Behind the Label: The unsung heroes of cannabis packaging

Behind the Label: The unsung heroes of cannabis packaging


Understanding terpene labeling and testing.

Cannabis has gained immense popularity in recent years, with a growing number of consumers seeking its therapeutic and recreational benefits. As the cannabis industry expands, packaging plays a crucial role in ensuring product integrity, creating informed consumers, and complying with legal requirements. While various aspects of cannabis packaging are commonly discussed, one element often overlooked is the significance of terpenes.

The most common terpenes that you will see on Missouri cannabis packaging include; β-caryophyllene, α-pinene, β-myrcene, α-humulene, (+)-limonene, linalool, α-bisabolol, and (E)-β-arnesene.
Terpenes are primarily formed in the trichomes of the cannabis plant. These chemicals exist in many plants (not just cannabis) in diverse configurations that give rise to stereoisomers with various chemical and biological properties.

Terpenes, by definition, are volatile or semivolatile chemicals that contribute to the flavor and aroma of cannabis and cannabinoid products. Many cannabis growers and producers use terpene profiles to characterize specific strains. This is why many people associate a particular aroma or flavor to a specific strain. Terpenes are also responsible for influencing how these strains affect the body. Terpenes contribute significantly to the cannabis experience, making it essential to highlight them on cannabis packaging.

The six most common terpenes found in cannabis

One example of a terpene commonly found in cannabis is Limonene. Limonene is a terpene that gives cannabis strains a citrusy aroma, reminiscent of lemons, oranges, or grapefruits. Beyond its pleasant scent, Limonene offers several potential benefits to cannabis consumers.

First and foremost, Limonene is known for its uplifting and mood-enhancing properties. It has been suggested to have anti-anxiety and stress-relieving effects, potentially promoting a sense of relaxation and well-being. For individuals seeking a cannabis strain that provides a boost in mood and positive mental state, Limonene-rich strains may be particularly appealing. Limonene also exhibits potential anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is associated with various health conditions, including chronic pain, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders. By choosing cannabis strains rich in Limonene, consumers may potentially experience relief from inflammation-related symptoms.

Moreover, Limonene has been investigated for its potential antimicrobial properties. It may help combat certain bacteria and fungi, contributing to the overall safety and longevity of cannabis products. In an era where product safety is a significant concern, the presence of Limonene and other terpenes on cannabis packaging can provide reassurance to consumers, particularly medical cannabis patients with compromised immune systems.

In addition to its physiological effects, Limonene and other terpenes may also enhance the bioavailability of other cannabis compounds, such as cannabinoids. It is believed to facilitate the absorption of cannabinoids into the bloodstream, potentially intensifying their effects. This interaction between terpenes and other cannabis compounds highlights the importance of considering terpene profiles when selecting cannabis strains. The inclusion of terpene information on cannabis packaging aligns with the broader movement toward transparency and consumer empowerment.


In order to ensure those aromatic and flavor profiles of individual strains are being met, robust analytical methods are necessary to chemically profile the terpenes prior to sale. Although regulatory agencies such as the Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) in Missouri do not regulate terpene content, cultivators and producers are having them tested so they can be added to their labels.

On the lab side, the terpene testing process is complex. The most common approach to terpene analysis in laboratories is headspace gas chromatography (GC) with flame ionization detection (FID), mass spectrometry (MS), or both (FID/MS).

Headspace gas chromatography uses the gasses in the “headspace” (the empty space in the top of a sample container) which is then separated and analyzed using flame ionization detection methods that measure the compounds found in those “headspace” gasses.

Mass spectrometry identifies the compounds in a sample by measuring the molecular weight of each compound.

Over the past serval years, issues have been observed in high-potency cannabis samples with these methodologies, such as the loss of some terpenes. This has led many labs to start utilizing liquid injection terpene analysis. This means that a liquid is injected into the gasses that are measured which causes less of these losses in the measurement of terpenes.

While analyzing terpenes, it is up to the individual lab to determine how many terpenes they want to test for. There have been close to 35,000 different terpenes identified, but the biological functions of most of them have not yet been determined. This is why most labs opt to test for the most common and well-known terpenes which are the ones you will find on most cannabis labels.

As cannabis legalization progresses, consumers increasingly demand accurate product information to make informed choices. By providing detailed terpene profiles, manufacturers and producers
demonstrate their commitment to quality and helping consumers navigate the vast array of options available to them. Giving due attention to terpenes in packaging design is essential in creating informed consumers and elevating the overall cannabis experience.