The Ministry of Hemp Podcast

Dr, Susan Trapp, Queen of Terpenes: Talking Terpene Science

Known as the queen of terpenes, Dr. Susan Trapp is one of the foremost experts on terpene science, and she's bringing her expertise to the hemp and cannabis world.

In this episode of the Ministry of Hemp podcast, Matt talks about quarantine hemp cooking and cocktailing, featuring our recipe for hemp-infused bacon fat peanut butter cookies. Then Matt has a Conversation with Susan Trapp, terpene researcher and co-founder of terpedia.com.

This episode is part of our Women in Hemp series.

Terpenes are some of the most prevalent and diverse organic compounds. They create the familiar scent of many plants but serve many purposes in nature, even self-defense.

Susan has over 20 years of experience in the biotechnology field both as a plant-microbe molecular biology researcher and “beyond the lab bench.”  She has held scientific, management, and early-stage development positions within the biotech industry, academia, government, and start-up community, from algae biofuels to genomes. Dr. Trapp participated directly on the human genome project with Dr. Craig Venter early in her scientific career.

It was a real honor to get such a terpene expert on our show, so get ready for a deep, fascinating dive into terpene science.

Matt also mentions our recently published Meet the Editor video.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al9A2ZNRBzQ

Dr. Susan Trapp, Queen of Terpenes: Complete podcast episode transcript

Matt Baum:
I'm Matt Baum and this is the Ministry of Hemp Podcast, brought to you by ministryofhemp.com, America's leading advocate for hemp and hemp education. Hello again, it's Matt Baum, I'm your host for the Ministry of Hemp Podcast and still in quarantine, hopefully like you are as well. I listened to the last few shows we put out recently and they started with sort of dire warnings, and in the face of a global pandemic that's probably appropriate, but I want to lighten things up just a little bit to get this show going.

Matt Baum:
That is not to say that everything is fine, go out, get back to work because life is good, we still need to hunker down a bit and we still need to wear masks when we go to the grocery store, socially distance, et cetera, but there are some things we can be doing at home in the meantime, like cooking. My wife and I have been doing a ton of cooking and a little bit of cocktailing as well, and we've tried to incorporate hemp into that cooking and cocktailing.

Cooking with hemp under quarantine

Matt Baum:
Back in episode 27 of the show, you might remember I spoke to Hillary Kelsay of Humming Hemp and she was nice enough to send me a bunch of hemp oil and some of their Humming Hemp hearts, which are amazing on just about everything. In fact, just tonight, I made a cast iron roasted chicken quarter with tomato jam and I served it over some fried rice and beans that I had the night before, sort of like a Latin rice and beans thing and I topped it with some of their spicy hemp hearts and just threw it under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp everything up, it was wonderful.

Matt Baum:
My wife has been making cocktails with CBD simple syrup from a company called Azuca, you may remember I interviewed their CEO, Ron Silver, back in episode 33. You can find all of these on our site and of course you can find them on Apple Podcasts and anywhere else you listen to podcasts, but the point is it's not hard to incorporate CBD into your diet. And right now we have an amazing recipe on the site for peanut butter cookies that are made with bacon fat infused with CBD, you could also infuse it with THC if that's your jam, whatever, they are in credible.

Matt Baum:
We tried them this past weekend and oh my God, they're absolutely delicious. The recipe comes courtesy of Chef Sebastian Carosi, who hopefully I'm going to be talking to on this show real soon. I know I talk about it a lot, but I come from a food background and I love cooking with hemp and incorporating hemp into food, not just CBD but hemp itself because the flavor is so interesting. In fact, Humming Hemp's hemp oil has become my go-to topping for popcorn.

Matt Baum:
It brings this nutty, almost salted sunflower taste to the popcorn that I cannot get enough of. The point is quarantine, it can get boring, sure, but it doesn't have to be all isolation and doom and gloom. You can treat yourself, you can do some experiments and you can do yourself a favor by introducing some CBD into your diet and easing your anxiety a little bit while you have a nice drink or even a great meal.

Matt Baum:
Speaking of which, I would love to hear your ideas for introducing hemp into your diet. Give us a call at (402) 819-4894, that is the Ministry of Hemp hotline where you can leave a message and tell me how are you cooking and cocktailing with hemp during your quarantine. I would love to hear from you and real soon here, I know I've promised it for a while, but Kit and I are going to be doing a Q&A show where we sit down and play your voicemails and talk about them.

Meet Susan Trapp, Queen of Terpenes

Matt Baum:
Kit is the Editor-in-Chief of ministryofhemp.com. By the way, I've mentioned a lot and I'm going to talk about him later in the show, but first let's get to our conversation this week. This time I'm talking with Susan Trapp, she describes herself as the Chief Terpene Officer for terpedia.com. Susan is amazing, she's probably one of the most intelligent people I have ever interviewed and she is a riot. We had a lot of fun during this interview. She's just an incredible person.

Matt Baum:
She worked on the Human Genome Project. Very soon, she's going to be teaching accredited courses on terpenes, and she helped me with a serious pronunciation issue. You're going to hear me say the word terpene probably a hundred times, the word is terpenes, and I'm never going to forget it now and I'm glad she corrected me. I apologize in advance for how many times I mispronounced it. This is my conversation about terpenes with Susan Trapp.

