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Understanding Terpene Profiles- An Interview with New Bloom Labs


May 15, 2020
Category: Hemp

Welcome back to Growing With North Carolina Farms! In Episode 5 we interview Natalie Siracusa from New Bloom Labs with a focus on terpene profiles, how to take a good sample, and what beneficial properties different terpenes bring to your hemp.

Some of the highlights include:

  • What should you look for on a terpene report?
  • Is there a market for extracted terpenes?
  • How do you cut and dry the perfect sample for terpene testing?
  • What are the different terpene analytes and what are their aromatics and properties?
  • How do you read the measurements on a report, and what do all those acronyms mean?
  • How does Natalie view the “future of terpenes”?

Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable. You’re about to listen in to a practical, actionable 30-minute conversation filled with terpene profile wisdom from:

Mick– One of our owners, and our Director of Business Strategy

Natalie- Laboratory Director for New Bloom Labs in Chattanooga, TN

If you aren’t able to listen, we’ve provided the full transcript below. 

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Mick: Well, I’m very excited today to have Natalie. She is the laboratory director at New Blooms Labs. She has been in the testing world and laboratory world for almost a decade. She was in forensics and toxicology and now she has taken and applied those skills into cannabis. Natalie, I’m excited to have you on the podcast and really excited to talk to you.

Natalie: I’m so glad to be here.

What to Look for On a Terpene Report

Mick: So, we are going to spend most of our time talking about terpenes. I think it is one of those areas where we have all seen, if you’ve been in the hemp world very long, you’ve seen terpene reports. 

It is almost like an anomaly that you aren’t really sure what you are looking at. You kind of know what you are doing. So, we are going to spend some time talking about it. The first thing when I look at it — the report — I see lots of names I don’t recognize. What should I really be focusing on as a grower when I pull up a terpene report?

Natalie: Well, there are a lot of things that you can see or gain from running a terpene profile. It all just depends on what you want. Just as a quick nomenclature here. Terpene is a compound that is produced by the crop. It is in the essential oil of the crop and it has multiple properties, but the main reason this crop produces it is to attract pollinators, deviate pests away, and things of that nature. 

It is a natural compound that the crop utilizes to help the crop thrive. So, some of the names are a little strange, but a lot of these things you can just look at and sort of know what is going on with it. 

So citrol, for example, obviously that is going to be a citrus fragrance and pinene, obviously pine, menthol, menthol and mint. Things of that nature, but it all depends on what you want. All of these terpenes work in conjunction with the cannabinoids present in the crop to give certain types of therapeutic properties. Whether it is immune support, anti microbial, anti fungal, or insomnia, all of these things can be helped with the combination of terpenes and cannabinoids. 

So, to the original question – what you are looking for just depends on what you want. There is a ton of research and information out there around terpenes and which terpenes possess what properties. There is plenty of research out there too on what a grower can do to enhance certain terpenes in their crops. So, obviously, picking the right genetics. There are other things that you can do during the grow process, like stressing the plant lightly with humidity, certain types of cuts, etcetera, that you can do to enhance the terpenes that you want. It depends on what you want your product to do for your consumers.

Mick: Yes, so you can actually embellish it a little bit by running it dry or hot or bright. It would depend on the terpene and the genetics and you would need to do some research based on what you are after if that is what you are trying to do.

Natalie: That is exactly right. Terpenes really start to take off and there are a lot of laboratories out there that are isolating these terpenes and selling them. Even if you are not working with the actual crop itself or the plant material that contains the terpenes. If you are working with processed products, you are going to see a good bit of loss of terpenes when you process a product due the volatility of these terpenes. They are very volatile. 

There are laboratories out there that are isolating and extracting these and concentrating them. So, it is not a lost cause to the processor. The processor does want terpenes in their products to work in conjunction with the cannabinoids in their products. They can absolutely spike those in from these great laboratories that are isolating them.

Extracting Terpenes

Mick: Wow! Ok, so that gives me a couple of questions immediately. So, as we are looking at genetics, we are almost always myopically focused on THC and CBD or CBG — whatever you are trying to do — that cannabinoid. But, you can actually be growing a crop for its terpene profile and then selling it to a lab who is going to extract just menthol or whatever.

