Historically, terpenes have been a major constituent in most essential oils. The term ‘essential oil’ is a shortened version of quintessential oil. Aristotle believed that all matter was made of four elements: air, earth, fire, and water. There was thought to be a fifth element (quintus is Latin for five), called the life-force or Spirit of the Matter; and it was believed that this spirit could be extracted through means like distillation & introduced back into the body to create health and longevity. Interestingly, this is where we get the term “spirits” for distilled alcohols.
These days, however, the word terpene is seemingly on everyone’s mind because of the ever expanding cannabis based health products industry.
In addition to the more prominent cannabinoids, THC & CBD, the Cannabis plant (which includes industrial hemp varieties) contains several hundred compounds, including various flavonoids, numerous minor cannabinoids and aromatic terpenes. Each of these phyto-nutrient compounds have specific healing attributes which continue to amaze researchers in terms of their remarkable ability to eliminate disease and improve health.
When cannabis terpenes are used in a combination that nature intended they create what scientists refer to as a synergistic Entourage Effect–whereby the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its individual molecular parts.
What Are Cannabis Terpenes?
Plant terpenes are a natural component of cannabis that gives the plant it’s potent fragrance & identifiable aroma. Cannabis varieties have a complex scent and flavor because of terpenes, with richly recognizable smells such as citrus, pine, lavender and mint.
In the simplest terms, terpenes are fragrant, volatile aromatic chemicals that are produced by the flower’s resin glands. These sticky glands secrete the organic compounds in the form of an oil. Also secreted in the resin glands are the two main cannabinoids that produce medical and euphoric effects – cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
If you want to get more technical, terpenes are a class of organic compounds known as ‘aromatic hydrocarbons’, many of which have been found to produce a complex interaction between other terpenes present in the plant and cannabinoids like CBD and THC to produce synergistic-effects.
As of now, over 200 terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant; each cannabis strain has a unique terpene profile. Terpenes are a major component of cannabis resin and are secreted in trichomes, which are tiny hairs that produce oil secretions. These same plant glands also produce cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
There are four distinct types of plant hairs known as trichomes. The Bulbous Trichome is a bubble, egg-shaped resin gland that clings to the surface of the leaves and contains only scented terpenes.
As you can see in the image above, there is also a Crystolith Trichome, which basically looks like a hair with a long, pointed tip. These trichomes appear primarily on the underside of leaves and their main purpose is to protect the plant from being eaten by insects and spider mites. They also contain no THC.
The third trichome is called a sessile stalked Capitate Trichome. It is several times larger than the bulbous glandual trichome, but is still very small. It begins to develop in the plant’s vegetative stage and stays very close to the plant’s surface. It contains very low levels of terpenes and THC.
Stalked Capitate Glandular Trichomes, the fourth type — are made up of a stalk or clear column with a resin head. They form on buds and smaller surrounding leaves. The resin head on top is psychoactive–this is the one that produces Delta 9 THC.
With respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, cancer, and bacterial infections, these savory compounds work in harmony to produce a profound naturally healing effect.
What Are The Medicinal Benefits of Terpenes?
For the longest time terpenes were thought to only be responsible for the aroma and distinctive smell of certain cannabis strains; but now it is more clearly understood that terpenes are a major component producing medicinal benefits of essential oils.
Thus far, researched has isolated and classified more than 200 terpenes in cannabis and each one of them comes with a unique taste and smell, including distinctive medicinal properties for specific conditions like muscle tension, asthma, depression, gallstones, pain or stress.
Rest assured, there is a suitable terpene to address any number of clinical symptoms and medical conditions.
In clinical aromatherapy, terpenes are used to regulate mood, manage sleep disorders, improve mental acuity and enhance overall health. For example, the essential oil from lavender is calming and relaxing, while rosemary essential oil increases concentration and produces a feeling of well being. The possibility to produce essential cannabis oil for use in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, candles and also as a flavoring agent in cooking, for candies and beverages shows just how diverse & versatile terpenes can be in everyday use.
Terpenes are also responsible for the different ways cannabis (and CBD-rich hemp) can affect the physical body and mental behavior. Some terpenes can even enhance the effects of complimentary cannabinoids by making their action stronger or longer lasting.
The wide array of medicinal properties of terpenes and the fact that each possesses multiple medical advantages gives rise to the overlapping synergies between them. Different strains of cannabis contain different amounts of the various terpenes (including cannabinoids).
As a result, different diseases and disorders are more effectively treated by some strains with higher concentrations of certain terpenes than others. The strategy of deliberately using different terpenes for their overlapping benefits greatly increases the chances of good results in treatment and symptom relief.
