Cannabis is rich in terpenes. In fact, scientists researching the chemical structure of the plant have identified over 150 different types. But what are terpenes? And why should you care?

terpenes

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes (pronounced TUR-PEENS) are organic compounds that give cannabis varieties their distinct scents; such as pine, citrus, or berry. Just like cannabinoids (THC and CBD), terpenes are found in the resin of cannabis, a sticky oil produced by tiny glands that densely cover the surface of cannabis flowers, and to a lesser extent, their foliage. This why terpenes are often described as essential or aromatic oils.

 Although “terpenes” has become a buzzword amongst cannabis consumers, these organic compounds are not unique to cannabis. In fact, basically all fragrant plants and flowers, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices contain some combination of terpenes. They develop terpenes as a survival mechanism to repel predators and lure pollinators. 

If you’ve been using medical marijuana on a regular basis, you’ve probably noticed that each strain has its own unique scent. This is because the combination of terpenes in each plant varies according to an array of factors during the growth phase such as the climate, weather, soil, and fertilizer. 

Hemp Healthy Terpenes

What’s the Difference Between Terpenes and Terpenoids?

You may have heard the words “terpene” and “terpenoid” used interchangeably. Both compounds are related; however, there are some key differences. 

Terpenesare volatile hydrocarbons present in the essential oil (resin) of cannabis. The term “volatile” means that these compounds easily evaporate at room temperature, releasing an aroma. Terpenoids, on the other hand, are derivatives of terpenes that have an additional atom due to the process of drying and curing of the cannabis plant. 

Cannabis contains both terpenes and terpenoids, although terpenes are the primary component found in resin and are of greatest interest to humans. 


What are Terpenes Used For?

Humans have been using terpenes to naturally flavor foods, perfumes, and cosmetics for centuries, and in more recent years, synthetic terpenes have even been created as food additives. 

We have also been reaping the rewards of their therapeutic properties. Have you ever noticed the soothing effect of lavender? Or the energizing sensation of citrus scents? Each terpene has its own unique effect. Some relieve stress and pain, while others promote focus and acuity. But what about the terpenes in cannabis?


Therapeutic Properties of Cannabis Terpenes

The terpenes found in cannabis, in particular, the cannabis flower, have displayed many therapeutic properties. 

Myrcene

Myrcene is the most prevalent terpene in cannabis, and one of the most powerful. Also found in lemongrass, mangos, and basil, it has an earthy aroma with hints of cardamom and cloves. Myrcene, in particular, β-myrcene, is believed to increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, enabling cannabinoids to diffuse across the barrier into the central nervous system easily. This is why, strains with a predominance of myrcene are shown to enhance the analgesic and sedative effects of cannabis, and offer potential medical value for chronic pain and insomnia. [1]

Linalool

Also found in lavender and cinnamon, linalool is perhaps the most recognizable terpene in cannabis. Its soothing floral fragrance is shown to have anti-anxiety and analgesic effects, helping to relieve insomnia and counteract anxiety by calming and relaxing the mind and body. [2]In addition to its calming effect, linalool has potent anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation within the lungs caused by cigarette smoking, as well as reduce lung irritation associated with inhaling cannabis. [3]

Limonene

Limonene, as you might have guessed, is found in lemons and has an uplifting citrus aroma that elevates mood and provides stress relief. [4]This powerful terpene has also shown potential as a natural treatment for acne due to its anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. [5]Most recently, limonene is being investigated for its immunomodulatory properties, including potential anti-tumor effects. [6]

Pinene

Pinene has an invigorating woody pine scent, which is shown to reduce inflammation associated with conditions like asthma, chronic pain, and stomach ulcers. Several studies have indicated that alpha-pinene (α-pinene) significantly reduces proinflammatory cytokines, including TNF-α,  interleukin-6, and nitric oxide. It’s also shown to inhibit cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), the same enzyme that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, act on to reduce pain and inflammation. [7]

Caryophyllene

Also found in black pepper, the terpene beta-caryophyllene (β-caryophyllene) is a strong anti-inflammatory shown to act on CB1 receptors. It was once a common treatment for stomach ulcers in the United Kingdom and has shown great promise as a treatment for other inflammatory conditions, such as contact dermatitis. [8]


The Entourage Effect

While cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, are primarily responsible for the therapeutic and psychoactive effects of cannabis, terpenes also play an important role. Cannabinoids and terpenes actually work together to produce complementary or synergistic results in what is known as the “Entourage Effect.”

Terpenes not only provide their own medicinal value, as shown above, but these aromatic oils also mediate the effects of cannabinoids. For example, the floral fragrance of linalool works in harmony with THC to protect against the anxiety that can be experienced with cannabis. In another example, the uplifting aroma of pinene counteracts the negative effects of THC on memory and cognition by increasing alertness and mental clarity. 

Although more research is needed, studies show that terpenes also work together to enhance one another's effects. For example, both pinene and limonene assist with the absorption of other terpenes, ultimately enhancing their potential medicinal value. Due to the complementary properties of cannabinoids and terpenes, scientists are currently investigating the most effective combination in the treatment for a variety of conditions. 

A combination of CBD (the most therapeutic cannabinoid), Myrcene (a natural sedative) and Caryophyllene (a natural pain reliever) are proving to be a safe and effective natural sleep therapy. While a blend of CBD with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial terpenes, like Limonene, Linalool, and Pinene is showing great promise as an acne treatment.  [9]


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