Matt Baum:
Welcome to the Ministry of Hemp Podcast, thanks for joining me. I brought you here because you are kind of a terpene nerd from what I understand, and today we are going to learn about terpenes because honestly, I read some stuff online, I still don't totally get it, and I know our audience wants to know so let's just start with, what is a terpene?

Susan Trapp:
Okay. All right. Terpenes are the largest class of natural products in plants.

Matt Baum:
Okay.

Susan Trapp:
Okay? And also actually in nature. And so still the question is what are terpenes, right? So terpenes when you say largest class of natural products, right, so when we … I'm going to break this down. So natural products, right, when we talk about natural products in chemistry we're talking about, for example, aspirin, silicic acid, right? That is a compound, that is a natural product that is derived from the willow bark, yeah, the bark of a willow tree. And so these terpenes are essentially kind of, they are the same thing. They are these large class of compounds that are produced by plants for a variety of reasons. In fact-

Matt Baum:
So it's not just cannabis though, it's several different plants?

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah, it's all plants, that's the amazing thing about terpenes. And one of my missions with teaching about terpenes and teaching terpenes at some of these conferences, kind of general conferences, is to really explain and educate people that terpenes are this large class and they're essentially in your herb cabinet.

Matt Baum:
Okay. What does that mean, they're in my herb cabinet?

Susan Trapp:
I mean, so you've heard of the essential oils.

Matt Baum:
Sure.

Susan Trapp:
Right? So for example, like lavender.

Matt Baum:
Yeah.

Susan Trapp:
Lavender, when you press the oil out of lavender, you get an essential oil. That essential oil is a combination of terpenes, basil, rosemary, lavender, turmeric. When you press those plants, right, an oil comes out and though those oils are primarily full of these compounds called terpenes, right? And they differ. So essentially there's a different formulation per herb. And so cannabis is really no surprise, and my back …

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. To continue to clarify, so in regards to for example lavender, which smells really nice, right, there are a number of essential oils or a number of terpenes within that essential oil of lavender. Right? Same thing with basil. Basil has a certain smell, so it has a different combination of terpenes that are in basil. Shockingly-

Matt Baum:
So is the terpene directly related to the smell?

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah. So terpenes are what we call in chemistry, the volatile essential oils. So essentially what that means is they are aromatic, so they smell. In our olfactory system, we have receptors for them.

Matt Baum:
Not volatile, like they're going to explode, but volatile like …

Susan Trapp:
Volatile and then in that they're aromatic.

Terpene science beyond cannabis

Matt Baum:
Got you. Okay. And now I was of the mindset that terpenes literally only existed in cannabis, but basically what you were saying is the terpene is what gives smell to just about any plan that has smell. Like I assume flowers have terpene also.

Susan Trapp:
Yes. And sometimes not good, but it just depends on that combination of terpenes that are in there. And then there are other compounds, but primarily that essential oil is a combination of terpenes that are produced by the plant.

Matt Baum:
Okay. Now what is the terpene itself? Is it like an atomic level, is it a part of the plant? I mean, is it …

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. I have a number of presentations that I give, and I wish I could show it because it's easier, I should have pulled it up.

Matt Baum:
Yeah, this is podcast world. Sorry, this is a audio moment.

Susan Trapp:
I know, I need to practice so I can come up with good examples. Because I teach this biology so sometimes I get too technical, but the bottom line-

Matt Baum:
I'll stop you if you do, don't worry.

Susan Trapp:
… Like for example, a sugar molecule, right, it's a pretty simple molecule and it's a … Usually we call it a pentose ring or hexose ring. So pentose being five carbons or six carbons, compounds, right?

Matt Baum:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan Trapp:
And you've seen the picture of THC, right?

Matt Baum:
Right.

How plants build terpenes

Susan Trapp:
You see these big compounds. Okay. So glucose or actually, a sugar molecule without even getting into the details of which one are a pretty simple compound, right? And so you can build like a sugar molecule and a sugar molecule, actually glucose, glucose, glucose, glucose, and what you end up with is something like in biology, we would call that cellulose a polymer. So glucose, one sugar molecule is what we would call a monomer or one unit. A couple of them-

Matt Baum:
Right. When you connect a bunch then you've got cellulose.

Susan Trapp:
… A polymer.

Matt Baum:
Got you.

Susan Trapp:
Right?

Matt Baum:
Okay.

Susan Trapp:
So terpenes are somewhat the same, not like that at all, but what I'm trying to get at is this is what we call a metabolic pathway.

Matt Baum:
Okay.

Susan Trapp:
Right? So that's how they are produced, right?

Matt Baum:
Got you.

Susan Trapp:
So plants actually do produce sugar. They use sunlight and-

Matt Baum:
Right, that's part of the deal.

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah. That's part of the deal. And so plants what they do is they utilize what we would call substrates or building block molecules to produce polymers. It's a little … I don't know, this part I should probably explain better. So we have these buildings they're called isoprene units. And isoprene, that E-N-E means double bond, and that's more than you need to know in chemistry. But this isoprene unit means there are five carbons. And so-

Matt Baum:
Okay. And they're all bonded?

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah. Well, typically an isoprene unit is not in a circle, it's what we call linear compounds.

Matt Baum:
Right, it's like a line, not a circle.

Susan Trapp:
But they will … Right. And I have a slide where I use scrabble building blocks. So imagine one Scrabble A building blocks. So Scrabble A, an isoprene unit and another isoprene unit bind together, essentially, and you get what we call a monoterpene. So that's essentially two isoprene units, one C5 carbon compound and another C5 carbon compound.

