Here’s How Terpenes Are Extracted & Infused Into Natural Health Products

Terpenes - featured image

As contemporary medical research teaches us more about the therapeutic potential of naturally occurring plant compounds, consumer demand is steadily turning terpenes into a billion-dollar industry in its own right, independent of the cannabis and aroma markets. 


Product manufacturers in several successful industries – including CBD, recreational beverages, and sports medicine – are looking to cash in on terpenes’ stellar market performance.

Terpenes can be found in practically all plant life, but as of this writing, hemp and cannabis terpenes are the ones most commonly extracted for infusion into other products. 

Let’s take a quick look at the three most common methods in terpene extraction, as well as how and why terpenes are used for their natural health benefits.

Extraction Using Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Unlike steam distillation, which uses high amounts of heat and can easily damage plant matter, CO2 extraction allows both efficient extraction and maximal preservation of precious plant compounds.

This makes it an excellent option for isolating and acquiring terpenes, which is done by using CO2 in its so-called “supercritical” state as a solvent of sorts.

  • What Is A Supercritical State?

By using a compressor and heater, heat and pressure can be applied to render CO2 into a state wherein it simultaneously possesses the properties of a gas and liquid. In this state, it can both pass through plant matter in high volumes and gently break down and separate specific compounds, as a solvent would do.

The use of supercritical CO2 is the current industry gold standard of terpene extraction because it does away with the use of solvents or other chemicals, making it the safest method currently available. 

CO2 extraction also produces no leftover residue after processing, eliminating virtually all wastage. Its only drawback is in its use of expensive machinery, making it an impractical choice for smaller companies and DIYers.

Extraction Using Solvents

Solvent extraction makes use of either butane or propane as a solvent to extract select compounds from plant matter. 

This is done by placing it in a glass container and “shooting” or forcing the solvent through before putting the liquid byproduct into a winterization process. 

In the case of terpene extraction, propane is favored over butane, as the latter is better suited for extracting cannabinoids.

While solvent extraction will certainly get the job done, there is a significant difference in the quality of extracted terpenes when compared to the use of CO2. Since both propane and butane are quite flammable, there is a degree of risk in handling both the extraction process and the leftover residue afterwards.

Extraction Using Alcohol

Alcohol extraction is another method that sacrifices quality for speed and affordability. 

Ethanol is a tried-and-true solvent when it comes to drawing out cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids from plant matter – with the drawback of very effectively drawing out impurities as well. These include plant lipids, chlorophyll, and other compounds that can alter the color and flavor of the final extract.

Alcohol extraction could very well suffice for practicing DIY hobbyists extracting and infusing terpenes into mixtures intended for personal use. It’s also considerably safer than butane or propane extraction. 

However, companies using this procedure to bottle and sell terpene products will likely struggle against market competitors with superior extraction methods at their disposal.

The Complementary Qualities Of Terpene Infusion

Terpenes do more than impart various flavors and aromas to everything from overnight recovery balms to infused martinis. They also bring various medicinal and therapeutic properties with them, including analgesic, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, and even antibacterial effects. This makes terpenes suitable for infusion into an impressive variety of different products.

  • The “Entourage Effect”

When incorporated with cannabinoids in a single product, such as in hemp-infused beer or full-spectrum CBD, terpenes can be doubly beneficial. 

Israeli organic chemists Raphael Mechoulam and S. Ben-Shabat coined the term Entourage Effect to describe the mechanism by which cannabinoids and terpenes function in tandem within the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) to essentially amplify each other’s beneficial effects. 

This is carried out in their respective interactions with ECS receptors throughout the body.

By making use of terpenes’ flavors and aromas as well as their therapeutic potential, different product manufacturers and hospitality industry establishments can create truly new and exciting products to distinguish themselves from the competition in the minds of consumers.

Another added benefit to terpene infusion is product diversity. 

Take a city cocktail lounge or taproom for example… one can easily become a hotspot for business-oriented individuals by serving up specials infused with cognition, alertness, and focus-boosting terpenes like alpha-pinene during lunch hours. 

In the evenings, these same establishments can offer specials infused with stress, anxiety, and pain-relieving terpenes like caryophyllene to take the edge off of a hard day’s work.

It’s worth noting that several trendy establishments in the Los Angeles area have already pioneered the use of terpenes in their menus, with several major city establishments following suit in states where recreational cannabis is legal. 

Terpenes are also now commonly infused into topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are some of the most in-demand products in the sports medicine industry. Terpenes have even made it into the burgeoning vape industry, where they are infused into both nicotine and CBD e-liquids.

It’s likely that the farther along medical research on terpenes continues, and as more advanced extraction methods are discovered, these naturally-occurring plant compounds will be able to complement an even greater number of billion-dollar global industries.

Last Updated on January 9, 2021

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