Cannabinoids, terpenes and ideal temperatures

Vaporising cannabis is a fashion trend. People are trying to care about their health and want to save their lungs, or they just like the hipster status with the latest technological gadgets. Maybe both, maybe neither.

Of course, substitution therapy with a less harmful version of consumption has also affected toxic tobacco (in whose smoke we can find such things as arsenic, lead, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, or ammonia, for example), but tobacco and other poisonous plants will not be the focus of this article.

Unlike tobacco, cannabis vaporisation is not harmful to health, as it does not (with a few exceptions, which we will discuss below) burn and produce carcinogenic compounds.

In addition, the lower temperatures during vaporisation help to preserve the complex flavour of each variety. Smoking, on the other hand, exposes cannabis to almost uniformly high temperatures, regardless of whether it is burned with a lighter or a blowtorch.

Vaporisation is undoubtedly a technological advance in cannabinoid use. The temperature control and lack of tar is not only healthier for our lungs, but it also allows us to enjoy and mellow out every puff. This revolutionary invention has changed the way people consume cannabis once and for all, allowing us to focus on specific molecules, flavours and effects.

Before one indulges in biohacking by vaporizing cannabinoids, it would be highly advisable to have an overview of the specific cannabis molecules and types of cannabinoids that are released at that specific temperature.

But very first, let’s take a look at how cannabinoids work in general.

Why do we need cannabinoids in our bodies?

For instance, psychedelics interact with the serotonergic system in the brain. We have no “psychedelic” or “lysergamide” system in the body. However, we can’t say something like that about cannabinoids.

In fact, there is something called the endocannabinoid system in our bodies. And what exactly does this system actually do for us, besides interacting with ingested cannabinoids?

Well, endocannabinoids are endogenous cannabinoids — chemical compounds that the body produces itself. The endocannabinoid system provides us with complex cellular signaling, which scientists only began to have some inkling of in the early 1990s.

(However, given the relatively recent beginning of cannabinoid research, the workings of the endocannabinoid system are still only just being fully understood, and there is still much work to be done.)

For example, we know from research to date that the endocannabinoid system is responsible for controlling, for example, the sleep-wake cycle, taste and digestion, mood, metabolism, chronic pain, inflammation, and many other immune system responses. It also affects learning and memory, motor skills, cardiac and vascular function, muscle formation, bone formation and growth, liver function, fertility, anxiety, skin and nervous system function, social behavior, and many other breakouts.

Our bodies produce many endocannabinoids, some of which we may — dare I say — have not even discovered yet. But the two main and most well-known ones are undoubtedly anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

(Specifically, anandamide is the first endocannabinoid discovered by scientists, the presence of which in our endocannabinoid system seems to correlate with creativity and a sort of “inner happiness” feeling. Its name comes from the word “ananda”, which translates from Sanskrit as “bliss”. Elevated concentrations of anandamide are found in the brain, but it can also be found in cocoa beans.

2-arachidonoylglycerol, in contrast to anandamide, works a little differently. Its concentrations are variable depending on needs — the human body synthesises it ‘on demand’. It has a local effect and a short life span.)

Endocannabinoids weave throughout our body, binding to receptors on our cell walls and forming a functioning system. They interact specifically with two receptors, namely CB1 receptors, found primarily in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors found in the peripheral nervous system, primarily in immune cells. Both types of receptors can be seen in a simplified graphic diagram in the following figure:

Many tissues in the human body contain both types of receptors, each of which, despite the same localization, is involved in different processes. There is currently much controversy about the existence of the as yet undiscovered CB3 receptor.

And what are endocannabinoid receptors anyway?

They are actually proteins deposited on the cell membrane that bind to endocannabinoids. So there is a binding between them that represents the beginning of neural activity.

Let’s take an example — endocannabinoids can target the CB1 receptors of a spinal nerve to relieve its pain. Others, on the other hand, may bind to the CB2 receptor on immune cells, for example in inflammation.

