Evaluation of Cannabinoid and Terpenoid Content: Cannabis Flower Compared to Supercritical CO2 Concentrate

Planta Med. 2018 Mar;84(4):234-241. doi: 10.1055/s-0043-119361. Epub 2017 Sep 19.


A recent cannabis use survey revealed that 60% of cannabis users rely on smelling the flower to select their cannabis. Olfactory indicators in plants include volatile compounds, principally represented by the terpenoid fraction. Currently, medicinal- and adult-use cannabis is marketed in the United States with relatively little differentiation between products other than by a common name, association with a species type, and Δ-9 tetrahydrocannabinol/cannabidiol potency. Because of this practice, how terpenoid compositions may change during an extraction process is widely overlooked. Here we report on a comparative study of terpenoid and cannabinoid potencies of flower and supercritical fluid CO2 (SC-CO2) extract from six cannabis chemovars grown in Washington State. To enable this comparison, we employed a validated high-performance liquid chromatography/diode array detector methodology for quantification of seven cannabinoids and developed an internal gas chromatography-mass spectrometry method for quantification of 42 terpenes. The relative potencies of terpenoids and cannabinoids in flower versus concentrate were significantly different. Cannabinoid potency increased by factors of 3.2 for Δ-9 tetrahydrocannabinol and 4.0 for cannabidiol in concentrates compared to flower. Monoterpenes were lost in the extraction process; a ketone increased by 2.2; an ether by 2.7; monoterpene alcohols by 5.3, 7 and 9.4; and sesquiterpenes by 5.1, 4.2, 7.7, and 8.9. Our results demonstrate that the product of SC-CO2 extraction may have a significantly different chemotypic fingerprint from that of cannabis flower. These results highlight the need for more complete characterization of cannabis and associated products, beyond cannabinoid content, in order to further understand health-related consequences of inhaling or ingesting concentrated forms.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Cannabinoids / analysis*
  • Cannabis / chemistry*
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Flowers / chemistry*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Terpenes / analysis*


  • Cannabinoids
  • Plant Extracts
  • Terpenes
  • Carbon Dioxide