What does “Full-spectrum” mean and other fun terpene facts

Terpenes: they’re all around us! Literally – they make the great smells and flavors of things like lemons, lavender, fennel, pine trees, hops and lilacs.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park showing blue haze due to terpenes from pine trees. Photo credit: Dave Allen

They are, in fact, the reason for the “blue smoke” of the Smoky Mountains / Blue Ridge mountains in the eastern US. The pine trees in these regions emit enough terpenes into the atmosphere to scatter the light and create a bluish haze over the hills and mountains.

Terpenes and terpenoids are molecules built from a unit (think a “building block” molecule) called isoprene.

On the left: two isoprene units (5 carbons each). Middle & Right: two common terpene molecules showing how the two isoprene units make their structure

SO MANY things in biology use this small molecule to build things! Not only are they important as molecular building blocks, plants also use them for protection and as signaling molecules. Humans have used terpenes to our advantage as anti-fungal and anti-bacterial compounds (think tea tree oil), as precursors for medicine (taxol, synthetic steroids) and many other ways. Terpenes happen to have the right molecular properties for our smell and taste senses to detect.

There are over 120 different terpenes identified in cannabis. These are ACTUALLY what makes the difference between the various strain “highs” and different physical/mental effects–not if it’s an indica or sativa. Most strains have at least 10-25 different detectable levels of terpenes in their bud/flower, and the profile, or fingerprint, varies widely between strains.

When extracting/distilling/otherwise further processing flower material into a concentrate or extract, most–if not all–of the terpenes are lost, depending on the purification process. Highly pure THC doesn’t have the same feel, due to the absence of all the other compounds and the “entourage effect” of these molecules interacting with the cannabinoids and our personal biochemistry.

Most extract companies are savvy to this and have begun to add in terpenes. This is where the confusion and misleading language really comes in.

Since many different types of plants besides cannabis have terpenes, chemists can easily extract and isolate them (think limonene from lemons, or pinene from pine trees,) and sell them individually. Not to mention, these plants are legal everywhere, so you don’t need to have special cannabis licenses or even be in a legal state. In fact, it’s very easy to find these online and are completely legal to sell and buy. However, as already mentioned, each cannabis strain has multiple different terpenes that give its special smell/flavor/high. In each strain, a few terpenes are dominant/higher percentage, while most of the rest are at very low levels. It’s relatively inexpensive for a company to buy 3-4 of the main terpenes that occur in cannabis but are extracted from some other plant, and say it has a specific strain profile. It’s then easy to use terms like “100% natural”, “plant-derived”, “organic”, on the packaging.

However, you’re not getting any of the other lesser-concentrated terpenes at all. A nice visualization of this can be seen in the figure:

figure courtesy of http://www.evolab.com

I’ve created a process at Avitas that collects ALL the terpenes from each batch of our flower in the beginning of our process, so we have the full spectrum of terpenes represented. Then, we clean up the oil concentrate and remove all the other stuff that doesn’t taste very good like chlorophyll and plant waxes. Then, we carefully hand-blend in the terpenes from each batch at the end so the finished oil smells and tastes and feels exactly like the actual flower it came from.

I’ve really enjoyed developing this process since joining Avitas and look forward to using our clean and green chemistry to offer 100% cannabis-only strain-specific flavor profiles moving forward!


We’ve been so busy focusing on understanding our science, making a great product even better and investing in upgrades to our premium cannabis extracts, we realized that most people don’t even realize all the ways our product is the best available!

We hope this blog will help folks understand some of the science behind what we do, keep up with trends and new research in the industry, and be a resource for reliable scientific knowledge of cannabis products. Let us know if you have a “burning” question you’d like answered!

~The Avitas Team

An introduction to our Scientific Director, Dr. Amber Wise

I joined the company in November 2016. I have a PhD in chemistry and spent most of my career up to this point as a chemistry professor, with some time spent working in the science policy and environmental health fields. I enjoy sharing with others the wonders of chemistry, and that’s one of my goals with this blog. I hope to help dispel some myths, clarify some language and in the process hopefully create a better-informed patient and consumer.

So far, I’ve been enjoying working in this exciting new field—it’s a fascinating intersection of science and policy, while occupying an interesting space of legality and highly-structured and regulated business rules. When I joined Avitas, the extraction team was already making a high-quality CO2 extract oil for vape cartridges and medical applicators. It’s been exciting to help make that already-great product even better with batch specific, full spectrum terpene blends, upgrading our process flow, and working with growers and analytical labs to guarantee all of our flower is 100% free of pesticides before we extract it.

When I’m not thinking about chemistry or cannabis, I enjoy sewing, gardening, and travel. I look forward to sharing some of my science knowledge and industry insights on this page along with some of my other colleagues here at Avitas. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusing and incorrect information out there regarding cannabis, so I hope to contribute to the growing body of useful scientific knowledge. Keep checking back for more posts!