Cannabis is all about flavor. This is especially true when it comes to cartridges and the manufacturing of oil. One thing I’ve learned over the years, especially as the lead staff judge for High Times, was that, when it came to the vape cartridge category, it was the terpenes that were the most important element. We tend to smoke concentrates because we want a more refined, robust flavor. Flower is amazing but for some people it can be too much combustion. One main reason that led Joe Encinosa to making oil was his allergy to cannabis pollen and flower. This discovery led him to creating early customized solutions for using butane hash oil as a solvent.
Eventually, distillate took the industry by storm and became the standard oil used in cartridges. Dabs, for the most part, were either badder or shatter, and over time, they evolved into live resin sauce and diamonds, which provide a preferred consistency by many consumers these days. In all of these oils, terpene preservation was always critical as that’s what made concentrates pop their intense, sophisticated flavors. Even when the evolution of cartridges transitioned into clear and pure distillate, terpenes were always the most important ingredient in these pens. At first, high-end botanical terpenes were used and then the GoldDrop team, partnering with Blue River, used cannabis terpenes for the first time.
Terpenes are not just terpenes. Cannabis-derived terpenes do slightly differ from botanical terpenes, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for each one. Chirality of the terpene molecules can differ between Cannabis-derived and botanically derived terpenes. Chirality refers to mirror-image molecules that cannot be superimposed. As an example, there can be right- or left-handed molecules, and when it comes to terpenes, each can offer a different scent, which affects the overall terpene profile. Additionally, Cannabis terpenes are grabbed from the plant which means that they also contain trace elements of other compounds that aren’t being quantified though testing. This can be things like flavonoids or other minor cannabinoids.
Terpenes typically are incredibly volatile, so preservation starts with temperature. This is true of all terpenes as chemically, they all react the same way. Monoterpenes are the most volatile of the terpenes. Linalool and ocimene are two examples of very volatile terpenes. Typically, terpenes can start evaporating at 70°F but usually evaporate closer to 100°F. The heavier terpenes can start degrading above 110°F, which is why it’s so crucial not to heat the high-terpene extract (HTE) portion of the oil prior to actually smoking it. This is also why it’s critical to have a cold lab. At the lab we use to manufacture GoldDrop products, Accentian, we keep the formulations lab around 63ºF.
As the cannabis industry matured and shifted away from distillate as a sole source of cartridge oil, live resin and HTE became more popular. HTE usually contains minor cannabinoids, some delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and lots of terpenes. Whether it is derived from live resin inputs or trim, HTE is super rich in terpenes. The difference between live resin HTE and cured HTE is that fresh frozen inputs are used instead of trim or whole bud. Fresh frozen is whole plant material that is harvested and frozen immediately to maintain the terpene profile. However, one could argue that since we don’t normally smoke fresh buds, and instead dry and cure them before smoking them, that the flavor profile of a nug run would probably be more closely related to the flavor you would get from smoking a joint.
Some cartridge manufacturers only use the HTE portion and you’ll note those carts have very fluid oil. This works and can be tasty but often those cartridges test around 50-65% total cannabinoids because they mostly contain the flavor portion of the oil. Some companies will crash out their diamonds and sauce, forcing as much THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) as possible to fall out of solution. This mixture will then undergo a low temperature conversion so that the oil doesn’t crash out in the cartridge. This crashing out can look like little crystals that form at the base of the cartridge blocking airflow. To avoid this, some oil makers will lay out their oil in a Pyrex dish and slowly cook it over a couple of weeks; even at a low temperature, there will still be some terpene degradation. Even temperatures as low as 70ºF can degrade some of the terpenes, so it’s best to avoid heat at all. Any change to the percentages of terpenes present in your oil can affect the end-flavor profile.
To make oil work in a cartridge, you must decarboxylate the THCA and convert it to delta-9-THC so your THCA won’t crash out of the oil in your cart and you can enjoy it all the way to the end. This has made it possible to create more one-gram carts as there was no fear of having the pen clog or not work since the oil was already converted. Most pure live resin carts that contain no distillate have been heated to crash out the THCA so that the oil in the pen would be stable.
Eventually, the industry started to shift into more accurate depictions of flower flavor profiles. This and Vapegate saw a shift away from botanical terpenes, and distillate also started to lose some of its luster to consumers. This is when the popularity of HTE cartridges and products made from live resin started to increase. The HTE cart is a big punch of flavor but often doesn’t have the same intense high as a dab because, as mentioned, it typically tests in the low 60%s whereas our liquid diamond cartridges mixed with HTE can test in the low 90%s.
At Accentian, we have pioneered a new form of combustible oil which we’ve called liquid diamonds. The liquid diamonds are crystallized cannabinoids which have been converted into high purity delta-9-THC. The converted oil usually tests above 95% for THC and can test as high as 99.99% total cannabinoids. The liquid diamonds are the power house of our cartridge. If you imagine the terpenes being the GPS part of the high, guiding the direction of the experience, then the liquid diamonds are straight high-octane fuel. By using the converted delta-9-THC, we can also ensure that, for our collaborations or live resin carts, you are getting the plant-specific THC and terpenes. We simply, molecularly formulate the cartridge and recombine those two elements, blending the perfect amount of delta-9-THC and HTE, giving you the user a dab-like experience in a cartridge.
One key component in extracting biomass for flavor is to run cold. At our extraction facility in Oakland, CA, we try to run as cold as -60 to -70°C. This cold temperature is the key to extracting the most terpenes out of the plant. Using our custom system, we are also able to isolate the THCA, separating it from the HTE directly in our closed-loop system. The key components to this system are the massive chillers that we have employed to maintain those temperatures throughout the run. By running at near arctic temperatures and separating the juice from the pulp immediately, we can ensure that the terpene component or HTE (the juice) is never heated. This is also true in post-processing. The HTE is kept separate and preserved until the THCA has been converted to our liquid diamonds. We combine our pristine HTE with our liquid diamond component when we formulate our cartridges. We’ve had HTE from cured resin and even trim test as high as 25% terpene content using this technique. Using our technique, we never have to heat the HTE, which preserves its natural flavor in line with the original starting biomass’s terpene profile. This way, the experience you have smoking the oil will match the flavor of the flower.
At GoldDrop, we strongly believe that terpene preservation and cultivar-specific cartridges are important, as in this new cannabis 2.0, flavor is a strong component of the customers’ desires.