Natalie: That is absolutely marketable. One hundred percent, yes! These can be synthesized in a laboratory, but in my opinion, extraction from organic material…isolation, extraction, and concentration that way is always going to be better, right.

Mick: Yeah, that is fascinating. That opens up a whole new angle as a breeder. What are we going to breed for? It is one more variable you would have to cover as you are breeding. It sounds like, if I’m growing for biomass and I’m just going to sell to a processor, terpenes aren’t that important, but if I’m growing smokable flower, that’s when it becomes really important with flavor profiles and that sort of thing. 

Natalie: Absolutely, so biomass, at the end of the day, is going to be processed. We talked about that earlier. Processing the crop is going to result in loss of terpenes. So, processors, if they did want to utilize terpenes in conjunction with the cannabinoids in their products, they would want to spike those in probably. 

But, for smokable flower, those are going to contain those really concentrated terpenes that the crop has. So, yes, these terpenes are what give the crop its aromatic properties. So, when you open that jar of beautiful buds that you just trimmed and you get that beautiful smell of the hemp, that is what you are smelling. You are smelling a combination of those terpenes.

How to Take the Perfect Sample for Terpene Profile Testing

Mick: Ok, so let’s say I’m a smokable grower. I’m growing smokable flower and I want to get a terp profile. When I am taking samples for compliance and CBD content and that sort of thing, I take a large two to three-inch cola off the top center mass of the plant. That gives me my compliancy, but if I want to know what the CBD is going to be for the whole biomass, I take a little from the top, a little from the middle and a little from the bottom. 

Does it really matter on a terp profile? Should I be taking that top, middle and bottom or should I just do the top? How does that work when I’m taking samples to try and get it tested for terpenes? 

Natalie: Well, the more mature the flower is, the more concentrated the terpenes are going to be. The reason is just nature. The crop is really going to concentrate those terpenes, which — as we talked about — are a natural pest deviant to keep the pests away. So, once the flower really matures and becomes a little more vulnerable to those pests, and things of that nature, those terpenes are really going to concentrate. 

So, the more mature the bud, the better. The cool thing is that a lot of states, for compliance, are requiring that compliance clip two weeks before you harvest. So, you could utilize that same sample to get your terpene profile because you are about to harvest the crop anyway. So, the bud is almost going to be at that max maturity before you harvest it. You could do double duty with that. In general, the more mature the flower, the more concentrated those terpenes are going to be. 

Mick: Yeah, so. Just so everybody is on the same page. You can’t double up your sample. I can’t send you two grams for a compliancy test and you use those same two grams for a terp profile. You would have to send in four grams total, but it can be the same cut. It can be the same flower.

Natalie: That is exactly right. So, cut four grams rather than two, if you want to get a terpene profile in addition to compliance. Just as a side note, our sample size requirements at New Bloom are very small. So, even if you just sent me two grams, I can still get a beautiful terpene and potency profile out of that. 

Mick: Maybe the answer to this question is wrapped up in that, but it sounds like the later I take that sample, the better off I’m going to be as far as the terp profile. So, a young plant is going to have a different concentration than an older plant.

Natalie: Absolutely. Because, again, the more vulnerable the crop becomes and the bigger that flower gets, the more concentrated those terpenes are going to be to deviate predators.

Mick: Alright, so, it sounds like if you took a test early, you may have the same ratio, more or less, but your concentration is going to continue to grow all the way as mature as you can get that flower and still be compliant.

Natalie: Right. The presence of the terpenes, perhaps, will be the same between a less mature version of that crop and the more mature version of that crop. However, those terpenes that are present are really going to concentrate the more it matures.

Mick: Have you seen any differences between indoor grows versus outdoor grows? I guess it is going to come back to how you treat the plant.

Natalie: It all comes back to how you treat the plant and what we talked about earlier. There are certain things that you do to the plant that can really increase the terpene production in the plant. Stress and things like that. It is very possible that an indoor grow versus an outdoor grow…there may be some differences there. 

