural molecules that we know are not good and not safe, you know ricin and stuff and even poison ivy and things of that type. So natural isn't always a designator of safe or safety and it can have natural product variability or really be difficult to control those things. So, you know, I think natural synthetic or even cannabis derive they all will have a good place in the cannabis industry, every one of those could be useful to someone. It's how consistent can I reproduce exactly what I gave you ,and that I think is the standardization challenge, it's not so much where did my source come from? But can I repeatedly derive it from that source and give you that exact same product time and time again. That will help patients that will help brands become recognizable. And I think it's really more of a push towards standardization than just where did I get it from.
Levi: Right? I hear you on a molecule being a molecule. And you know, I personally have a preference for natural, plant derived, least processed, you know, it's what Awakened is all about, but you know from a scientific, purely scientific perspective, the molecule is the molecule. What I wonder about sometimes though is especially with like say vape pens where a lot of additives are added and people are adding a lot of terpenes back into the formula for flavor and sometimes effect. What I worry about what seems to be a little bit unexplored is how much is too much like you're saying what if they had too much of a certain terpene and so what I've always defaulted to in my own manufacturing is well, nobody's hurt themselves with cannabis yet, that we know of, not in any serious way. So as long as I keep the terpene levels as close to what the plant produces as possible. The most terpene profile I've ever seen in a plant is probably from Tropical Sleigh Ride from Greenshock that has I think like 4.8% terpene profile. That won the Emerald Cup for highest terpene profile last year. I've heard people talk about 5% terpene profile.
Jeff: Do you know what the THC percentage was?
Jeff: Okay, so just say like 30 to 5, right?
Levi: Yeah 30 to 5. Yeah, right.
Jeff: So you could just say, here's my ratio and you're right if I stay close to that and that's what the plant produced and I can move the the absolute values up and down as long as those ratios stay the same. Then I should be generating, you know, what the plant provided and I think that is mathematically reasonable. And it seems to be fairly physiologically reasonable. I think I do think that that's a very intelligent place to start.
Levi: At least you know with the lack of data. I think you know, I'm trying to be a conscientious person that's making products that are going to be helpful to people. I wouldn't want to OD them on pinene or limonene or something and and dissolve their stomach lining you know.
Jeff: I think fortunately won't go that bad, but you would notice it on the tongue or the taste or you could have, you know, a little bit more of irritation of the mouth or airways or even of the stomach like this doesn't make me feel good or you know people that have like allergic types of reactions if you have too much in a topical in your skin's turning red, that's definitely not the desired case either.
Levi: Right? Right, and I was like, even a you know, Tiger Balm right would you can buy in the store that I was looking at the formula? I think it's like 24% Menthol or something like that.
Jeff: Oh interesting I didn't know. I used it before but I never look at the label when I did.
Levi: That's a lot of Menthol. I mean that's powerful like if you stick some tiger balm in your eye, you're probably going to be going to the ER.
Jeff: That's, you're not going to have a good time. No, that's not that it's not. Okay.
Levi: So like you said just because something is natural doesn't mean it can't be harmful and it's important for people to realize that.
Jeff: And to manufacturers using these things, you know, what you have highly concentrated it, you know ingredients like that that you're then going to dilute further. You know, I think there's a little bit of like, hey this safety data sheet. This SDS sheet says that this has all these hazards. Well that's in the very potent neat form and how you're supposed to safely handle it to put it in the product. That's not the end safety data sheet of the final product. That's of the ingredients. Oh a hundred percent Menthol right that I use to make my Tiger Balm that might have a rather scary safety data sheet, but when I dilute it down into the Tiger Balm, it's fine provided you don't stick it in your eye. So, you know it is how do I use it? Where am I using it? What's the concentration of that final product and what I'm using it in but any manufacturers are people playing with neat terpenes at home. I mean, they're very different than when you're diluting them down. Into a product concentration has a huge impact on that thing.
Levi: And it's making me so many questions I want to ask you Jeff. I just had like a personal question I really want to know there's obviously terpenes and essential oils are used in flavoring and fragrances and the flavor and fragrance industry. We find terpenes and all kinds of products were probably not even aware of. Is there a standard for like there has to be a manufacturing standard somewhere that the Clorox Corporation refers to to say hey, we want to make sure we're not putting more linalool or pinene than this amount. Is there some type of standarized?
