Here’s a quick quiz question for you – what do soothing lavender, fragrant rose, and pungent cannabis all have in common?
Yes, they are all plants. But the answer we are looking for is “they all contain linalool”. This is one of a large group of different compounds called terpenes, which are responsible for giving many plants their taste and aroma.
The cannabis plant is packed full of these aromatic compounds. It is why it has such a strong and distinctive smell.
You may have noticed that each different strain of cannabis has its own unique scent and taste. That’s down to the varying amounts of terpenes present in each strain.
There’s been plenty of research into cannabinoids like THC and CBD. But it is only recently that we’ve begun to understand more about the role of terpenes and their potential benefits for our physical health and mental wellbeing.
WHAT ARE TERPENES?
There are hundreds of different terpenes, also known as terps. They are natural compounds produced by aromatic plants, including cannabis. Herbs, spice plants, and fruits all contain terpenes in abundance.
Terpenes have two main uses for the plant. One is to deter predators. Some plants produce a stinky smell to warn insects or other creatures that they don’t taste good. Another is to attract pollinators to fertilize the flowers and help the plant produce seeds.
All sorts of different plants produce terpenes. They are responsible for the citrus smell of lemons and oranges, the cooling scent of mint, and the soothing fragrance of chamomile, among many others.
Cannabis is a bit special though. It contains an unusually high concentration of terpenes. And it also has a wide range of different types. The exact combination varies depending on the stain.
WHAT ARE TERPENES USED FOR?
Terpenes are found in the essential oils of plants, so one of their traditional uses has been aromatherapy. Inhaling these small molecules or applying them topically to your skin is thought to bring many health benefits.
Terpenes are also a common ingredient in scented products like perfumes, candles, and personal care products. They are sometimes even used to flavor food.
For cannabis users, different terpenes are thought to affect the type of high you get from each strain. The jury is still out on whether this is the case or not, but plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to suggest it does.
TERPENES IN CANNABIS
There are hundreds of different terpenes and most of them can be found in one strain of cannabis or another.
Not all terpenes have been studied in much depth yet. But some of the common terpenes found in cannabis include:
- Alpha-pinene: Also found in pine trees and rosemary, alpha-pinene is thought to boost mental alertness and energy levels. Studies have shown that it has anti-inflammatory properties and it also acts as an antimicrobial.
- Limonene: The rind of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons are rich in limonene, as are many strains of cannabis. It has a powerful anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial effect and is even being researched as a potential anti-cancer drug. In aromatherapy, it is prized as a stress-reliever.
- Beta-caryophyllene: A terpene found in cloves, rosemary, and black pepper, beta-caryophyllene has a woody, spicy scent. It is traditionally used in treatments for inflammatory diseases, including arthritis and cardiovascular disease. It is also thought to have pain-relieving properties.
- Terpinolene: Found in tea tree, lilac, sage, and rosemary, terpinolene has antibacterial properties and can also have a sedative effect. It is a favorite for those who have trouble sleeping.
- Myrcene: Mango, hops, and lemongrass are all sources of myrcene, which is also one of the most common terpenes found in cannabis. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to relieve pain, promote relaxation, and improve sleep.
- Linalool: You might remember linalool from our quiz question at the start of this article. It is best known as the terpene responsible for the soothing effects of lavender. But it is also found in many herbs and spices, including basil, rose, coriander, and frankincense. Linalool is thought to have a calming effect and may have potential as a treatment for epilepsy.
- Alpha-Bisabolol: Produced naturally by camomile, this terpene is popular in skincare for its healing and soothing properties. It is an anti-inflammatory and is traditionally used to reduce stress and promote a sense of calm.
Unless you have access to your own lab, you’re unlikely to be able to find out the exact breakdown of the terpenes in your weed. They can vary between individual plants, as well as between different strains.
But you can make a guess depending on the dominant flavors. Piney tasting strains, like Ice Cream, are likely to contain a higher amount of alpha-pinene, helping you to relax without sending you straight to bed.