The above functions contribute to homeostasis indicating the stability of the internal environment. For example, when an external force, injury or high temperature upsets the body’s balance, then the endocannabinoid system is triggered in order to assist the body to function ideally.

Among other things, there are specific enzymes in our endocannabinoid system that ensure the so-called recycling, the breakdown of endocannabinoids after their use. And of course, by normal logical thinking, we can figure out that the two main enzymes in our endocannabinoid system are the ones that break down our two main endocannabinoids. These are the enzymes fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks down AEA, and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL), which breaks down 2-AG.

And how does our endocannabinoid system actually work, or how can we somehow make sense of the proverbial homeostasis, or maintenance of the stability of the internal environment?

Well, most of our neurotransmitters travel from one neuron to the next across synapses in order to spread the message. And our lovely endocannabinoids travel in exactly the opposite direction to neurotransmitters.

If a message travels from one neuron to another, the receiving neuron releases endocannabinoids. These travel back precisely to signal the transmitting neuron with feedback from the receiving neuron. The endocannabinoid is like a coach that keeps bullshitting the neurons in the style of “hey you sending neuron, stop it, the receiving neuron has had enough” or “hey you sending neuron, fire more signals because the receiving neuron is greedy”. And that’s what got a lot of scientists thinking that the endocannabinoid system therefore somehow helps us modulate and regulate signals; by amplifying some and weakening others.

Endocannabinoid feedback slows down neural signaling. However, this by no means necessarily means that it automatically slows down the thoughts and behavior of the owner of the endocannabinoid system. For example, slowing down a signal that inhibits the sense of smell may make the experience of smelling more intense rather than “slowed down”.

And how do cannabinoids that our bodies do not synthesize interact with our system? Well, for example, the main psychoactive component of cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, undoubtedly does something to our endocannabinoid system. So it undoubtedly interacts with it. Like endocannabinoids, THC slows down nerve signalling by binding to endocannabinoid receptors. However, it binds to receptors all over this vast and diffuse system at once — unlike endocannabinoids, which are released at some specific site in response to a specific nerve stimulus.

And this vast activity, coupled with the fact that the endocannabinoid system indirectly affects many other body systems, simply means that the cannabinoid trip is determined to a huge degree by our individual brain chemistry, genetics, experiences in life, and many other parameters.

Of course, cannabinoid use can undoubtedly correlate with many adverse consequences as well. The main risk factor for cannabinoid use is, above all, age.

In people under the age of twenty-five, cannabinoid receptors are more concentrated in the white matter of the brain than in older people. The white matter is responsible for communication, memory, learning and emotions, for example. We can safely say that unconscious cannabis use in people under 25 can disrupt the connections in the white matter and also affect the brain’s ability to make new connections. And that is what can interfere with long-term learning and problem-solving abilities.

Well, what about the terpenes and other crap?

Well, the cannabis plant is a magical organic chemical factory. Its flowers produce small, spongy growths that we call trichomes. These tiny structures produce a resin that’s full of all sorts of molecules. Psychoactive, non-psychoactive, aromatic, non-aromatic, medicinal and more. Trichomes produce over 100 cannabinoids, several flavonoids and over 100 terpenes.

By adjusting the temperature at which the plant is vaporized, cannabis users can optimize the concentration of specific compounds with each puff.

What are flavonoids?

Flavonoids proliferate plants by the thousands throughout nature. These flavonoids are responsible for each cannabis strain’s unique flavors and the pigmentation of the plant. Cannabis contains around 20 known flavonoids, although there could be others we have not discovered yet.

Flavoinoids, such as cannflavins A, B and C are unique to cannabis. Others, like quercetin, are found in many fruits and vegetables.

When it comes to cannabis, flavonoids play a role in how we experience each cultivar’s effects. Working closely with terpenes and cannabinoids, flavonoids add more nuance to a cultivar’s sensory experience. If we enjoy the taste and overall effect of a particular variety of cannabis, we are more likely to use it again. However, we still have much to learn about flavonoids as they are one of the most understudied aspects of cannabis.