Matt Baum:
And they make one monoterpene, more or less?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah.

Matt Baum:
Okay.

Susan Trapp:
And the majority of terpenes of interest, and even the ones that really have nice smells, and this is a bit of an exaggeration, are monoterpenes. So the majority of terpenes even in cannabis, for example pinene, myrcene, which I'm sure you've heard of, right?

Matt Baum:
Yeah, absolutely.

Susan Trapp:
Those are monoterpenes.

Matt Baum:
And the pinene gives things like the pine tree smell, and the myrcene gives stuff like the skunk smell, right?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah.

How plants use terpenes

Matt Baum:
Okay. So why? Why does a plant evolve to stink?

Susan Trapp:
Great question.

Matt Baum:
I mean what is the point?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah, great question. All kinds of reasons.

Matt Baum:
It's a good stink, I like that stink, it's …

Susan Trapp:
All right. So the way I usually like to talk about terpenes is they're essentially, and when I do give public talks, I essentially consider them like the immune system of the plant. That's an easy way explain it. But the bottom line is they're there to protect the plant from predators, right? But also there are some terpenes that are considered phytohormones. So phyto means plant, so a plant hormone. During my postdoc we studied bark beetle infestation of pine trees. Right?

Matt Baum:
Right. Yeah. They're awful, like the ash borer.

Susan Trapp:
Well, but it was fascinating because what happens is the pine tree, right, a bark beetle comes to the tree, and usually it's a tree that's already a little bit sickly, like for example a drought where there's not enough water, right? So the bark beetle comes to that tree, bores a hole. The tree itself has a response and shockingly, those are terpenes. There's turpentine, resin, right?

Matt Baum:
Really?

Susan Trapp:
Those are actually diterpenes. So diterpenes would be … We can come back to that and you can piece it back together, but you have two building blocks, right, that makes a monoterpene, three of those makes a sesquiterpene, four of them makes a diterpene.

Matt Baum:
Okay. Whoa. And that's when you start getting into like thick, sappy defense type?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah.

Matt Baum:
So turpentine, like which-

Susan Trapp:
Turpentine. Yeah. And turpentine historically, again, these are part of my slides, turpentine or turpentine was the first terpene identified, and essentially it was called turpentine because it was a German chemist who identified it, and that's where the name terpenes came from.

Matt Baum:
… This is the same thing I'm thinking of, turpentine to remove paint? Right?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah.

Matt Baum:
Comes from a tree?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah.

Matt Baum:
From terpenes?

Terpenes are everywhere in plants

Susan Trapp:
I mean, and I will continue to impress upon you. Like when I was in grad school and during my post doc, I studied terpenes having nothing to do with the cannabis industry, which I can come back to and explain if you want, but the bottom line, almost, at least back then, every paper that I wrote, and practically every paper or book that I read that talked about terpenes the first sentence was, "Terpenes are the largest class of natural products in plants."

Susan Trapp:
So again, if you're a natural product chemist or what not, you're studying terpenes, you're studying chlorophyll, there's all kinds of phytochemicals, and right now I'm blinking, but again … And the reason there's such a large class is because of what I explained to you, they are built on these very simple isoprene unit building blocks, and so you just …

Susan Trapp:
And for your benefit, I don't know if you can see this, but isoprene units are here, right? Like these five carbon compounds. I'm going to knock over my coffee. And then you have monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, diterpenes, sesterterpenes, which I didn't really study those so I really only think about all the way up to diterpene. So diterpenes is four isoprene units. But my point is as you go all the way up to here, triterpenes, when you get up to these upper ones, right, cholesterol is part of that same pathway.

Matt Baum:
Cholesterol is a terpene?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah, it's a type of … The precursor for cholesterol is from the same pathway. And what I'm trying to say, so if you were a budding biologist, right, or a budding organic chemist, you learn about these metabolic pathways. So you have a compound and then you have an enzyme and an enzyme. What an enzyme does is it would take those two units and put them together. Right?

Susan Trapp:
Then you have the basics of a monoterpene, but then you have another enzyme that comes and sits down, and essentially we'll add on what we call a hydroxyl group or an OH group. Right? And then that you just kind of keep adding little what we call functional groups on those terpenes. Then another enzyme comes along maybe, right, and it produces another isoprene unit. So now you have three of them and that's how you make the sesquiterpene, so that's like a metabolic pathway. And so what blows people away when I'm trying to say is in biology it's one huge pathway that makes a polymer. Because when you get-

Matt Baum:
Is this is all? When I think-

Susan Trapp:
… A polymer is based on these unit of isoprene units.

Matt Baum:
… Because when I think polymers, I'm thinking of like plastic polymers and stuff, but you're saying that this has been happening for millions of years, basically in nature with plants from the grass in your lawn to the pine tree in your front yard, all using the same chemicals for slightly different things, whether it is to keep a predator away or to heal a wound or to attract like a butterfly to pollinate it or something like that.

Susan Trapp:
Exactly.

Matt Baum:
Why don't I know this? I mean, this sounds like it is the most … I was a chef for a while-

Susan Trapp:
It's pretty cool-

Matt Baum:
… and I cooked for a long time.