An outdoor grow may be under more stress due to the environmental conditions, so the terpenes may very well be a little more concentrated in an outdoor grow. I don’t have any data to support that, so it is very hard to deduce the difference between an indoor grow and an outdoor grow. Especially in a third party unbiased laboratory, which is what we do here. Every sample that comes through has a number and the less information I know about the sample, the better. 

Mick: We do some testing over the summer. It is also difficult to test that kind of thing because what if you had a really harsh summer? Or what if two weeks without your drip tube working? There are so many variables that it is going to be difficult to reproduce over and over and over.

Natalie: The variables are endless in this industry from what I’ve seen. It’s been a lot of fun, but it has been challenging — which is what makes it fun — because the variables are so abundant with these types of samples.

Mick: Yeah, I’m going to ask you some research questions in a little while because I find that part fascinating. You said terpenes are really fragile. They tend to get consumed as you do biomass or whatever. Also, when you take samples, you have to be very careful. Are there some best practices for taking a good sample to guard as many terpenes as you can? 

Natalie: No matter what type of analytical testing — whether it’s patient testing, forensic testing, agricultural testing — the goal is always to get the sample to the laboratory as quickly as possible. So, as soon as you clip that, get it in the mail and get it to us. 

But, terpenes are not necessarily fragile, they are volatile. We actually manipulate that volatility and use it in the laboratory to get these profiles. They are very volatile. So, exposure to high temperatures, light, and things of that nature are definitely going to result in terpene loss. The goal is always going to be to make sure your sample is in an adequate environment no matter what. It always needs to be in an adequate environment and get it to the laboratory as quickly as possible.

Mick: Would you dry that at all? You would just put it in a paper bag or whatever and get it to you. You would not hold it 24 hours to dry or anything like that?

Natalie: You can absolutely hold it to dry — and there is not going to be a lot of terpene loss in that as long as you are drying it under the right conditions — but we do dry down in here, though not for terpenes. If we receive a sample that has a terpene profile, regardless of the moisture, we are going to run it “as is” to preserve those terpenes. As far as potency goes, we do dry down before we run because you can erroneously lower the potency if there is too much moisture.

Mick: Ok. So, drying under good conditions — can you define that? What does it look like for somebody who is brand new who is going to do this and try and get it to you the next day or in a couple of days?

Natalie: You know, we, in the laboratory, the way we always look at it is, the less you can manipulate it, the better. So, in the laboratory, if we get something that is very very fresh, we allow it to dry at atmosphere. It is just the safest bet. 

So, room temperature is always going to be your best bet. There is no heat added or cold added. Just straight atmospheric conditions. Anytime a client calls and asks that question, I always tell them, “If it’s fresh, let it sit out a day or two before you send it. Let it dry at atmosphere. Don’t add anything to it.” If you allow it to dry at atmosphere, the terpene loss will also be minimal under those conditions.

Mick: Ok. So, avoid direct sunlight. 

Natalie: That’s right.

Mick: Room temperature… Would you put it on a grated surface, so you have more air movement? Would you put a fan on it? Is that necessary?

Natalie: Hanging it from the ceiling is always a plus. We’ve seen that many many times. If you don’t have it on a surface at all, that is always going to be the best bet. Just like if you are taking flowers and you wanted to dry them out to preserve them, you hang them upside down. It’s the same concept. You will preserve way more under those conditions.

And the other thing too is, if the crop sample that you took is absolutely full of moisture and you lay it down on a surface, mold and microbial things like that, they like surface, moisture and dark. So, who is to say, you wouldn’t start growing something on the surface beneath where you have the sample laying. The best bet is to hang it from the ceiling.

Mick: I think we overthink it sometimes. Trying to run all these low humidity, perfect temperature kind of things and really just hanging it from the ceiling at room temperature for a couple of days is maybe your best bet.

Natalie: Yeah, at atmosphere, absolutely. And humidity, you do want to keep that a little under control, but if you are indoors, the humidity is going to be adequate. 

Mick: Don’t try to dry it in your greenhouse. That is a mistake.

Natalie: That is a huge mistake.