Benefits and uses of flavonoids

Each flavonoid found in cannabis is thought to offer different health benefits, but the following are some of the most commonly considered therapeutic uses:

  • Antioxidants (protection from cell damage)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Improving cardiovascular function
  • Neuroprotective
  • Anti-viral/anti-bacterial
  • Prevention against diabetes, cancer, and other diseases

What are terpenes?

Like flavonoids, terpenes are organic compounds found in plants that contribute to cannabis’ unique flavor and aroma. Terpenes exist everywhere in nature and have their own potential health benefits apart from cannabis.

Found in the plant’s trichomes, terpenes’ unique properties also affect the sensory experience of a cannabis cultivar. Scientists have identified at least 100 different terpenes in cannabis, accounting for the wide variety of cultivars on the market.

Benefits and uses of terpenes

Research has identified plentiful evidence supporting terpenes’ usefulness in addressing various health conditions. While each of these properties requires further supportive research and clinical trials, some benefits may include:

  • Anticonvulsive
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-viral/anti-bacterial
  • Mood-boosting
  • Cancer/tumor-fighting

Many products we use every day contain terpenes, such as:

  • Mosquito repellents and insecticides
  • Shampoos, lotions, and other skincare products
  • Flavoring agents found in candies and other foods

Terpenes and flavonoids in the world of cannabis business

Each variety of cannabis contains different amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes. Most modern varieties certainly contain THC in a higher proportion than CBD. However, breeders have also managed to cultivate some interesting and unique varieties that contain high amounts of CBD or have a one-to-one ratio of THC to CBD.

Demand domesticates and domestication demands. As with dogs, so with us humans, and so with cannabis.

But the whole world does not revolve around THC and CBD alone. At the time of writing, many scientists have begun to take a closer look at other cannabinoids as well. In 2021, for example, it has already been confirmed that CBG (cannabigerol) has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), in turn, can help neutralise the effects of THC and can also relieve pain and inflammation. CBC (Cannabichromene) can be helpful in reducing swelling and protecting brain cells. And we’ve only mentioned three cannabinoids (and we’ll get to the others in a moment)!

But we can’t forget about terpenes either. Terpenes are finally responsible for the unique smell and taste of each variety of cannabis. If you smell cannabis, terpenes (and, of course, the thoughts you associate with the sense of smell) are most likely responsible for your unique sensory experience. But the function of terpenes in the human body is certainly not limited to the experience of smell and its consequences. These molecules have a number of therapeutic effects (as we mentioned above), but most importantly, they even work directly with cannabinoids to produce more potent effects. They are synergistic with each other.

One of the most abundant terpenes in all cannabis strains is a terpene called myrcene. This compound has an earthy taste with a hint of clove and produces relaxing to sedative effects. Myrcene enhances the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD and also the myorelaxant effects of THC.

Caryophyllene is another terpene in cannabis that has a spicy to spicy taste. This terpene also has antiseptic effects because it can bind directly to the CB2 receptors of our endocannabinoid system.

Cannabis users often choose varieties based on their cannabinoid and terpene content. Users who want the greatest psychoactive effects therefore choose varieties with a high THC content, and it is worth remembering that varieties with a strong myrcene terpene content, which is conducive to psychological comfort, are logically the most suitable for these users. On the other hand, CBD enthusiasts should logically look for varieties with a high caryophyllene content if they want to make the most of the substance’s potential and synergise its anti-inflammatory effects.

Thanks to the possibility of changing the vaporisation temperature, the possibility of extracting the maximum amount of the desired components from the substance is automatically available to all of us. In addition, changing the temperature can significantly alter the experience of each puff and minimize the feeling of irritation. Cannabis users can set the temperature low and still get all the molecules they want. They are thus able to enjoy smooth puffs full of cannabinoids that are less irritating to the throat and lungs. Below, we’ll go into a little bit about what temperatures actually need to be used to isolate certain molecules from a given plant.

