What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes (often called terps) are diverse chemical molecules found in a variety of plants, from flowers to cannabis and hops, that produce distinct scents and cellular responses that act as aromatic messages. These “fragrance messages” are how plants communicate with each other and potential predators, as well as our noses. The existence of terpenes can be credited to that of ancient botanical medicine. While the science is still catching up, there’s quite a bit of anecdotal evidence from success stories to ancient tales that have been passed down from generations.
Common Terpenes & Their Uses
- • Limonene (possessing a lemony scent), that’s known to help with anxiety and depression
• Pinene (possessing a piney scent), that’s known to help alleviate pain, asthma, ulcers and anxiety
• Linalool (possessing a lavender scent), that’s known to promote pain relief and relaxation
• Myrcene (possessing an earthy scent), that’s known to help aid insomnia and inflammation
• Humulene (possessing a woody scent), that’s known to possess anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and appetite suppressant properties
• Caryophyllene (possessing an spicy-earthy scent), that’s known to help with inflammatory pain and ulcers
• Ocimene (possessing a sweet-earthy scent), that’s known to aid with inflammation
• Terpinolene (herbally scented), that’s known to possess antioxidant, sedative and antibacterial properties
• Several others that your nose has likely come across in common perfumes and colognes
The true reason that various cannabis strains affect you differently are due to the present cannabinoids and terpenes in each strain. Although this information is becoming more prevalent, science has only recently caught up with cannabis research and development, so the culture still finds it easier to classify strains into the categories of indica-dominant, sativa-dominant and hybrid based on the strains’ terpene and cannabinoid profile. To go above the norm, start looking for terpene and cannabinoid testing levels on cannabis flower, concentrates and other products.
Medicinal Benefits of Terpenes
Humans have been consuming naturally-occurring terpenes found in plants and fruits for hundreds of years (over 200 species of plants produce linalool). Only more recently has science verified terpenes’ powerful capabilities in regards to plant medicine. A 2018 study out of the University of Eastern Finland that examined present terpenes in cannabis and hops found that “terpenes’ medicinal properties are supported by numerous in vitro, animal and clinical trials and show anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, anticonvulsive, antidepressant, anxiolytic, anticancer, antitumor, neuroprotective, anti-mutagenic, anti-allergic, antibiotic and anti-diabetic attributes, among others.” Because of terpenes’ low toxicity, they’re already being used as food and beauty additives.
Another study of the terpene Caryophyllene showed that oral ingestion of beta-caryophyllene (BCP) “reduced inflammatory (late phase) pain responses… and reduced spinal neuroinflammation. Importantly, we found no signs of tolerance to the anti-hyperalgesic effects of BCP after prolonged treatment.” These results have important implications for the use of plant medicine in the treatment of long lasting, debilitating pain states.
The Entourage Effect
The Entourage Effect is the theory that cannabis has a more profound impact on your body if all the components work together in harmony. More basically, every time you strip the plant in extraction, you will lose some of the medicinal benefits. Cannabinoids are other chemical molecules found inside cannabis. When cannabis is consumed, the cannabinoids interact with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS), which consists of a network of cannabinoid receptors throughout the body.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active ingredient and cannabinoid of cannabis, is the cannabinoid people tend to regard the most. Though THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis, it can’t work its true magic without the entourage effect of all the other cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant working together. CBD (cannabidiol) is another popular cannabinoid found in cannabis that does not produce psychoactive effects. Recent studies have found that CBD may relieve pain, lower inflammation, decrease anxiety and more. Other cannabinoids such as CBN and CBDV show promise in possessing medical benefits, as well, not to mention more cannabinoids are being studied and discovered everyday.
A 2019 study that studied over 33 different chemovars of cannabis found varying levels of terpenes in THC-dominant and other cannabinoid-dominant strains. More specifically, “Nine terpenes were present in tetrahydrocannabinol-dominant chemovars,” with only “three monoterpenes and four sesquiterpenes were predominantly found in cannabidiol-containing chemovars.” Although additional research is needed to understand the phytochemical complexity, “these data demonstrate the synergy of compounds in Cannabis chemovars.”
Using Terpenes to Guide Cannabis Selection
You’re probably thinking: All this information is great, but how does it affect my buying decisions? You’re smart. This information should be in the back of your mind everytime you purchase cannabis. Purchasing flower? Ask about the most recent lab tests for the flower you’re interested in, it should list cannabinoid percentage found in the flower as well as specific terpenes and their testing levels.
More basically, follow our terpene list guide above to pinpoint the relief you need more. Strains are often named for their smell or effects, which can give you hints about their effects and terpene profile. Having trouble with managing your anxiety? Maybe a limonene-dominant strain like Lemon Drop might be good for you. Need help falling asleep and staying asleep? Look for strains possessing the terpenes myrcene, linalool or terpinolene, such as White Fire OG or Blue Dream.
Popular strains and their dominant terpenes:
- • Blue Dream (Myrcene)
- • Sour Diesel (Myrcene, Limonene and Caryophyllene)
- • Fire OG (Linalool)
- • Hindu Kush (Caryophyllene)
- • Strawberry Cough (Pinene)
- • Girl Scout Cookies (Humulene)
So Now You Know What Terpenes Are
You’ve been consuming terpenes all your life without knowing it, but now you can actually understand these little molecules and how they can help you with daily stress management, sleep patterns, anxiety, focus and much more. Plant medicine, especially cannabis, possesses incredible abilities in terms of healing that humans are just discovering. For now, just follow your nose when looking for a cannabis strain you’ll enjoy.
Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences, University of Eastern Finland (UEF), Finland; Department of Physics and Mathematics, UEF, Finland. Electronic address: firstname.lastname@example.org. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30096653
Sangita Kumari, Sachin Pundhir, Piyush Priya, Ganga Jeena, Ankita Punetha, Konika Chawla, Zohra Firdos Jafaree, Subhasish Mondal, Gitanjali Yadav, EssOilDB: a database of essential oils reflecting terpene composition and variability in the plant kingdom, Database, Volume 2014, 2014, bau120, https://doi.org/10.1093/database/bau120