Why Do Plants Produce Terpenes?
Terpenes are by no means exclusive to the cannabis plant; they can be found in other herbs, fruits, and plants as well. Similar to other plants, terpenes in cannabis are produced to attract pollinators, repel predators and protect the plant from external environmental stressors. Terpenes can have strong aromas meant to deter the plants from insects and herbivores. Plant “scents” can also attract the predators of the herbivores that eat the plant thereby indirectly providing a self-protective measure that ensures it’s continued survival.
Hemp Derived Terpenes
The smell of a particular cannabis strain is like a fingerprint, revealing a complex set of compounds that contribute to its aroma and therapeutic effects. These hemp derived terpenes are classified as Primary and Secondary. Highlighted below are the most common types of primary terpenes commonly found in cannabis extracts & hemp plant tinctures:
List of Terpenes:
MYRCENE – Myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis plants. Myrcene concentration dictates whether a cannabis strain will have a Indica or Sativa effect. Strains containing over 0.5% myrcene produce a more “sedative” high while strains containing less than 0.5% have an “energizing” effect. Also found in mango, hops, bay leaves, eucalyptus, lemongrass and many other plants, it smells similar to cloves, with a herbal, balsamic, spicy aroma. It has an earthy undertones of red grape and musk.
Therapeutically, this terpene is most responsible for feelings of lethargy, sleep and apathy. Myrcene has chemical properties that lower resistance across the blood/brain barrier, allowing it and many other chemicals to cross the barrier more easily and quickly. Myrcene can work in synergy with other cannabinoids to reduce inflammatory response & as an anti-mutagenic (inhibits cancer cell growth and cell mutation). It also has antibiotic healing properties. Along with Linalool and CBD, it produces a calm, relaxation both mentally and physically.
Also found in: mangoes, hops, thyme, lemongrass.
LINALOOL – Linalool gives some cannabis strains a floral aroma, reminiscent of a bouquet of Spring flowers with spicy overtones. It’s best known for the pleasant floral odor it gives hundreds of different plants including lavender, citrus, cinnamon, laurel, birch, coriander and rosewood.
Linalool has been used for thousands of years as a calmative, tranquilizing sleep aid. It possesses sedative properties and is an effective anxiety, stress reliever. It’s also been used as an analgesic and anti-epileptic and is most often in cannabis strains that are helpful in coping with PTSD and anxiety. This terpene is favored by medical Cannabis users who want to overcome opioid addiction.
Also found in: lavender, coriander, birch, rosewood.
PINENE – As you may have guessed from the name, Pinene gives certain cannabis strains that fresh pine scent and flavor. Pinene is clear and colorless and accounts for cannabis’s familiar odor–often associated with pine trees and turpentine. Pinene is the most common naturally occurring terpenoid in nature and acts as both an anti-inflammatory & bronchodilator to help improve the airflow and respiratory functions.
Therapeutically, Pinene acts as a analgesic (pain relief), antibacterial, antibiotic and antioxidant to prevent oxidation damage to other molecules in the body. It also promotes ‘alertness’, counters short-term memory loss and acts as an anti-proliferation agent (inhibits cancer cell growth). Scientific studies show it to be a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Also found in : confer trees, orange peels & rosemary.
LIMONENE – Limonene is the second most prevalent terpene in cannabis but not all plants have it. Limoene has a ‘citrusy’ smell that resembles lemons. This is a dominant terpene in strains with a primarily relaxing effect. Limonene is a fresh smelling terpene that aids in the absorption of other terpenes through the skin and mucus membranes and has been used to treat anxiety and depression.
Therapeutically, Limonene has been discovered to be an effective anti-fungal and can also help with things like weight loss. Used in alternative medicine, Limonene has the ability to reduce heartburn and gastric acid reflux with very low toxicity. One study even announcing that limonene may play a role in reducing tumor size.
Also found in: citrus rinds, juniper, peppermint.
CARYOPHYLLENE – Renowned as the first-ever “dietary cannabinoid” for over a decade now, β-caryophyllene (BCP) may not be as well known as other cannabis terpenes–but you would know it if you tasted it. Born from a combination of iso- caryophyllene and α-humulene, it is known for giving strains their distinct peppery aroma. This peppery terpene has been investigated for its ability to treat neuropathic pain & inflammation.
Therapeutically, β–Caryophyllene is a common constituent of the essential oils of numerous spice and food plants and is the only known terpene that interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system to produce anti-inflammatory, analgesic effects by selectively binding to the CB2 receptor and is a functional CB2 agonist. Besides its analgesic and anxiolytic properties, some studies have found that caryophyllene has a very promising role in alcohol rehabilitation & even recommended caryophyllene for treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Also found in basil, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, oregano and rosemary.