Terpene Profiles: Analytes, Aromatics, and Properties

Mick: So, I’ve got you a good sample. You run it. I get my report back. Can you talk me through some of these analytes? There are so many on the profile that I don’t really know. Just mention them. How do they work? What is their importance? A little quick summary of each.

Natalie: Yeah, so, at present, we run 19 of these terpene profiles. We will add more as time goes on. We are now using “mass-spec” for terpene analysis which is absolutely fantastic. So, we will have the ability to make this panel a little bit bigger. Currently, we are running 19. 

We begin with citrol. It has a citrusy aromatic… lemon oil. It has anti-microbial and immune support properties. We also run Beta-Caryophyllene and Caryophyllene Oxide, which have a clove, black pepper and cinnamon aromatic to them. These guys have tons of properties: antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-fungal, and those are pretty prominent in a lot of the crops I see coming through here. 

We also look at Camphene. It’s in fir trees, so it’s probably a little pine-y, antimicrobial, and a good insecticide. Anything that is pine-y, peppermint, super menthol or eucalyptus. Anything of that nature is going to be a good insecticide. 

We also look at Carene, which is earthy. It’s really good at dilating the bronchial tubes and helping with insomnia. Humulene is the primary terpene in hops. So, hops and cannabis share similar genetics. 

Alpha-Humulene is a big one we see in cannabis as well. It is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-everything. It is very abundant in cannabis. 

Linalool is the lavender aromatics. It is good for microbial, anti-anxiety, anti-insomnia, and has a very good smell. That one is also pretty abundant in cannabis. 

Alpha-terpinene: that is your turpentine aromatics. 

Terpinoline is going to be what you smell in a lilac. It is antimicrobial and anti-insomnia. 

Limonene is citrus lime. It is a good antimicrobial and also good for dilating the bronchial tubes. Any citrus is good for that as well. 

Eucalyptol is obviously what you smell in eucalyptus oil. It is very good for dilating the bronchial tubes and a good anti-inflammatory. Eucalyptus is used in a lot of products over the counter. 

Senchone is what you smell in that awesome fennel vegetable. It is an analgesic, which is pain relief, and good for insomnia. Not as abundant in cannabis, but we see traces of it every now and then. 

Alpha-Pinene is what you smell in a pine tree. It is also good for dilation of the bronchioles and good for anti-inflammation. 

Menthol is going to be your mint. Again, good for dilating for the bronchial tubes and pain relief as well. And we actually don’t see a lot of menthol in cannabis. Alpha-Pinene is super abundant in cannabis. Menthol, we don’t see a lot of it in cannabis. It is very rare that I even detect that in cannabis. 

Sabinene is going to be your oak-y aromatics. 

Ocimene is going to be a general herbal aromatic and that is really good for antifungal. 

Pulegone is another peppermint, which is good for dilation of the bronchial tubes and a really good insecticide. 

Gamma-Terpinene is another aromatic of turpentine and Borneol is anti-insomnia. It is also good with the bronchial tubes. It kind of has a tangy aromatic to it and it is good for pain relief as well. We don’t see a lot of Borneol in cannabis either. Every now and then we will see a little bit, but not very abundant in cannabis. 

That’s the panel. Those are the terpenes that we look for. They are all fascinating and they are all unique. 

Report Measurements and Acronyms

Mick: That is excellent information. That is one of those things that I look at and I’m even afraid to pronounce most of them and to know what they do in the background would take me a lot of research, so I appreciate you running that down for us. 

So, the other thing. When I look at the report, I see somethings are listed in parts per million, at least your report is. Some things are listed with numbers, like 100 or 50 or whatever. Then, you’ve got LOQ and then you’ve got ND. Can you talk me through those different readouts and tell me what they mean?

Natalie: Absolutely. So, there are four different analytical results that I can turn out on the terpene profile. If I turn out greater than a number, that means that the result yielded a number that is out of the linearity. So, I’m letting you know that it is there and it is there so abundantly that I couldn’t even quantitate it. It is out of my quantitative range. So, if it is greater than a number, then it is out of my linear range, but it is absolutely present. 

If I give you an actual quantitative number, it obviously means that it is not only present, but I was also able to quantitate it with my instrument’s linear range. If I show a less than LOQ, that means it is present, but it is less than my LOQ. 

So, in analytical chemistry you have two main phrases: Limit of Detection (LOD) and Limit of Quantification (LOQ). Limit of Quantitation is the absolute lowest limit that you can quantitate. That you can turn out a number. Your Limit of Detection is the absolute lowest concentration in which you can detect it. So, if I turn out less than LOQ, what that means is that I detected it, but I can’t give you a number on it because it is less than my LOQ. So, it is between that LOD and LOQ number. ND means absolutely not detected. Nothing there. 

MIck: Jeff, on a recent call — for those who have not listened to the podcast, Jeff is the Marketing Director at New Blooms — and he said it is like placing a mouse on your bathroom scale. You know it is there. It exists, but it is not enough to move the scale enough to read a new number. It’s not going to read a pound. It exists, but it is less than I can quantify on this particular scale.

Natalie: That’s exactly right.

Mick: I’ll put a…I guess, technically, it’s a COA…of a terp profile in the show notes, so you can see how these things are written out, but sometimes you’ll have greater than 50. Sometimes it is greater than 100 parts per million. Is that because we are looking inside of ranges and we’re not trying to say its 54 parts per million. We are saying its greater than 50, but it is not greater than whatever the next number would be, like 75 or 100. Is that how the thing works out? 

Natalie: Every analyte is unique and my goal is always to set my upper limit of linearity or that number that I can absolutely quantitate with accuracy on the high end. As high as possible. 

So, for example, Limonene. On this particular analytical method, Limonene, I just can’t quantitate it as high as I can everything else. So, on everything else I can quantitate up to 500 or 1,000 parts per million, which equals out to be a good chunk in milligrams/gram. But, Limonene, I just can’t get past that 30 parts per million. It just does not quantitate accurately. 

In addition to setting the Limit of Detection (LOD) and the Limit of Quantification (LOQ), you also have to set an Upper Limit of Linearity (ULOL). That range between the LOQ and the upper limit is the quantitative range. That is the range you can turn out a number. So, the upper limits differ based on how the analyte behaves on the analytical method. 

I try to get those as high as possible, but some of those I do have to drop because I start losing linearity if I go too high. So, they do differ by analyte.

Mick: Again, it is a fascinating thing to dive deep into this report. Last question on the COA. You’ve got the method of analysis as HSGC. Now you said that it is going to go to mass-spec, which means mass-spectrometer. But for now, I guess you are using some other method. Does that tell us anything that is investing to know from a product standpoint? Like when I’m trying to sell this.

Natalie: So, that’s actually a really good question. At least from an analytical standpoint, it is a really good question. So, it does make a difference. On the report you have it may be a little dated. We may need to get you an updated one. 

So, the original analytical method that I put together for this, we ran it on a headspace auto-sampler with gas chromatograph separation and detection with flamionization. So, it was essentially just chromatography. 

Chromatography …I’ve been doing chromatography many many years and it is the absolute best and greatest analytical procedures ever. It is a procedure that I will continue to utilize till they come up with something crazy. But, chromatography is what gives you the separation. It would be easy if you could just take a sample out of the mailbox and throw it on an instrument and hit start. Poof! You have a result, but it doesn’t work that way and the reason it doesn’t work that way is because you are dealing with complicated matrices with multiple analytes present. 

So, no detector is capable of detecting a ton of analytes at once, so you have to separate them. That is what the chromatograph does. You prep the sample to be as clean as possible and then you run it on the chromatograph and it just slowly separates all these analytes out. 

It is kind of like a race. Everybody starts at the same time, but not everybody finishes at the same time. It depends on your affinity for running the race, right? Chromatography is the same way. The great part about chromatography is the separation, but chromatography is limited. There are limitations to chromatography. The limitation is, if you have multiple analytes that come out at the same time and look the same on the chromatograph, you can’t resolve them. 

So what does that mean? You have to drop them both. So, if I have two analytes that look the same on the chromatograph, I can’t run either one. I have to drop them both. However, if you add a mass-spectrometer to that, you now have resolution power. What I mean by that is that those two you could not resolve on the chromatograph, you now can because they differ in structure. 

A mass-spectrometer utilizes and manipulates the molecular structure of these compounds and fragments that structure based on the strengths of the bonds in the molecule. You are not just limited to separating them on the chromatograph. It doesn’t matter, even if you have a 100 analytes that come out at the same time on the chromatograph, if they fragment differently on a mass-spec based on the strength of the bonds and their unique molecular structures, then you can run them all. 

That entails why we went to the mass-spectre. We made that investment in that because it allows us more resolution power, which means I can turn out more terpenes, which means I can give you guys more information. 

To answer your question, yes, there is absolutely a difference in what I can tell you between my original analytical method and the new and improved analytical method. In addition to that, I have heightened the upper limit on all of these. So, I can turn out numbers even higher to you as well.

The Future of Terpenes

Mick: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Ok. We are starting to run out of time. I want to ask you one big question here toward the end about terpenes and research. They seem to hold a lot of promise. Is there some research out there that gets you excited about terpenes? Are there some that you wish were going on right now? Talk to me about that side in the scientific world. What are you seeing?

Natalie: Well, we kind of touched on a lot of this already, but just the therapeutic properties of terpenes. That gets me very excited as a toxicologist. That is the part that really lights me up is the therapeutic value in terpenes. Similar to cannabinoids, we are starting to realize the therapeutic value of cannabinoids. Similarly, terpenes work in conjunction with the cannabinoids, but even on their own, they have therapeutic value as we talked about when we broke all of these analytes down earlier. That is fascinating and that is definitely something that needs to be explored. 

On the flip side of that type of research, though, back to the lack of research. Because there is a lack of research, we don’t understand the disposition of these compounds in man. The toxicology of it. So, if you ingest too much, what does that mean? Is there such a thing as ingesting too much? What is the toxicity level on all of that? 

We are in a similar situation with cannabinoids as well. We know that cannabinoids have therapeutic properties and we know they can be ingested, but what is lacking out there is the research on the toxicology of these compounds. When is it too much? When is enough enough? So, in my opinion, the toxicology of these things needs to be explored in addition to their therapeutic value. 

The other part of this that gets me excited, especially with all the pesticide testing that we’re doing in here is utilizing what nature has taught us, which is to utilize terpenes as pesticides, right? The crop produces it for that reason. The more mature the crop becomes, the more they concentrate those in order to preserve. I think that there is probably some space for some natural pesticides with terpenes. I definitely think there is room for that. In general, let’s see why nature creates these compounds and let’s work off of that. Let’s look at what nature is telling us.

New Bloom Labs

Mick: Well, all of that is fascinating. Natalie, would you tell people how they can get up with you if they have questions about terp-profiles or how to get a test? What is the easiest way to reach you?

Natalie: Well, definitely the website is going to be the best and easiest way to reach us. If you go to newbloomlabs.com, everything you need is there. There is a 1-800 number you can call and you will get straight to a human being on that 1-800 number and if you want to speak with me directly, we give that option as well. 

That’s one thing that New Blooms has tried to do differently than the rest of the industry is direct line and communication with the laboratory director with the resident scientist. So, if you call the 1-800 number, we can make that happen. 

Additionally, if you need a test, you can go to the website and order a kit. We offer supply kits and shipping kits. We take care of the cost of all of that for you. Go on the website, fill out the form, and you will have a shipping kit at your door within a couple of days with everything that you need from the sample bag or the sample vial, depending on what you are sending, to the order form. Everything you need is going to be in that box and you just send it to us. 

Upon receipt in the laboratory, you should have most of your results within a business day or two. We are pretty rapid with that. 

Mick: Yeah, and I can vouch for these guys. We use them exclusively at this point. If you are standing in front of your crop and you are not sure what to do, give them a call. They will help you out. All the COA’s come with a QR code, so if you are doing a terp-profile for smokable flower, you can take that QR code, put it on your final product, and have a third party unbiased opinion of what that profile looks like. I’ll put all of those links in the show notes for you. Natalie, thank you for your time. I hope you have a great day.

Natalie: Thanks Mick. I appreciate it.