Part III – Beyond Cannabinoids
Terpenes, thiols, and esters expand Cannabis characterization
U.S. federal regulation of Cannabis based products is inevitable. For regulatory purposes, Cannabis products are likely best categorized as dietary supplements. Dietary supplements are not considered food or medicine. Consumers use dietary supplements for diverse reasons, including improving or maintaining general health and wellness.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 sets the regulatory framework for dietary supplements defining products that contain one or more of the following ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or botanical, or a concentrate, metabolite, extract, or combination of these ingredients. Cannabis products are primarily manufactured and marketed as botanical, thereby fitting the description for dietary supplements.
Cannabis contains several hundred naturally occurring ingredients. Beyond the set of unique cannabinoids are compounds that contribute to flavor, color, aroma, and health effects. This broad spectrum of active constituents presents the biggest challenge to characterizing Cannabis products. As a solution, Cannabis characterization should include a comprehensive lexicon of the multiple chemical classes intrinsic to the plant.
The CESC’s Dosing Project initiative addresses the problem by analyzing the terpene content of Type I (THC-dominant) Cannabis flowers. Understanding that flowers are the primary source of all Cannabis botanical products, Dr. John Abrams, co-founder, and Chief Science Officer of the CESC explains the approach, “We started by looking under the light. Our initial goal was to chemically describe subtypes of THC-dominant flowers, the most popular Cannabis product category.”
Terpenes are a class of natural products and dominant constituents in Cannabis essential oil. The CESC has identified (mono)terpenes beta-pinene and limonene, which together serve to define major subtypes of Type I Cannabis. Consequently, the relative amounts of these two terpenes can be used to correlate and ultimately predict the energizing (Sativa) or relaxing (Indica) effect common to smoking or vaporizing different Cannabis flower subtypes.
The traditional approach to distinguishing Cannabis flower subtypes involves aroma. Cannabis flower aromas are attributed to different experiences. Cannabis terpenes, thiols (sulfur-containing organic compounds), and esters are major contributors. These and other volatile organic compounds may ultimately predict Cannabis effects.
As a next step, CESC deployed a computational algorithm that evaluates over 500,000 chemical signals using an approach that discriminates Gas Chromatography (GC) results based on sample categories. The GC signals are untargeted (not dependent on the use of calibrated reference standards) allowing for the discovery of new and unanticipated compounds. This approach was developed in collaboration with Veda Scientific and SepSolve Analytical. Leo Welder, CEO of Veda Scientific, explains, “With this new platform, we are identifying new or previously unidentified compounds found in Cannabis flowers and derivative products. Our analysis casts a very broad net.” Veda Scientific, a California-based Cannabis analytical laboratory, uses the untargeted analytical approach to facilitate Cannabis research and development.
Advances in Cannabis science are imperative for the growth of a revitalized Cannabis industry. Years of prohibition have left a gap in the fundamental understanding of how to characterize and categorize the Cannabis plant. Currently, most marketed products are presented in botanical forms or their herbal extracts. As such, the DSHEA pathway is, in the near-term, the best fit for the federal regulation of Cannabis products sold in the U.S. The CESC and its partners have led the industry by introducing novel analysis of Cannabis flowers. As a result, growers and manufacturers can rely on an algorithm that characterizes Cannabis beyond cannabinoids.
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