HUMULENE – α-Humulene adds the “hoppy” aroma to cannabis and beer. Multiple varieties of humulene are used in brewing beer as it commonly occurs in the flowering hops plant.
Therapeutically, this terpene exhibits anti-inflammatory activity and is proved to be effective in suppressing appetite, which could make it a potential weight loss tool. Furthermore, like many other terpenes mentioned above, humulene also reduces inflammation, relieves pain and fights bacterial infections.
Also found in ginseng, sage, and sunflowers.
OCIMENE – Ocimene is frequently used in perfumes for it’s pleasant odor. In nature, this terpene contributes to a plant’s defenses and possess anti-fungal properties. Ocimene is also believed to be a protective agent or part of a plant’s defense mechanism against harmful elements. Pests like aphids, which can be highly detrimental to cannabis crops, steer clear of strains with this terpene the same way mosquitos stay away from citrus oils in certain varieties of geraniums. The aroma of Ocimene is herbaceous, floral and sweet.
Therapeutically, studies found supporting evidence that Ocimene containing oils have the potential to suppress the production of several different inflammatory substances emitted by the immune system. Ocimene was shown to have anti-oxidative properties as well as the ability to inhibit key enzymes connected to type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Also found in mint, pepper, basil and orchid flowers.
TERPINOLENE – Studies have shown Terpinolene to exhibit antioxidant and anticancer effects, making it a highly interesting terpene. Part of the reason Terpinolene shows up so often in commercial soaps and perfumes is that it’s described as having a “fresh” scent. Terpinolene has a piney, floral, herbaceous, and even a little citrusy scent.
Therapeutically, when inhaled, studies suggest this terpene has a calming, relaxing sedative effect. As an essential oil, Terpinolene may have antibacterial and antifungal qualities. It could also protect against heart disease by preventing atherogenesis.
Also found in Nutmeg, tea tree, cumin, apples and lilacs.
GERANIOL – As its name suggests, Geraniol (also known as lemonol) is most famous for its presence in geraniums, where it helps form the blossoms’ distinctive, delicate scent. It’s also present in roses. Geraniol emits a rosey scent that makes it a popular perfume additive. Geriniol, like Valencene, has been shown to be an effective plant-based mosquito repellent. Bees even produce it as a means of marking their hives and nectar-bearing flowers.
Therapeutically, Geraniol has shown a lot of potential as a neuroprotectant and antioxidant. Other potential medical benefits associated with this cannabis terpene include: antioxidant, anti-tumor, neuroprotectant, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-spasmodic.
Also found in rose grass, peaches, and plums.
TERPINEOL – Terpineol is most commonly found in cannabis plants that have high levels of a-Pinene. Subsequently, it can be hard to smell because the strong smell of pine can overwhelm the scent of terpineol. Terpineol is known for it’s pleasant floral smell, used in soaps and perfumes and it contributes to the distinctive, pine smoke-based aroma of lapsang souchong tea.
Therapeutically, it is known to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory effects with mild relaxing, sedative effects.
Also found in: lilacs, pine trees, lime blossoms, eucalyptus sap.
VALENCENE – Valencene gets its name from the place it’s most commonly found: Valencia oranges and gives cannabis it’s citrus aroma. Valencene is often used as a flavoring ingredient and aromatic additive. The fragrant terpene is responsible for familiar citrus aromas frequently found in a wide variety of cleaning products and air-fresheners. Some studies show that this terpene could have anti-inflammatory properties along with being a repellent of ticks and mosquitos.
SECONDARY FORMS OF CANNABIS TERPENES:
Hemp Terpenes: Reproducing Natures Bounty
The diversity and complexity offered by nature is impossible to reproduce for the pharmaceutical industry which attempts to isolate the active principles in order to patent a synthetic reproduction version. Pure isolates of CBD cause very different effects than the whole full-spectrum cannabis because it is missing all the other intrinsic cannabinoids and valuable terpenes that moderate it’s effects with synergistic balance.
De-constructing the cannabis plant to uncover it’s majestic secrets is beneficial to our understanding of pharmacodynamics, but creating synthetic, artificial mimics minus the full complement of terpenes is simply putting a puzzle back together missing all the necessary pieces.
Indeed, the synergistic effect between cannabinoids, terpenes and other components of the cannabis plant is often claimed to be the major difference between ‘holistic’ herbal preparations and products based on single cannabinoid isolates.
Taken in their entirety, terpenes display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the Entourage Effect of cannabis-based medicinal extracts. In the case of cannabis derived terpenes, the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts!