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By Eric Van Buskirk

You’ve just clicked on this article, so the odds are good that you’re a fan of craft beer, or marijuana, or both. You’ll be pleased to know that more and more brewers are beginning to experiment with “weed beer,” meaning beer suffused with cannabis. But that description is somewhat misleading. Currently, there are a couple variations of this budding fusion product: (1) “beer” with CBD and/or THC substituted for the alcohol, in which case you’re getting high from what amounts to a beer-flavored soft drink, and (2) real beer that has had cannabis terpenes added to it.

This article deals with the latter, a new constellation in the ever-expanding universe of craft beer.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are organic hydrocarbons that, among many other things, lend weed its distinct aroma and flavor. In addition to cannabis, terpenes are found in a wide variety of plants and essential oils, including those derived from lemons and limes, pine needles, and lavender—all of which contain therapeutic properties. For instance, the essential oil of lavender is known to relieve anxiety, as well as effectively treat fungal infections and hair loss.

Cannabis contains particularly high levels of terpenes, which work together with cannabinoids and other compounds to both enhance your psychoactive experience and provide medicinal benefits. Said benefits range from pain and inflammation relief to treatment of serious conditions like epilepsy and cancer.

Terpenes extracted naturally from non-marijuana sources (from plants for example) are being mixed into ‘terpene blends’ – like those available at true-blue.co – to mimic the flavor, aroma, and therapeutic properties of individual strains (like Purple Haze or Pineapple Express). These can then be used to create new products like vape juice, edibles, CBD oil, and even beer. 

How do terpenes make their way into beer?

Of all the terpenes present in cannabis (there are over 200), myrcene and limonene are the ones most commonly used in beer. Myrcene, known for its sedative effects, is the most abundant terpene in cannabis. Studies have suggested that myrcene may help to relax muscles and reduce pain and inflammation. Limonene, meanwhile, is found in various citrus fruits and used widely in perfumes, foods, solvents and medicines. It’s also a proven antidepressant with antioxidant and anticancer properties.

Here’s how it works. These and other selected terpenes are purchased from companies that extract cannabis oil from natural sources. Brewers then incorporate the terpenes into the brewing process by combining them with hops (which have their own terpenes). Some breweries choose to first break down the terpenes using solvents, while others introduce them directly into the “bitter wort,” or wort to which hops have already been added.

The result is a craft beer that contains hints of the fragrance and flavor of cannabis, but no THC. With that said, beer suffused with both terpenes and THC seems like the next logical step in this growing movement, considering the increasing support for federal legalization of cannabis in the US—including among lawmakers and leading presidential candidates.

One thing is certain: weed beer is here to stay. Next time you’re out and about, ask your bartender about any local terpene-infused brews. He just might have one on tap.

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