Temperature as a useful variable

Each molecule has a specific boiling point. When terpenes and cannabinoids are exposed to a certain temperature, they turn into vapour. These boiling points vary from component to component. It is true that the boiling points of many cannabinoids and terpenes have not been fixed at the time of writing. The science of cannabis is still in its infancy, and this is largely due to decades of legislative sanctions and regulation. We can still find a lot of conflicting information on the internet about the boiling points of different cannabinoids, but also some fairly serious (or rather serious-looking) guides and manuals. However, let us rather stick to the fact that the question of the release of individual cannabinoids and their effects is primarily a matter of trial and error. Let cannabis users experiment with different strains, cannabinoids, and temperatures, which will make it easy for them to see what setting suits them best. It’s a matter of subjective experience, and the more honed perception a user has, the easier it will be to figure out which strains, temperatures and cannabinoids (and at what times and conditions) are useful and which are not.

(I’ve written about perception hacking in my earlier article on Oura.)

Some compounds in cannabis have very similar boiling points. For example, THC vaporizes at 157 °C, while CBD vaporizes at a slightly higher temperature of around 160-180 °C. Can these molecules be isolated during vaporisation? If you have a very sensitive vaporizer, yes, otherwise the chances are quite slim. In addition, the THC starts to vaporise before the boiling point of the CBD is reached. If you want to enjoy a high THC or CBD content, it’s best to start with varieties that are high in both cannabinoids.

Cannabis users can expect different psychoactive effects at different temperatures. This also depends greatly on the variety and the individual.

Now let’s say something about rough estimates of the effects induced by different temperatures.

Low temperature (52–159 °C)

Vaporisation at this temperature always leads to vaporisation of the THC. However, we can also target the release of certain terpenes which have a characteristic taste and therapeutic effects. Let us look at the main molecules that can be encountered at such temperatures.

CBG (52 °C)

Cannabigerol is characterised by its extremely low vaporisation temperature, but it is also interesting because it is considered to be the “mother of all cannabinoids”. And there’s good reason for that. It is the precursor from which other cannabinoids are synthesised. As the cannabis plant matures, CBG is converted through enzymatic processes into THC, CBD and other cannabinoids.

The highest concentration of this cannabinoid can be found in plants in bloom. As the plant grows, the enzymes convert CBGA to THCA (tetrahydrocannabinol acid), CBDA (cannabidiol acid) and / or CBCA (cannabichromenoic acid). After harvest, the plants are dried and processed. In the processing process, decarboxylation occurs – i.e. removal of carboxyl groups and conversion of acidic compounds (CBGA, THCA, CBDA) to non-acidic (CBG, THC, CBD). Many other cannabinoids are also formed, but all originally came from the CBGA.

Although research on this “protocannabinoid” is still at an early stage, preliminary studies have suggested that CBG has potent anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, neuroprotective and antimicrobial effects. It is also used in the treatment of glaucoma.

Caryophyllene (119 °C)

Caryophyllene is the dominant terpene in most cannabis varieties. This molecule is also abundant in various foods, such as black pepper, and can interact with CB2 receptors. Caryophyllene is not psychoactive and is well suited for pain management, mainly due to its anti-inflammatory effects.

β-Sitosterol (273°F)

β-Sitosterol is one of the flavonoids. It has no taste, is also non-psychoactive and has anti-inflammatory effects.

α-Pinene (156 °C)

α-Pinene is not psychoactive and has a mild taste reminiscent of pine and rosemary. This terpene has been associated with anxiolytic effects and may help prevent the adverse effects of THC, which include short-term memory loss. α-Pinene also works well with THC and increases air permeability in the lungs.