Susan Trapp:
… I mean I can get really excited. I mean, but there are a variety of polymers that are natural. So like again, general chemistry, I teach this, this is like chapter five in general biology. There are four food groups, right? Carbohydrates, protein, lipids and actually DNA or nucleotides, right? A basic monomer of sugar and an amino acid is one, it's the beginning of a protein, it's the monomer of a protein. But what I'm trying to get at is, so when you have a protein, right, that's a polymer, that's a bunch of amino acids building blocks, one right next to the other and then you get this big-

Matt Baum:
That's technically a polymer.

Susan Trapp:
… That's technically a polymer, that's what I'm getting at.

Matt Baum:
I did not know this. Okay. Now why is it-

Susan Trapp:
Same thing with sugars, right? So you have these basic fructose … You're going to have to let me double-check before you publish this because I'm getting … Because they're disaccharides and I get fructose-

Matt Baum:
… This is not going up for peer review, don't worry. Okay?

Susan Trapp:
… Okay, good. I know, but it's important to respect my PhD. I like to be accurate, all PhDs do. It's important to-

Cannabis and terpenes

Matt Baum:
So why is that I never heard about any of this until I started learning about cannabis? How come cannabis people talk about terpenes more than anyone else? Because I was a chef, I worked with herbs all the time, we never talked about-

Susan Trapp:
You were a chef? Wow.

Matt Baum:
… terpenes and … Or I mean like essential oils, sure, because those do certain things and add smell and add flavor and whatnot, but there was no mention of terpenes until I started learning about the cannabis world. Why is the cannabis world so obsessed with this?

Susan Trapp:
Well, because they have medicinal benefits, right, and they … Essentially terpenes have been around forever and they've been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. I mean, again, I go back to … And like when I give some of these really introductory talks, I probably say over 20 times, terpenes are … And it's terpenes.

Matt Baum:
Terpene. Sorry.

Susan Trapp:
Like T-E-R, yeah, terpenes.

Matt Baum:
I keep saying terpene, it's terpene. I'm sorry.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. You're sort of [inaudible 00:20:11] or whatever. Terpene, terpene, but yeah, it's terpenes. And then we also refer to them sometime as terpenoids and I'm not going to get into that, but you hear both terpenes and terpenoids, and it's just based on a little bit of difference in that compound of what's on it, which we don't have to get into. But once we are done with this podcast, you were like you have passed terpenes and cannabis 101 because you've heard of not only terpenes but terpenoids, right? Yeah. And the reason that they're becoming of interest, right, was first of all, everybody was all excited about THC and 30% THC, and we all wanted to get a little higher. Right?

Matt Baum:
Sure.

Susan Trapp:
And then you discover … And there's been terpene chemistry and cannabinoid chemistry, right, around for a while. The Israelis have been way far ahead of us for a long time, but nevertheless, then they discovered that there are other cannabinoids that are related. And it's the same thing, they're related. So those cannabinoids are part of the same THC metabolic pathway.

Matt Baum:
Okay. Real quick, let me ask a stupid question.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah.

Matt Baum:
Cannabinoids and terpenes are completely different things, correct?

Susan Trapp:
They are too. They actually join-

Matt Baum:
That was going to sound really stupid for a minute there.

Susan Trapp:
… I mean they are, but actually now that you know a little bit about metabolic pathways, right, there are two pathways that join up, it's called the hexanoate pathway and then there's isoprene pathway or isoprenoid pathway that we've just been talking about these isoprenes. Those to join, and actually that is what makes up the cannabinoids.

Matt Baum:
Okay. So different, but also-

Susan Trapp:
But you could sort of-

Matt Baum:
… sort of the building blocks up?

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah, they're same, same but different, or technically they are different, right, but they are two different … They start out with two separate substrates, they have a bunch of enzymes that do things to it, and at some point a part of the isoprenoid pathway and a part of this other pathway join, right, and then you actually make-

Matt Baum:
Then you have cannabinoids.

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah.

The medicinal aspects of terpenes

Matt Baum:
Okay. So you had said that there's medicinal aspects we're learning about, can you talk about that a little bit? Like, what are we learning about?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah, sure. And they've been around forever, for example like … I mean, I know a little about Chinese herbal medicine, but I'm not a Chinese herbalist or acupuncturist who is trained in-

Matt Baum:
Neither am I, and-

Susan Trapp:
… but nevertheless, the point is if they are the largest class of natural products in plants, right, that means they're all over these plants, whether it's a willow tree, turmeric or rosebud or whatever tea, right, those all have these plant compounds that can be extracted and utilized. And that is when you get that beautiful rose smell, that's geranium.

Matt Baum:
Right.

Susan Trapp:
Right? The linalool has a bit of this lavender smell. Sage is from the same family and it just has a slightly different terpene profile, right, and so therefore it smells a little bit like sage, but it also has linalool in it. Right? And so they've been around for centuries, so traditional medicine has been utilizing them, they may not have known they were terpenes, but they've been utilizing them for a long time. Right? And I guess I would argue that they knew what they were doing. Same thing with like again, your medicine cabinet, basil, parsley, turmeric, rosemary, all of those have these compounds in them. Right?

Matt Baum:
So-

Susan Trapp:
And so-

Matt Baum:
… you touched on rosemary, let me ask you real quick, the rosemary and pine trees have a very similar smell, is that, that same … What did you call it?

Susan Trapp:
… Pinene?

Matt Baum:
Pinene. It's the same terpene that's present in cannabis that smells like pine?

Susan Trapp:
If you were doing a Venn diagram, right, they've got some that are the same and some that are different, but there's an overlap of a couple.

Matt Baum:
Got you.

Susan Trapp:
Most essential oils are a combination of anywhere between like, I don't know, five and 15 different terpenes in different concentrations, and that's what gives them their unique smell. And probably you could relate that back to like, that's in a way why the cannabis industry is growing the way it is, right, because it's a plant, it's not a monodrug, it's not a drug, it's not a monopharmacy, it's polypharmacy. You've got all these beneficial compounds in this plant that you're eating, that's why eating raw and fresh food-

Matt Baum:
Eat is you kale-

Susan Trapp:
… is so important.

Matt Baum:
… eat your romaine lettuce, like your dark greens. Right?

Susan Trapp:
Right, because the dark greens have chlorophyll and pigments and terpenes and many other things in them, and if it's fresh they're still active, and so then they help your body with lots of things and you're taking those in and be able to utilize those little compounds as substrates for your body to do what it needs to do. Like-

Matt Baum:
Okay, dumb question time. Are there any-

Susan Trapp:
There's no such thing as dumb question, I'm really big on that so-

Matt Baum:
… Okay, ignorant question time. Are there plants out there that don't have terpenes?

Susan Trapp:
… That's a great question.

Matt Baum:
Or is it universal?

Susan Trapp:
That's a great question. I don't know that for a fact, right, but I would guess probably not. That's a great question, I need to look that up.

Matt Baum:
Just from what you've described, it sounds like it is such a base part of the plant as far as like they all use photosynthesis and whatnot and because of that the chemistry is so basic that it kind of has to be there. Right?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. I mean, and the interesting thing, so like I was in graduate school, and it dates me, so a long time ago-

Matt Baum:
Two years ago when you were in graduate school. Yes.

Susan Trapp:
… Right, two years ago because I'm so well preserved which is-

Matt Baum:
Again, this is radio they can't see it so I just feel like-

Susan Trapp:
… I know.

Matt Baum:
… I talked to Susan Trapp and let me tell you, she was gorgeous.

Learning the purpose of terpenes

Susan Trapp:
Right. But many years ago in grad school when I was studying this, they also used to talk about the terpenes. They thought initially that they were the waste products of the plant, there was no purpose. They didn't-

Matt Baum:
Really?

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah. And I think as I continued to read and by the time I was doing my postdoc, it was like, yeah, or at least that was one of the theories, I read that a lot. So they used to be considered essentially the waste product. And another way to talk about them is, so a plant or even ourselves, right, so you've heard of, let's see, essential minerals and vitamins, right? Those are-

Matt Baum:
Sure.

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah. So we need those because we don't produce them.

Matt Baum:
Right.

Susan Trapp:
Right?

Matt Baum:
That's why we eat this stuff.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. So kind of same, same but different with a plant. So there's such a thing as what we call primary metabolism, so the building blocks for the plant to make sugar, right? And then there's something called secondary metabolism. It's called secondary, which is what kind of natural products are talked about because secondary mean is secondary, it's not essential for life.

Matt Baum:
Got you. Okay.

Susan Trapp:
Okay, so-

Matt Baum:
But it helps.

Susan Trapp:
… the plant is in theory not going to die if it doesn't have these compounds, and so they used to call them, well they still call them secondary metabolism and, or they used to just think like, "Well, I don't know what they're doing, they're just kind of there by accident because they're part of this pathway," but it's turning out that's really not the case-

Matt Baum:
We're learning what they do.

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah. Co-evolution, Darwinian evolution, they've evolved for all kinds of things, right? The rose smells … And this is great, I should come up with a good example, which I don't have for today, but like the hummingbird, right, it's attracted to the … Probably, I've got to find a good example of a smell, right, and it's attracted to that and the plant's producing it so they've co-evolved together.

Matt Baum:
Yeah, absolutely.

Susan Trapp:
And as I was halfway through the bark beetle infestation story, so the bark beetle infestation, what happens again is that the bark beetle bores a hole, the tree if it's healthy will cover that bark beetle with this sap, right? And then what's cool, and there's probably, well there is more to it than just what I'm telling you, but this is like … I wrote a review paper on this long time ago, but I think there's now more to the story. But so then the bark beetle says, apparently it produces a pheromone that's actually also terpenoid.

Matt Baum:
The bug makes-

Susan Trapp:
The bug. Yeah.

Matt Baum:
… terpene?

Susan Trapp:
Yes. It produces a pheromone that is actually a type of terpene. Right?

Matt Baum:
Okay.

Susan Trapp:
And it says, "Hey, bark beetles come on over here." Like, "Come with me to get this tree, let's bore some more holes." And so I like to explain this as that there's this very cool chemical warfare that goes on, on whether that tree lives or die, and it really depends how healthy that tree is and how many bark beetles get there. And at some point that the tree is not able to produce enough sap or whatever to kill all the bark beetles and then they kill the tree.

Matt Baum:
Okay, weird question. Is the tree creating sap to stop the bugs terpene from calling it out to other bugs?

Susan Trapp:
No, I think it's just a response, right? Yeah, that's just a response of the tree to protect itself. So it's protecting itself from its predator.

Matt Baum:
So it's plugging a hole is what it's doing, it's not … I'm giving it a little too much brain power, I guess maybe.