Meanwhile, lemony flavored strains, such as Triangle Kush will probably have plenty of limonene, making them good for stress-relief.
THE ENTOURAGE EFFECT
As you probably know, one of the amazing properties of cannabis is that it naturally contains compounds called cannabinoids, which have beneficial effects on our bodies’ endocannabinoid systems.
THC and its non-intoxicating cousin, CBD, are the best-known cannabinoids. But there are over a hundred others present in cannabis. Their ability to interact with our natural endocannabinoid systems means they have many potential benefits for both our physical and our mental health.
Terpenes are less talked about than cannabinoids. But we’ve already seen that they have many positive uses.
Best of all, it seems that terpenes and cannabinoids work most effectively when they are found together, as they are in cannabis. This is known as the entourage effect.
Essentially, the entourage effect means that cannabis works best to boost our wellbeing when we use the whole plant, rather than one compound from it. CBD isolates, which contain only the refined CBD, are therefore less effective than full-spectrum oils that contain compounds from the whole plant.
And good quality medical marijuana will contain a range of terpenes, CBD, and THC, as well as other cannabinoids. Meaning you should get the full advantage of the entourage effect, with these beneficial compounds all working together.
Terpenes are amazing little molecules that do a lot more than give cannabis its pungent smell.
As more research is done into the potential benefits of these aromatic compounds, we are learning more and more about the positive effects they can have on our health and mood.
Together with cannabinoids, terpenes give medical marijuana its powerful wellness-boosting properties. And connoisseurs also love them for the way they produce variations in flavor and quality of high.
https://cen.acs.org/biological-chemistry/natural-products/Cannabis-industry-crafty-terpenes/97/i29, consulted 05/03/2021Noriega, P. (2020). Terpenes in Essential Oils: Bioactivity and Applications. In Terpenes and Terpenoids. IntechOpen.
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-are-terpenes, consulted 05/03/2021
Sowndhararajan, K., & Kim, S. (2016). Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity: With Special Reference to Human Electroencephalographic Response. Scientia pharmaceutica, 84(4), 724–751. https://doi.org/10.3390/scipharm84040724
Cash, B. D., Epstein, M. S., & Shah, S. M. (2016). A Novel Delivery System of Peppermint Oil Is an Effective Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms. Digestive diseases and sciences, 61(2), 560–571. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-015-3858-7
Ferber, S. G., Namdar, D., Hen-Shoval, D., Eger, G., Koltai, H., Shoval, G., Shbiro, L., & Weller, A. (2020). The “Entourage Effect”: Terpenes Coupled with Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Mood Disorders and Anxiety Disorders. Current neuropharmacology, 18(2), 87–96. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X17666190903103923
Salehi, B., Upadhyay, S., Erdogan Orhan, I., Kumar Jugran, A., L D Jayaweera, S., A Dias, D., Sharopov, F., Taheri, Y., Martins, N., Baghalpour, N., Cho, W. C., & Sharifi-Rad, J. (2019). Therapeutic Potential of α- and β-Pinene: A Miracle Gift of Nature. Biomolecules, 9(11), 738. https://doi.org/10.3390/biom9110738
Dahham, S. S., Tabana, Y. M., Iqbal, M. A., Ahamed, M. B., Ezzat, M. O., Majid, A. S., & Majid, A. M. (2015). The Anticancer, Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Properties of the Sesquiterpene β-Caryophyllene from the Essential Oil of Aquilaria crassna. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 20(7), 11808–11829. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules200711808
Akdemir Evrendilek G. (2015). Empirical prediction and validation of antibacterial inhibitory effects of various plant essential oils on common pathogenic bacteria. International journal of food microbiology, 202, 35–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2015.02.030
Ito, K., & Ito, M. (2013). The sedative effect of inhaled terpinolene in mice and its structure-activity relationships. Journal of natural medicines, 67(4), 833–837. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11418-012-0732-1
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/myrcene, consulted 05/03/2021
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/linalool, consulted 05/03/2021
https://www.honest.com/blog/wellness/ingredients/what-is-bisabolol/16459.html, consulted 05/03/2021