THC (157°C)

THC is the main psychotropic component of the cannabis plant. This cannabinoid crosses the blood-brain barrier and activates CB1 receptors in our central nervous system. THC alters our neurons and catalyzes an acute increase in dopamine in the body. This results in a variety of states — from euphoria, to a psychedelic experience, to an expansion of consciousness, to an increased appetite (the specific form of experience is highly variable and usually depends on a person’s psyche and their endocannabinoid system).

High levels of THC can often induce very complex psychological restructuring, which is often correlated with anxiety states.

CBD (160–180°C)

CBD has relaxing and calming effects, but is not psychoactive in the same sense as THC. CBD, on the other hand, can reduce some of the effects of THC by temporarily blocking CB1 receptors. CBD is thought to reduce inflammation through several molecular pathways and also has antioxidant and neuroprotective effects. The taste of CBD is related to that of olive oil or hemp seeds.

Low to Medium temperature (160–180 °C)

Vaporization at this temperature leads to the inhalation of several interesting molecules. If you are vaporizing a high CBD strain, this is the perfect temperature to vaporize CBD and its synergistic terpenes. If you are vaporizing a high THC strain, you can inhale a lot more terpenes at this temperature than at lower temperatures.

Myrcene (166–168 °C)

Myrcene is the most common terpene in cannabis, is non-psychoactive and has a pleasant earthy taste with hints of grape and spice. Myrcene is mildly sedating and is the chemical responsible for the relaxant effects of most indicas.

Δ8-THC (175–178°)

Δ8-THC has pleasant psychoactive effects. It is a THC analogue that binds to CB1 receptors. It helps to suppress nausea, anxiety, stimulates appetite, helps with pain and also has neuroprotective effects. However, Δ8-THC is found in very small amounts in cannabis and has weaker psychoactive effects than its more abundant counterpart. Like THC, Δ8-THC has no taste.

Cineol (176°C)

Cineol is a very fascinating terpene. Interestingly, it is one of the main constituents of the eucalyptus plant (which gives it its distinctive flavour), but is relatively rare in modern cannabis strains. This terpene is non-psychoactive and has anti-viral, anti-fungicidal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, and also helps to relieve pain.

Cineole also increases blood flow in the brain.

Limonene (177°C)

Limonene gives cannabis a very characteristic citrussy flavour. Although this molecule is not psychoactive, it synergistically enhances the cerebral and euphoric effects of THC. In one study, limonene was found to reduce anxiety and increase serotonin levels in the cerebral cortex as well as dopamine in the hippocampus.

p-cymene (177 °C)

p-cymene is found in cumin and thyme. It has a pleasant sweet and citrus smell, is non-psychoactive and has sedative effects.

Apigenin (178 °C)

Apigenin is another cannabis flavonoid. This molecule has anxiolytic effects and is, for example, the main anxiolytic substance found in chamomile. Apigenin is not a psychoactive and understandably, it just has a chamomile taste.

Interestingly, it acts on GABA receptors, the same receptors that, for example, benzodiazepines act on, but it does not cause amnesia or sedation.

Medium to High temperature (181–200 °C)

This temperature usually brings sedative and relaxing effects.

Canflavin A (182 °C)

Canflavin A is a flavonoid found in higher amounts in cannabis leaves. The molecule is non-psychoactive and has impressive anti-inflammatory properties.

CBN (185°C)

CBN (cannabinol) was historically the first cannabinoid isolated from cannabis. Unlike other cannabinoids, it is not produced by an enzymatic reaction. Instead, it is produced as a result of the degradation of THC. CBN has pleasant sedative and anti-inflammatory effects, is psychoactive, and is tasteless. CBN also has promising anticonvulsant effects and may also help relieve psoriasis symptoms.

Linalool (198°C)

Linalool gives many cannabis strains a strong “vegetal” aroma with hints of lavender and citrus. This terpene is responsible for several of the potential therapeutic properties of cannabis. It is non-psychoactive, has antidepressant and anxiolytic effects and can also boost our immunity as it directly enhances several immune functions.