Susan Trapp:
Right, but that's just one example and there's many, so they-

Matt Baum:
But the bug is also making terpenes?

Susan Trapp:
… In that particular case, yes.

Matt Baum:
Okay. Do I make terpenes?

Susan Trapp:
No, actually I don't think you … Well, I was about to say no. Getting back to this … Where did my chart go?

Matt Baum:
I can't help you with that, I'm sorry.

Susan Trapp:
Back to this. I know. Back to the very cool chart. Where is it? Let's see. Yeah, so when you get six isoprene units and you get to the point of triterpenes, precursors like well cholesterol, lanosterol, like the steroids, squalene. Squalene is kind of a precursor for a lot of hormones, so-

Matt Baum:
So we kind of do?

Susan Trapp:
… you could say that we do … Yeah.

Matt Baum:
This is blowing my mind. I mean honestly, I did not see this going where we have gone.

Susan Trapp:
Oh really? All right.

Matt Baum:
So Susan, I think we've got to-

Susan Trapp:
I mean they're pretty … Go ahead.

How Susan Trapp became a terpene expert

Matt Baum:
… we've got to base understanding I think now that terpenes are all around us and not just in your weed, in your hemp. But let me ask you from just a personal perspective, how does Susan Trapp get so interested in terpenes that she decided she's going to devote her whole life to it? How does that happen?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah, that's a great question as well. All right, so I'm going to babble so you stop me, but all right. Way back when I was a wee lass, right, I decided I wanted to go to graduate school. And actually prior to graduate school I worked, now I'm just pitching for myself, I worked on the Human Genome Project actually way back when.

Matt Baum:
Oh wow, that is amazing.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. Which was pretty interesting, and so I decided I wanted to go to graduate school and get a PhD. My parents were both medical doctors and I was always very anti-drug.

Matt Baum:
Okay.

Susan Trapp:
And so-

Matt Baum:
Nothing wrong with that. I should have been a little more anti-drug, I'll be honest.

Susan Trapp:
Well, anti-drug, not anti-drug in … Well I mean anti-drugs if your parents are medical doctors, it's like you say you're sick, they're like, "Here, take an aspirin. Here, take a Tylenol," that kind of drug, right?

Matt Baum:
Got you.

Susan Trapp:
Anti-pharmaceutical, not anti-drug. And so the bottom line is I was always very interested in natural medicine, right? And so I go to graduate school and I was interested in molecular biology, and it was still kind of in the early days, and I stumbled upon … I got into a PhD program, which was biochemistry and molecular biology, biochemistry and chemistry.

Susan Trapp:
And we actually didn't have that much molecular biology at that time, and so I discovered you have to pick yourself an advisor and pick a topic. And the person I chose was working on natural … He was a natural product, organic chemist, so this … Yeah, you know what natural products are. And he was actually studying terpenes, and he was studying terpenes, fungal terpenes.

Matt Baum:
Of course, fungus does it too.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah, fungus does it too. One of the more topical, and this will be of interest to the cannabis listeners. So what he was studying, there are these compounds, there are fungal terpenes that actually produce toxins which are also terpenes and so-

Matt Baum:
Why wouldn't they be?

Susan Trapp:
… And one of those is actually, so let's see, fusariums [inaudible 00:34:04]. So fusarium is a fungus that grows on plants. It usually grows above the Mason-Dixon line, and the wheat crops, but also cannabis. So when people are testing their cannabis for a variety of microbes, right? The testing of pesticides and microbes, one of the things they're testing is this fusarium. And they're testing for fusarium-

Matt Baum:
It's like a mold, right?

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah, that's a fungus, which produces this compound, which is a sesquiterpene, that's three isoprene units. Right?

Matt Baum:
My God, yeah, we learned all about it.

Susan Trapp:
Right, called Trichophytons, and they're pretty toxic. When I was first learning about this, and the way I talk about it is, below the Mason … Most people have not heard of fusarium, they have not heard of Trichophytons, but a lot of people have heard of Aspirgillus, which is a fungus that produces aflatoxins, which is not a terpene as far as I know. I'm pretty sure it's not a terpene, I'll have to double-check on it. But anyway, below the Mason-Dixon line, Aspirgillus will grow on peanuts. It's one of the most known and potent carcinogens known to man. At least again, this is … I'm citing my thesis in 10 plus years of education.

Matt Baum:
Well, you're the guest, so yeah, blow your own horn, it's fine.

Susan Trapp:
Well I'm blowing my own horn, but I kind of left the terpene field after graduate school and then I came back, and so there's a bit of a gap that I'm trying to catch up on.

Matt Baum:
Oh, got you.

Susan Trapp:
But the bottom line is I was interested in that. I mean, the short story would be I was interested in natural medicine and this guy was doing natural product medicine. And he actually had a genomics or a DNA project, and that's why I ended up working with him on terpene. So he was an expert on these fungal terpenoids, and a group of scientists out of Brazil contacted him because they had cows that were eating this plant, a different plant, it was called Baccharis megapotamica, and that plant was causing what they call mycotoxicosis. And so for those readers it's like plug your ears right now if you don't want to hear what's next.

Matt Baum:
No, let's get gross. Let's do it.

Susan Trapp:
It is really gross, I have a picture from my PhD thesis, right, where you can just see the cow that has ingested this, they've just got blood coming out of all of their [inaudible 00:36:34]

Matt Baum:
So it's just like cellular, there's like falling apart basically?

