Learn more about the medicinal and health-promoting properties of terpenes, a compound found in all plants, and learn more about why terpenes matter when it comes to cannabis consumption.
Why Do Terpenes Matter in Cannabis?
The beautiful yet distinctive aroma of cannabis, combined with its individually unique effect on the human body, is what makes this plant so incredible.
Whether it be the fruity, Indica-dominant strain of Tangerine Dream, or the strong lemon aroma with energizing benefits from Sativa-dominant Sour Haze, each cannabis strain has specific aromas and effects.
But what is in the cannabis plant that differentiates each strain?
The answer is terpenes.
Terpenes are aromatic oils found within the trichomes that give the cannabis plant it’s distinctive taste and smell. Along with cannabinoids, terpenes are responsible for various physiological effects on the human body (1).
With over 10,000 documented different types of terpenes identified, and predominantly 10-30 different types present in any given cannabis plant, there are endless various strain varieties.
Common smells from different terpenes include flavors like citrus, berry, mint, and pine. The effects from different terpenes range from euphoric to energized, to creative and focused, and of course, relaxed.
Although some differences may be subtle, terpenes can add great depth to the therapeutic value of cannabis, the unique medicinal properties, and psychoactive effects.
In this article we will explore terpenes further:
- What Are Terpenes?
- The Common Terpenes Found in Cannabis: Beta-caryophyllene, Limonene, Pinene, Linalool, Myrcene, Terpinolene, Humulene
- Terpenes, Cannabinoids and Herbal Synergy
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes, also known as terpenoids, are molecules that are found in the flowers, bark, seeds, leaves, stems, and roots of all herbs, spices, fruits, and vegetables.
Unlike cannabinoids, these compounds are found within other species of the plant kingdom and very common and widely distributed among all plant species (2).
Terpenes are directly responsible for the very strong, distinct smell associated with cannabis, the aroma of freshly picked tomato, and the floral scent of a bouquet of fresh flowers.
They are responsible for many different fragrances, including perfume, and are commonly known in aromatherapy. Terpenes derived from plants other than cannabis are recognized by the FDA as a food additive and are classified as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) (3).
These volatile organic compounds, or aromatic essential oils, determine the smell and the taste of any given plant material.
Beyond taste and smell, there is an incredible amount of science behind what terpenes are, the health benefits of terpenes, and how we can use them to improve our health and wellness.
Different strains, or chemotypes, of cannabis, each have a distinctive composition and concentrations of terpenes. This is responsible for the differences in both the medicinal and intoxicating effects of various strains.
Like cannabinoids, terpenes contribute to the beneficial full-spectrum effect of cannabis, also known as The Entourage Effect.
Terpenes have their own medicinal properties, including powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity (1). Each individual terpene has its own method of action and associated effects.
Individually, they all possess a variety of activities that modulate the activities of cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
Common Terpenes Found in Cannabis
The cannabis plant contains a wide variety of terpenes with the actual composition varying from strain to strain. These compounds interact with multiple physiological systems in the body, exerting a variety of effects.
The most common terpenes found in cannabis:
Myrcene, also known as beta-myrcene, is a monoterpene and the most abundant terpene found in cannabis (5).
Myrcene inhibits PGE-2 synthesis and produces analgesic effects as a result of potential activity at the alpha-2 adrenoreceptors (6).
Along with being a pain reliever, myrcene also has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, analgesic, and sedative effects. Myrcene has been used as a muscle relaxant, working as a sedative to soothe muscle spasms, and may even induce liver detoxification enzymes.
While most abundant in cannabis, myrcene is also found in hops, lemongrass, basil, mangoes, and thyme.
Cannabis and thyme both have strong antibacterial and antioxidant properties, as well as the ability to affect digestive motility.
Beta-caryophyllene, classified as a sesquiterpene, is the most abundant sesquiterpene found in cannabis. This terpene acts as an agonist of CB2 receptors within the endocannabinoid system.
B-caryophyllene displays CBR2 agonist downstream effects which contribute to it’s neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-malarial, and anti-cancer properties (7).
Along with cannabis, the beta-caryophyllene terpene is also found in cardamom, black pepper, cloves, oregano, rosemary, and carrot seed.
Carrot seed improves skin tone and elasticity and is used to treat precancerous skin conditions. The combination of cannabis and carrot seed could prove beneficial in not only preventing and treating skin cancer but can reduce scarring and skin tone after melanoma removals.
Limonene, classified as a monoterpene, is a highly bioavailable terpene that is found in citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and grapefruits along with other fruits like pineapple and apricots.
Limonene is an immunostimulant that has been studied for its anti-cancer, anti-microbial, anti-depressant, anti-anxiolytic, and powerful antioxidant properties (8).
Not only could citrus oils’ antispasmodic properties potentially strengthen those of cannabis and increase the treatment against painful intestinal conditions, but it has also been reported in traditional herbal medicine that limonene is an anecdote against cannabis intoxication.
Linalool is a familiar terpene most commonly associated with the relaxing, soothing smell of lavender.
Also found in holy basil and cilantro, this terpene has been studied for its anti-depressant, analgesic, anti-convulsant, anti-anxiolytic, anti-tumor, and anti-fungal properties (9).
Linalool has a significant effect on the autonomic nervous system, can act as a local anesthetic is a primary example of essential oil being used to relieve anxiety and help sleep.
Using other botanicals, like lavender, in conjunction with cannabis to achieve a specific effect is referred to as herbal synergy. Terpenoids in cannabis and other plants offer herbal therapeutic synergy.
The calming and sedative effects of lavender may be beneficial in aiding CBD to reduce the intoxicating effects of THC. With further research, lavender essential oil may prove to have an effect on CB2 receptors in the skin.
Both alpha-pinene and beta-pinene are monoterpenes most commonly found in pine needles.
Pinene is highly bioavailable with pulmonary uptake and helps to inhibit PGE-1 synthesis and works as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, aiding in memory.
Additionally, pinene works as an analgesic to relieve pain, an anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antibacterial, bronchodilator, and neuroprotective (10).
Along with cannabis, pinene is commonly found in conifers like pine and hemlock trees.
The analgesic properties of both pine and cannabis can be combined for both intestinal pain and arthritic pains.
Cannabis Plant Synergy
The Entourage Effect, an interaction between phytocannabinoids and terpenes, is a new field of research that is being pioneered by Ethan Russo, renowned neuroscientist and cannabis researcher.
We can speculate what we think may occur with the interaction of phytocannabinoids and terpenes, but until we have a better understanding of phytocannabinoids and our endocannabinoid system, we are still only beginning to grasp the healing potential of adding cannabis to aromatherapy.
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