Jeff: I don't know if their regulated or standardized to that fashion. I mean, I think you know, the Clorox company will say here's the product that we've gone through all of our studies and we know it very well or marketing group has said this is effective. One, economically I don't want to put more in there that is effect then effective because that's just not going to be cost effective to the company so there's a little inherent economical protection in that, but it is really product-specific. Right? So like you're saying like with Tiger Balm and say like, you know 24% Menthol in there was very effective. But if I have 24 percent Menthol in a cigarette that very well may not be a great. Yeah, so it's really really difficult to say, hey I saw this over there therefore it must be okay over here and I think that's exactly the [00:42:49] vitamin E acetate problem. Right? So we were like hey, this is fine and it's generally recognized as safe, as a topical, right, not in a vape product and not to inhale because other it was never studied that way and things might happen like we saw happen. So it's really a product specific designation and that's you know, unfortunately as complicated as it could get because we could say hey I saw this one molecule and I know it's infinitely good no matter what we do, but that's unfortunately not the case. It really is very very product-specific.
Levi: It's like anything. I mean gasoline when you put it in your engine is really great. But you wouldn't want to drink it. I mean, yeah and not having it maybe that's too obvious than example. But I mean, I think there's some truth to that and and people need to recognize how powerful some of these chemicals are especially concentrated. That's why the Vape thing, you know, I've never been a huge fan of vape pens I use them when I travel, because they're convenient, but I've always been more of a flower guy, but I think I think vape pens have a huge future and potential because they're convenient, their potent, they're relatively easy to manufacture.
Jeff: And you can standardize them and make them consistent. I think well, so I think that does have a lot to offer, you know, in terms of a physiological tool too.
Levi: And I think you know people like them, you know, and so for the people that you know are listening to this that, you know, either use vapes currently or thinking about using cannabis vapes THC or CBD vapes, you mentioned, vitamin E acetate and so can you explain a little bit about that? That's that's the Vape gate crisis that happened a couple years ago.
Jeff: Yep. That was the one predominantly responsible for the EVALI problem. I don't know if it's the only thing you know, it wasn't in every single case that they found.
Levi: Why were people using vitamin E acetate? What was the purpose of adding that to the formula?
Jeff: I never used it myself, so I don't know, you know, and I never talk to those that have used it directly. But as I understand it, it was more because of lack of testing of THC potency. [00:44:49] So if I had a vape cart and I saw a bubble, you know, and I flip the vape cart over how long did it take for the bubble to go up to the you know to go back to the other side if it goes really fast it means I must have cut down the THC concentration so that it was, you know thinned out and you know more cost effective for the illicit manufacturer. This wasn't happening in places where it's tested because if I went to the testing lab with a 30 percent THC thing and called it 80% they'd say no it's not and it's not allowed to go out and it wouldn't be labeled under 80. But in illicit market where there's no testing and there's you know, no labeling. I'm going strictly by this visual test and if I can fake it to someone that my stuff is very viscous. I think it was understood that THC distillate oil and concentrates are very viscous. So higher concentrations mean that bubbled turns over slower, then you wanted something that did that and they said well what's super cheap and what could give me these types of thickening effects that I can add this to the Vape card and you know, they didn't approach it from the standardization standpoint, they approached it from the how do I visibly make it look like this is high potency THC. So I want something that you know will flow enough to get in the cartridge but is thick enough that it passes the bubble test Tom and that unfortunately was I think the large driver for how this could be useful in that respect but it was the reason is when you heat a molecule like that, it degrades into another molecule that's highly reactive and was causing all the problems in the lungs. Well, I think we now know that unfortunately, right which is probably hard to predict until you would do say toxicology studies or understand things like that. We now know that molecules like that that have that you know phenolic acitate function are bad and I really worry that I'm starting to see like [00:46:43] THC Acetate show up another cannabinoid acetates where that same problem can happen. So, you know, I am fearful that we may inadvertently even go down that path again without being a vape excipient or anything being used like in the same fashion. We're just going to make a molecule that we think is going to be more psychoactive or interesting and caused that problem. It starts to become complex chemistry and I want to write for everyone out there, but that's . . .
Levi: You're talking about things that I've never heard of. What is THC Acetate?
Jeff: So it's adding a small polar group to THC that allows it to pass the blood-brain barrier better. So it's a very like inexpensive and relatively simple chemical transformation to perform. So if I have a lot of these things around somebody with you know enough rudimentary college-level cannabis or chemistry knowledge is going to say, hey, you could do this and here's how you could make this potentially more psychoactive, which is not necessarily the case and I don't think it's needed in this case either. We've got plenty of the right molecule. Don't go mess with it, but that if you heat It is going to cause the same things that we saw with vitamin E acetate and if you're dabbing it or vaporizing it or putting it in combustion products, you could see these same problems and then we'll have an even bigger, you know regulatory problem. So I really caution anyone that would understand that to not do it. I think the inadvertent repercussions of it could be far greater than we'd ever anticipate or want to see.
Levi: And this is different than [00:48:18] Nano Technology, which is also supposed to increase the bioavailability.
Jeff: Yes, so that's like just like encapsulating or capturing the THC molecules in really small particles and those particles are in such a way that it's delivered easier to the receptors of interest to the body. Not all Nano claims are actually accurate if it does depend on how you've gotten there and does it stay that way or do they agglomerates after you've formed it? There's a lot of really complex things that go on with the Nano pieces too.
Levi: Gotcha. Yeah, there you know the market is always going to try to find cheaper ways to get people higher, right?
Jeff: Unfortunately yes.
Levi: And there might be some really negative potential consequences of that. I know as a topical maker, you know, when The Vape Gate thing was happening around vitamin E. Suddenly everyone. I vitamin E my topical as a preservative which I think all topicals should have some perservative. It's a natural one. It's a very good one and people were flagging that you know on COA's and going, hey, you know why does this have vitamin E in it?
Jeff: As long as I didn't tell you to inhale it it's fine in this fashion.
Levi: But I had to go and literally talk to all of my accounts and educate them on why our topicals have vitamin E how it's yes, it's the same thing they're using to cut the vape pens, but if you don't smoke it, it's actually really good for you. It's when you inhale it that it becomes harmful. So interesting stuff. Do you have a favorite terpene?
Jeff: I joke that they're like all my children. I don't have a favorite I'm not allowed to. No, I probably don't have one particular favorite. I do like the smell of lavender. I do like the smell of linalool. I think that's a pretty you know solid front runner for me, but I wouldn't say it's necessarily my favorite, but I do like that one.
Levi: I love lavender too. Lavender the plant would have linalool along with what other terpenes, limonene, pinene, myrcene? What else is going on?
Jeff: Lots of other ones for sure.
Levi: Yeah, so it's not just linalool, but that's kind of the dominant. Y
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, and then we have pure linalool that you can smell, you know, that is still it's still pleasant. It doesn't smell like the lavender plant but it is pleasant.
Levi: And they've done the clinical trials on linalool right? Haven't they?
Jeff: On a standardized extract of lavender. Yes, right here's products on the European market that are good for that.
Levi: For treating depression or anxiety?
Jeff: I think that's what yeah.
Levi: And they compared it to antidepressant and it worked just as well or better?
Jeff: I don't know if they did a head-to-head trial with another pharmaceutical but they did it against the placebo. If I'm remembering correctly.
Jeff: It did show some clinical efficacy. Like hey, this can really help you.
Levi: So for anybody listening a lavender next time you see it your neighbors probably growing it, you know next time you're walking your dog go stick your face in there it will chill you out. Calm you down.
Jeff: You'll feel a little better.
Levi: The plant is speaking to you. It's telling you to chill out.
Jeff: That's a fine. It'll be fine. Just come on over here.
Levi: Do you like cannabis? Are you a smoker Jeff?
Jeff: I am a cannabis consumer yes.
Levi: Do you like vapes, flower, concentrates? What's your jam?
Jeff: I've tried them all. I think there's you know place in time for each and one of every one of them. I am a vape user. I think those are very convenient very effective, but I do still like the flower and and its form as well. So I'm a fan of that.
Levi: Do you like distillate vapes or live resin?
Jeff: I can't say I've had too many live resin Vapes, but I'm a fan of the distillate vapes. Well formulated one's can be very very effective for both the taste and physiological standpoint.
Levi: And not all distillate is created equal. I mean you can you can have a wide variety of quality. Yeah with with distillate. And distillate is essentially distilled cannabinoids.
Jeff: Yep. Yep.
Levi: And to take that as so you've removed the terpenes from distillate and then they're added back into the formula later either cannabis derived or some type or some type?
Jeff: Or otherwise. Botanical derived I think is what they say. both synthetic and natural versions.
Levi: Right, and I know you I know you're really big on the true to plant aspect of this. Like how is there a way to actually like if you if you if I analyze this bud for the terpene profile and then I smoked it. Is there a way to analyze the smoke or like what how do we know that what we're smoking is actually what we're receiving?
