Don't forget the terpenes, hemp expert says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Precision Plant Molecules photo
Precision Plant Molecules photo

Related tags Cbd hemp extracts Hemp terpenes Extraction

A rush to market for CBD has left the terpenes in hemp out in the cold. An expert in the space said there is much potential benefit yet to be discovered in these fractions of the plant.

The Cannabis sativa​ plant is a remarkably complex botanical. While THC (the ‘narcotic’ fraction) and CBD are the best known constituents, there are dozens of other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids in the plant. Concentrating on one molecule ignores this complexity, said Andrea Holmes, PhD.

Holmes is a professor of chemistry at Doane University in Crete, NE.  She is also a co founder and chief growth officer of the company Precision Plant Molecules, which is based in Welby, CO.  PPM says it is using advanced chemical and analytical techniques to isolate naturally produced medicinal compounds and tailor effective products for its global consumer base.

Marijuana biz has greater appreciation of terpenes

Holmes said she delved into the cannabis industry and founded PPM during a recent sabbatical year she took from her teaching duties in Nebraska. One interesting fact she discovered in her early research into the sector was that the medical marijuana and consumer cannabis fields are far ahead of the hemp/CBD market in terms of their appreciation of the full spectrum of what the hemp plant offers.

In the CBD game, the term ‘full spectrum extract’ has until recently mostly been used for regulatory cover. The perception was that calling out CBD on labels and/or being too obvious about the desire to isolate CBD was a way to attract unwanted attention from the US Food and Drug Administration.

While some formulators did and do talk about an ‘entourage effect,’ in Holmes’ view this is mostly lip service.  In the medical and recreational sectors, however, these are key product differentiators, she said.

“The marijuana industry is way ahead on the understanding of the terpenes,”​ Holmes told NutraIngredients-USA. 

Holmes said she attended an event in Denver called the Terp Trials, which is a competition to see who could make the best extract.  It’s an event similar to the Great American Beer Festival, which gives out awards for the best craft brews.

“The marijuana consumers are keen on having the best terpene profiles,” she​ said. “It’s what contributes to the aroma and the taste.  The more terpenes, the richer the taste, and there is a presumption of more wellness benefits.”

Holmes gave a presentation on the terpenes in the hemp plant at a CBD education session connected to the recent SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas, NV.  Holmes said there isn’t much research yet on the terpenes in cannabis.  But the field is promising enough to have sparked an NIH grant program for the investigation of the analgesic effects of the minor terpenes and cannabinoids in cannabis.​ 

 The grant program is being co funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Nine separate studies have been funded by the program, which was announced in mid September.

Patent review

Holmes said a recent patent review on terpenes​ shows that there has been increasing interest in this class of compounds.

“Summing up, one can realize a significant advancement in this field of research over the years, demonstrating the growing interest of academic and industrial groups in the analgesic potential of terpenes, with development of successful products clinically well accepted. Thus, these compounds are already great candidates for new analgesics development, and probably, will have an important role in the pharmacotherapy of pain, because of the range of pharmacological mechanisms in target sites to the control of disorders and painful syndromes,”​ the authors wrote.

PPM specializes in delving into the minor constituents of the cannabis plant to discover their properties and use them as the basis of specific blends.  The company has coined a term—cannamimetics—to describe its formulation philosophy.  It’s coined from the term biomimetics, which means following Mother Nature’s lead in developing new ideas in natural products chemistry, structural engineering and other fields.

“As CBN, CBG, CBC, CBD, THCV, CBV, CBDV, CBDA, and other non-psychotropic cannabinoids (and terpenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols) are genetically bred to express in greater potencies in new hemp cultivars and recognized for their therapeutic benefits, PPM will be at the forefront of separating, isolating, refining, and purifying these molecules and creating novel ratios, as well as whole plant combinations (and THC-free versions) to meet market demand,​” the company says.

Marrying academia, entrepreneurship

andrea holmes
Andrea Holmes PhD

Holmes said that as she returns to academia, she intends to split her time between Colorado and Nebraska.  She said she feels a calling to train the next generation of scientists while at the same time trying to bring the fruits of research into better products for consumers.

“My title is ‘chief growth officer,’” ​Holmes said. “When I started my sabbatical I took the bull by the horns and worked nonstop to understand everything from genetics and cultivation right through to formulation and consumer sales.

“I am trying to walk that line between academia and entrepreneurship, and find a way to bring that intellectual property into industry. I am using my academic credentials to show that the cannabis industry is a professional industry.  We are not dealing with ‘bro’ science any more,” she said.

“I just don’t think we should focus on just the one molecule.  I am basically advocating for a whole plant extract or using the terpenes in very specific formulations,” ​Holmes added.

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