In late 2014, the Journal of Chromatography
published a study with the lengthy title "Multidimensional analysis of cannabis volatile constituents: identification of 5,5-dimethyl-1-vinylbicyclo[2.1.1]hexane as a volatile marker of hashish, the resin of Cannabis sativa L.
". Sprung from an attempt to invent technology capable of exposing illicit materials without the aid of sniffer canines, the research disclosed information about a new terpenoid that the scientists had stumbled upon. Working with samples provided by the French government, the research team at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis were amazed by their discovery. Blame it on the study’s title, but the news only recently started getting attention from the 420 community, who are typically quick to pounce upon an announcement as big as a new terpenoid. Now that cannabis aficionados have been introduced to the tentatively dubbed “hashishene”, curiosity is at its peak.
A Crash Course on Terpenes and Terpenoids
Botanical essential oils and resins are largely made possible by terpenes, a class of hydrocarbons responsible for flavors. In fact, the taste associated to a specific marijuana strain is a result of its terpenes. However, when terpenes are combined with oxygen through a process of oxidization, a chemical reaction occurs transforming the terpene into a terpenoid. A terpenoid obviously presents different properties than it displayed in its terpene state.
Strains actually rely on a variety of terpenes combined for their distinctive tastes. These flavor profiles are also changing throughout the cannabis flowering process as more terpenes are naturally injected into the trichome heads. Flavor profiles shift yet again during the processes of drying and curing which can combine cannabis buds with oxygen for oxidization or strip carboxyl groups for decarboxylation, all of which impacts the spectrum of terpenes present in the strain. It sounds complicated (and it definitely can be) but basically any changes made to the buds can result in a shift of properties such as flavor as a direct result of changes in the terpenes. While growers can take painstaking measures to ensure the terpenes remain relatively unchanged by their environment, some shift in the terpene range is unavoidable.
The All-Important Myrcene Terpene
The terpenoid discovered by the research team in Nice is derived from Beta-myrcene (or simply myrcene) terpenes that have undergone a process of oxidization. Myrcene is a largely popular terpene, prized for its fragrant qualities and its abundance in hops, bay, barley, and, of course, cannabis. Marijuana terpenes are often praised for their medicinal benefits, an area in which myrcene particularly excels. In fact, myrcene can actually augment the health benefits of other terpenes which it has a vital role in forming. Due to its abundance in several marijuana strains and its unique role in the effects of marijuana, myrcene is often theorized as a cannabis marker, meaning it may be a crucial point in helping researchers to map the elusive marijuana genome. So how does this have anything to do with the new terpenoid discovered in 2014? The research from the team in Nice indicates that hashishene most likely derived from sunlight-based oxidization of myrcene terpenes.
The Process of Producing Hash
Before we delve into what makes hashishene so hashish-y, it’s important to understand a bit about hash. In the U.S., hash isn’t quite as common as it is in parts of Southern Europe where it’s prized for its delicate high. This soothing sense of intoxication is often credited to unusually high amounts of CBD. Most of this hash is coming from Morocco, where it is produced using a unique process that takes indigenous, possibly ancient strains and dries them in the brutal African sun before subjecting the product to the actual hash-making process. What’s left is a sticky, earthy, mellow substance with a subtly sweet odor. The researchers in Nice theorized that myrcene terpenes become hashishene terpenoids when intense ultraviolet light from the sun forces a mass-oxidization of the myrcene. Yet, this is a simplification of the process with researchers admitting there is more at work as a catalyst for the transformation from myrcene to hashishene than simple oxidization by sunlight. An enigmatic compound must be present for the shift to take effect; one that has so far eluded analysts. In the U.S., hashishene is a rarely occurring terpenoid due to stringent curing procedures and a much smaller market for hash.
Properties of the Hashishene Terpenoid
The monoterpene bearing the proposed name of hashishene is now thought to be responsible for the unmistakable flavor that accompanies hash. Unlike myrcene which is present in a number of plants, hashishene is almost solely derived from cannabis. The exception here is spearmint, which oddly exhibits the same 5,5-dimethyl-1-vinylbicyclo[2.1.1]hexane compound. The terpenoid thus far has not been discovered in any significant amount in fresh or dried marijuana buds, yet was found as a whopping 14% of a hash sample’s volatile constituents.
Of course, the research is still in its infancy so any foreseeable applications for hashishene are purely speculative. While a research team aimed to find a more efficient way of nabbing contraband, they’ve inadvertently come upon a new terpenoid that may be used to further access the mysteries of cannabis and all of its health benefits. Hashishene may be a less common terpenoid in the states but, with proper research, it may disclose more information about myrcene and potentially the cannabis genome. But at the very least, hash heads now know the source of that flavor they enjoy so much.