Jeff: There are, it's a lot harder cause there's a whole lot more molecules in that so becomes a lot lot more complex, but there are ways of doing that. And I think that's what everyones starting to do in the the vape world if you will that they're saying here's what I put in this hardware device, but what did I get out of it? Because that's what I'm actually being exposed to. So the the analytical push in that direction is increasing and I think we'll see more and more Labs be able to do that which will definitely be a very good thing.
Levi: So the Entourage Effect you kind of mentioned briefly is going to be the interplay between the cannabinoids and the terpenes. Is that it?
Jeff: yeah. There may be many other things involved to right? It's just like this plethora of molecules. It's not one. It's not two. it's kind of all of them together. I would never want to say it's only 5 or only 10 like I don't think you know, and it may be a very different number depending on the molecules and depending upon you know, which product form in which person you're talking right and I probably know your
Levi: And I probably already know your answer to this because you're a nuanced scientist and nothing is ever black and white with any scientist, but I know that people are going to want to know like hey, I'm in pain, what terpenes should I look for? I want to sleep at night. What what strain of cannabis should I look for? Can you give people any indicators of what terpene profiles they should look for for the big ones: anxiety, sleep and pain?
Jeff: It's really tough. I think that's really tough to kind of say like which ones are right because it's not one terpene. It's kind of the you know, the number of those that you see so try and get as much information on the CofA or from the product manufacturer about what the top three to five terpenes might be so that you can understand, hey, this is this is what I'm looking for because I tried this and I tried that so ask your going to do a little trial and error ask, you know someone hey what is on either end of the spectrum and maybe what do you see as the middle and then I can look at those things and say well this one's high in terpinolene. This one's high in you know, pinene and myrcene, this one's high in linalool, this one's kind of got us some of both like maybe I should try the one over here that it's you know devoid of turpentine because those always made me feel going up lifting in that direction. I think it's it's too early for us to kind of say like, hey these top three are always going to be your recommendation. It's very individualized. I do think you can do it in relatively short order now, like before it was we called it, whatever indica sativa and that wasn't always as helpful as it needed to because it was often mislabeled as Indica to just sell it somewhere sure.
Levi: Yeah, and because at least in SoCal command a higher price point, so if you're a grower you might just call something an Indica because you know, you're going to get a little bit more for it, but it doesn't speak to its actual medicinal properties. Well, unfortunately, I think we're kind of coming to a close here.
Jeff: I'm happy to come back.
Levi: Yeah, I will definitely bring me because you're way too valuable to this industry and you know, you've been a good ally to mine all these years and I just think you have a fascinating brain, and for people that don't know Jeff, he's a PhD chemist. USC grad. He's run the Werc Shop, one of the largest manufacturing operations in California. He's an expert on terpenes. You have a terpene company still if you want to plug your terpene company.
Jeff: We sell them through the workshop brand you can go to the thewercshop.com and reach out through us through there and we're on social media channels for that too, and we'd be happy to speak about product formulations, ingredients and things that you would need.
Levi: Amazing, these guys really know their stuff. And your brother really knows his stuff too. I'll have to get him on here as well. Smoke cigarettes the whole time.
Jeff: You better not. I think he's mitigated that to a great extent good news about the different stress levels. It's a problem. So . . .
Levi: Maybe there's a terpene that helps with that? I'm sure there is.
Jeff: I'm still trying to find that one.
Levi: They say a heavy dose of CBD has found some positive effects.
Jeff: Yeah, I do think you know some potential hemp cigarette replacement.
Levi: That's what I'm smoking. This is actually this is actually hemp.
Levi: Sometimes if I smoke too many I get a little sleepy but I really enjoy smoking hemp and some of this hemp is getting really terpene-rich like this stuff is from Oregon. It's 15% CBD, 2% terpene profile ,which even a couple years ago is like man, you're lucky to get 1% terpene profile in a hemp cultivar. The hemp growers are really advancing that cause right now.
Jeff: You can see some of the bag you like. I would have never called that hemp, you know years ago you would like undoubtedly know just by visual looks but today is very different.
Levi: This is Indian Hemp, this is some old school. All right. Well, thank you. Dr. Raber great to have you on Head Space. I'll definitely be bringing you back as a regular guest. I'm sure people are going to really get a lot out of that and have a great day and I'll talk to you soon.
Jeff: Great. Thank you very much for the opportunity Levi you have a great one as well.
Levi: Thanks for joining me today on Head Change, the podcast that puts you in a better headspace. I've been your host Levi Strom. Be sure and join us next week for another episode, and until then. Peace.