Interestingly, linalool has insecticidal properties and is used as an ingredient in some mosquito repellents. It also shows tremendous potential in the treatment of leukaemia and cervical cancer.

High temperature (201 °C +)

At this high temperature, most of the cannabinoids and terpenes evaporate. This is already close to smoking temperature and many harmful molecules can be converted to gas at this temperature. And yes, even though all the therapeutic and healthful components of cannabis should vaporise at this temperature, it is very difficult to find a balance between the optimal temperature for vaporisation (let alone smoking) and the temperature at which harmful chemicals are released.

Benzene (205–365 °C)

Benzene is a big piece of crap. And unfortunately, evaporation at this temperature also leads to benzene release. This carcinogen is the main reason why many consistent cannabis users quit smoking and switch to non-harmful methods of consumption.

Although the boiling point of benzene is 80 °C, some vaporisers are capable of eliminating this chemical up to 200 °C. The evaporation point of benzene when consuming cannabis is not yet precisely defined. However, some studies suggest that the evaporation temperature of benzene may be as high as 365 °C.

Terpineol (218°C)

Terpineol has a pleasant and delicate lilac scent and is a common ingredient in perfumes and cosmetics. This terpene has several therapeutic effects including antibiotic, antioxidant and sedative properties. It is non-psychoactive and is also used as an antimalarial (terpineol is therefore also known as the ‘antimalarial terpene’).

THCV (220°C)

THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) also evaporates at higher temperatures. As can be seen from its chemical name, this cannabinoid is an analogue of THC and is also psychoactive and has no specific taste. However, it is usually found in significantly lower concentrations in cannabis (but there are undoubtedly varieties with high levels of this cannabinoid).

THCV works by activating and blocking CB1 receptors. This cannabinoid is associated with anticonvulsant properties and can help fight pain and inflammation. THCV is also a very effective tool in fat metabolism.

Pulegone (224°C)

Pulegone is not psychoactive and has a pleasant smell reminiscent of mint and camphor. Personally, I think that if heating a vaporizer to this temperature should be worth anything, it is this terpene. This molecule helps improve memory and has sedative effects as well. Some studies also suggest that pulegone could help fight fevers.

Quercetin (250 °C)

Quercetin is a non-psychoactive cannabis flavonoid with antioxidant properties that may compete with vitamin C in its pattern of action. Quercetin has a bitter taste and has antiviral and antineoplastic properties, among others.

Apps for the conscious use of cannabis

Of course, before you inhale the vapours of a plant, it’s a good idea to find out as much as you can about the plant so that you know what you’re actually consuming. But we don’t need to do any specific research to know the components of each cannabinoid in a particular strain.

Even simple mobile apps designed to help us learn more about the world of cannabis strains can be a very useful tool in this area. Examples include WeedMaps or WeedPro (WeedPro does not require registration and Leafly can also be easily used from the web), where you can find the ingredients of individual strains, their effects and also reviews from cannabis experts as well as reviews from users.

You not only can rate your experience with individual strains, but you can also add personalized notes to them so you can easily come back to them later.

Lemon Zkittle according to Leafly

So what is the right one?

So, once you have all the information you need about your strain, before you use it, you should also check out all the information you need about the device you are going to use to vaporize the strain. Not all vaporizers allow you to adjust the temperature.

And even if you do have a temperature-adjustable vaporizer, my personal advice is to always get to at least 10 °C higher than the temperature you are aiming for when warming up. Unfortunately, not all vaporizers are completely accurate, and by doing this maneuver you can make sure that you’re really inhaling as much of the target molecule as possible.

The ideal temperature for vaporization varies from person to person, and it will vary from cannabis strain to cannabis strain as well. It also largely depends on the desired effect. Users looking for an acute psychological transformation are mostly looking for THC and therefore prefer medium-high temperatures, while users looking more for physical regeneration want a higher terpene content and therefore need higher temperatures. In all circumstances, however, one must be careful not to harm oneself. Carcinogens are a very large health hazard and should be avoided as much as possible.