Susan Trapp:
It's bad. Yeah.

Matt Baum:
Oh God.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. And so he came up with this … He used to come up with cool, grandiose hypotheses, that's what I loved about him, and that's Bruce Jarvis, and he's a genuine terpene expert. He's been studying terpene, terpenoids for 50 years. So it's an old field as well, right? It's not even a new field. But anyway, so he wanted to prove that these genes, because at that time he thought they didn't think that these particular type of compounds, these trichophyton like compounds, so a specific type of terpene, they shouldn't have been in plants, they were only fungal, and so he was like, horizontal-

Matt Baum:
Okay. He was looking at it and saying, it doesn't make sense where the cows would get this because this shouldn't be in the plant, therefore there has to be a fungus involved that is making this.

Susan Trapp:
… Right, or that somehow the genes for those … There's such a thing as horizontal gene transfer where the genes have jumped-

Matt Baum:
From the fungus-

Susan Trapp:
… from the fungus-

Matt Baum:
… to the plant

Susan Trapp:
… to the plant.

Matt Baum:
That's terrifying.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. And that happens. And there weren't that many cases of that way back when, but there's plenty of them now because now we've sequenced the human genome, you can actually study DNA and the sequences and really get into the nitty-gritty of where those genes come from, kind of even like COVID-19. Right?

Matt Baum:
Sure. Absolutely.

Susan Trapp:
Like they've been studying like was it manmade or not? Genomicists and molecular biologists are very clever and they can do a good job of at least surmising with a lot of sound science, but probably that's not the case, at least-

Matt Baum:
So it sounds to me like you are a hardcore nerd that loves to learn cool stuff. And the terpene-

Susan Trapp:
… I love molecular biology, and I love …. I fell in love with DNA when I was an undergrad and so in a way I found the perfect project in grad school because I was interested in natural medicine. Anti-medical doctor because my parents were doctors I was just anti like, "I'm not going to take drugs, I'm going to get it off myself."

Matt Baum:
… My dad was a salesman, that's why I'm in web hosting, you know?

Susan Trapp:
Yeah, right. But I had already been inundated with … I mean I got to work for, and I am tooting my own horn, when I was wee, young lass I worked for guy named Dr. Craig Venter, who's quite famous now. He's famous for having sequenced the human genome. He started a number of-

Matt Baum:
That's something.

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah, he started a number of companies, the Synthetic Genomics or Synthetic … I think, yeah, Synthetic Genomes. I think that's what they're called, I have to go look them up. He's is in San Diego, but he started a number of companies and so … Right. I got to work on the Human Genome Project, I got to learn how to sequence early on. The generation before me when you actually tried to sequence DNA to understand each nucleotide in the DNA, they had to use radioactivity and it was very laborious. Yeah. And so I was like that first generation that you've got to just put it on a machine and fluorescently label the DNA, blah blah blah-

Matt Baum:
Yeah, and you see the line-

Susan Trapp:
… you get this output. Right.

Matt Baum:
… and you line the black lines up and everything, and yeah. Okay, so let me ask you-

Susan Trapp:
Yeah, so as you know, I couldn't let that go.

Matt Baum:
… to sum up because we've … Whoa, this has been crazy. But to sum up, if you were to pick one thing, what do you think is the coolest thing about terpenes?

Susan Trapp:
Wow, what a great question. This is good practice, so that part I guess you get to cut out.

Matt Baum:
Yeah, it's going to come up., someone's going to ask you this.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. No, great question. I guess the coolest thing about them is that they really are in a way your medicine cabinet, and I think that's why they're getting so much play in the cannabis industry. Like I've studied them for a long time, but when I got into the cannabis industry and I started to educate other people and try to explain it just like I'm trying to explain it to you to make these connections on terpenes, and how they're part of nature, and they're this huge, large class, which is pretty cool and they've been around forever. Right?

Susan Trapp:
And they're important in the perfume industry, and the cosmetic industry, and the commercial industry of cleaners and toothpaste, peppermint, spearmint, camphor, whatever, but they are this incredible cabinet of medicine, and they're at our fingertips.

Susan Trapp and Terpedia

Matt Baum:
Susan, you have been amazing and you have completely blown my mind.

Susan Trapp:
I have a website that's actually starting to look like a real website called terpedia.com.

Matt Baum:
Oh yeah, okay. I wanted to ask you about that, tell me a little bit about terpedia.com.

Susan Trapp:
Terpedia, like I have a mission statement ready to-

Matt Baum:
Oh, hey. Nice.

Susan Trapp:
… We're starting to get real, right?

Matt Baum:
Getting real all of sudden.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah. Myself and my co-founder, what we envision is a world where cannabis enthusiasts, herbalists and research professionals no longer have to suffer the lack of professional curated terpene content. So terpedia enables viewers to benefit through valid sources, data and literature that facilitates sound science. So really what we're trying to do is develop a, it's not quite a knowledge base, but … So it's on its way to being an actually terpene knowledge base or essentially an encyclopedia of terpenes in the modern world, but-

Matt Baum:
And we can go there now, terpedia.com? We can go there now, there's a site there?

Susan Trapp:
… Yeah.

Matt Baum:
Awesome.

