by Adam Terry
Taste is the memory of experience. When you taste something for the first time, the experience is ephemeral. When you taste something, that taste travels from your tongue to your brain, where some neurons fire. Your brain associates those neurons firing with everything else going on at that time – where you are, who you are with, how you are feeling about everything else at that moment in order to create an association it can remember. Repeating that experience builds your memory of that taste and the number of associations your brain carries with it, and that increases your ability to discern this taste from that one and begin to build what is the subjective version of the taste in your memory. It is this author’s belief that is why certain complex tastes can take time to acquire, such as scotch, coffee, or wine. The next layer of taste is the tying of the taste itself to the individual experience – we connect taste and smell to memories in a way we do not connect with our senses, on a deep and emotional level. A dry wine enjoyed with friends is sweeter to the memory than any sweet Riesling could be, and so proceeds the smell of a good coffee at the first café that made you feel at home or the first Scotch your grandfather poured for you.
One of the questions I get asked the most frequently about cannabis is “what are terpenes? What is the entourage effect?” When it comes to Cantrip, the corollary is “why do you use terpenes in your drink?” Terpenes are confusing – the word itself sounds like it belongs in an organic chemistry textbook (it does), while the molecules themselves are ubiquitous in our world, particularly in food, beverage, and nature. So, it seems pertinent to take some time to layout a little bit about terpenes, with all the brevity and wit one can muster and as little of the confusing bits as possible.
Let’s keep the chemistry simple: terpenes are molecules found all over the place, particularly in plants. The word “terpene” was coined in 1866 by German chemist August Kekulé, and is shortened from the more common word “turpentine.” Terpenes are so common in plants that many of them are named for plants they are most associated with – limonene from lemons, myrcene from myrrh, pinene from pine. These molecules have strong scents. The human nose can often detect terpenes present in the parts per billion range, so a little goes a very long way. They are known as “non-polar, volatile” molecules which means that they can dissolve with oil-like liquids and evaporate at low temperatures. These characteristics make them popular in cleaning products; D-Limonene* is often used in cleaning products like Lysol, pinene is present in Pine-sol, and turpentine (used for stripping varnish) is the name for a mixture of pinenes. The take-away: terpenes are everywhere in the natural world, can be useful for cleaning things in high concentrations, and add flavor to plants and foods in small concentrations.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about what is broadly referred to as the “entourage effect.” Please note that I am not a medical doctor nor a neurologist, so I will keep this brief. The entourage effect is a theoretical effect that when all of the various cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBG, THCV, and a whole host of other 3 and 4 letter cannabinoids) combine with all of these various terpenes that are found in the plant, they make a difference in the effect on the human brain when compared to cannabinoids consumed alone. This is a tricky theory because experience is subjective and psychoactive inebriation is difficult to describe at the best of times, but there does exist some theoretical and some clinical evidence that cannabinoids and terpenes both interact with naturally occurring parts of your brain called the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and so it makes functional sense that a mixture of these compounds could vary the experience when consumed together such as when smoking flower.
Okay, that all took longer than I thought. So how does this relate back to terpenes being in your drinks? Simply put, terpene profiles can be marvelously complex, interesting compositions that are specific to each individual strain. That is, they taste interesting, and great. When creating a craft cocktail, a bartender will often use bitters or garnish to distinguish one cocktail from another – an old fashioned can have a dozen variations depending on if the bartender prefers orange bitters, Peychaud’s bitters, or the classic Boker’s bitters. It can matter greatly if they flame an orange peel, providing a burnt orange limonene flavor. Terpenes can provide that to beverage, and complement the subtle flavor of cannabis that is extant no matter the cannabis product. It creates that perfect ending to a good story, the right garnish on a cocktail.
Does the entourage effect come through in terpenes when consumed orally, as is the case of a cannabis beverage? My suspicion is no. Terpenes unlikely provide the same type of entourage effect when consumed in a beverage as they might if smoked or vaped, for a whole host of complicated reasons having to do with how different molecules make it into your bloodstream and brain. Cannabinoids are reasonably known to make it to your brain through oral consumption, but this author has seen no compelling evidence that terpenes have the same type of effect. It very well could, but Cantrip’s ethos is to tell the truth about what we know and what we don’t, so I present my understanding alongside my caveats and asterisks.
Taste is the memory of experience. A great-tasting beverage consumed with good friends will create a memory of that experience and increase the effectiveness of the fun you are having, something we at Cantrip call “The Fun Effect.” Cantrip is designed to drink with friends and is low-dose so that the focus is on the experience of consuming good drinks with good friends, rather than getting high quickly and discarding the experience itself. It is about building memories: adding Durban Poison terpenes to a Lemon Basil profile can be the extra boost someone needs to remember a summer evening with their partner relaxing on the deck as fireflies laze about the yard for the rest of their lives. Like the terpenes themselves perfect the beverage, the beverage itself perfects the memory. So we cheers to great tasting beverages that perfect the moments with those we love, and those we yet know we love.
* “D” refers to the Latin dexter, meaning right. Terpenes come in a variety of what are called enantiomers and isomers, meaning various three dimensional configurations of the same molecule. This is neither here nor there for this conversation, but is why you may see D,L (when referring to enantiomers, or “left and right handed” molecules) or things like α,β (when referring to different three dimensional isomers.)