Susan Trapp:
We're building it, right? And so the idea behind it is that, so a lot of people in the cannabis industry, they know something about cannabinoids, they don't know that much about terpenes, and what we're really trying to do is deliver sound science and sound claims and appropriate dosing. Right? And so what we really want to do is actually … So kind of phase one is get that information out, and get the information that the medicinal benefits that exist, and there aren't that many.

Susan Trapp:
So terpenes have been around forever, but they've been used for commercial purposes. So one thing I didn't get to say is like, after turpentine was discovered they utilized like type of terpenes to coat the bottom of naval boats, right, so it's an ancient industry. And then you've got these really floral terpenes, cosmetic industry or whatnot. But we haven't really … And ancient medicine knows about them and uses them, right, but we really don't have that much medical scientific evidence on what they're doing and how they work-

Matt Baum:
That's what … Yeah.

Susan Trapp:
… but what I can assure you of is that they're being overused just kind of like we all got high off to 20% THC, right, so then we bumped it up to 30, so right now everybody's like, "Ah, let's throw in more terps." And my hypothesis that I try to get across at my talks is more terpenes aren't necessarily better.

Matt Baum:
Right. It's-

Susan Trapp:
Sometimes they are-

Matt Baum:
… probably the type-

Susan Trapp:
But usually they probably aren't.

Matt Baum:
… is more important than the amount, I would guess.

Susan Trapp:
Well, they're found traditionally in very tiny amounts, you don't need much to get that floral smell. You don't need that much to kill … A bark beetle is pretty small.

Matt Baum:
Right.

Susan Trapp:
Right? So it's producing a pheromone, you don't need much for that tree to respond.

Matt Baum:
Yeah, that's amazing.

Susan Trapp:
We probably don't either because we've all co-evolved together. But that kind of data is not out there yet, and so that's what we're trying to do is build like a knowledge base where people can come to us, and if they have a product or formulation, we will have the papers, we'll be able to find the science, we'll at least be able to help provide them potentially formulations that work for pain, arthritis, the basics, but on top of it, if they want to throw this and that in, we're going to have that sound science behind it, and we're building it.

Matt Baum:
This sounds awesome. This sounds so cool.

Susan Trapp:
Ah, thank you.

Matt Baum:
Susan, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for joining us on the Ministry of Hemp. Thank you for roping and riding on the wild West of the terpene frontier, right?

Susan Trapp:
Terpene. Say terpene.

Matt Baum:
Terpene. Oh my God.

Susan Trapp:
And then I want to hear you say terpenoid.

Matt Baum:
Terpenoid.

Susan Trapp:
There you go.

Matt Baum:
I'm going to put a rubber band around my wrist and I whip myself every time I say it wrong.

Susan Trapp:
Yeah.

Matt Baum:
Thank you so much, this has really been great.

Susan Trapp:
You're so welcome, I'm glad we finally got to do this. Thank you for-

Matt Baum:
You are so fun to talk to, by the way, I would love to go to one of your talks. I mean-

Susan Trapp:
… Really?

Matt Baum:
… you're a riot.

Susan Trapp:
All right.

Final thoughts from Matt

Matt Baum:
This is great. Yeah, seriously. Thanks again to Susan for coming on the show. I'm sorry if some of that seemed a little hectic, but it was my fault not so much hers. There was so much information that she was trying to impart and I wanted to know all of it, and I'm really excited for to see where terpedia.com goes. Of course, we will have a link to terpedia.com in the show notes for this episode.

Matt Baum:
That brings us to the end of another exciting episode of the Ministry of Hemp Podcast. My name is Matt Baum, I've been your host, thank you for listening. And if you feel passionate about hemp and hemp education, I urge you to become a Ministry of Hemp insider by going to patrion.com\ministryofhemp and donating to our cause. Anything you can donate makes you an insider, it gets you all kinds of benefits like podcast extras. We recently just posted one where I'm talking to Nick Warrender from Urb about how they come up with the names for their pre-rolled hemp flower joints.

Matt Baum:
You can hear that interview with Nick in episode 36. It's a fun little extra, but like I said, if you dig what we're doing here, we could use your help and it really does help, and any amount you give makes you a Ministry of Hemp insider. Please, check it out. And if you have hemp questions, hit us up, (402) 819-4894, leave us a message. And like I said earlier, Kit O'Connell, the Editor-in-Chief of Ministry of Hemp and myself will answer your questions on our Q&A shows that we do, and we've got one coming up really soon, I promise.

Matt Baum:
I know I've been promising that a lot, but it is coming. If you're too shy to call, email me, Matt, at Ministry of Hemp, shoot me your question and we'll read it and talk about it. You can follow Ministry of Hemp at \Ministry of Hemp or at MinistryofHemp on all of your favorite social media platforms if you need more. And by the way, speaking of Kit O'Connell, head to ministryofhemp.com right now and you can meet Kit, our Editor-in-Chief, in a video that we just posted there.

Matt Baum:
Kit is a fantastic writer and a badass hemp advocate. I'm proud to call him a friend and I'm happy to work with him. Check it out, it's a great video. Thanks again to everybody that has supported the show and donated and downloaded. It is your enthusiasm that keeps us spreading the good word and we ask that you do the same. Tell people about the show, tell people about the site. Let's spread the good word of hemp and change the world, people, but for now, I got to get out of here. And I like to end the show by saying, remember to take care of yourself, take care of others, and make good decisions, will you? This is Matt Baum quarantined in Omaha, Nebraska, with the Ministry of Hemp, signing off.


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