Terpenes: What are they?
Terpenes are a class of organic hydrocarbons, taking the form of oily, fragrance-laced compounds which secrete from the cannabis plant’s glandular trichomes (the flower’s resin glands).
Terpenes are responsible for the individual smell and aroma of a cannabis strain but are also present in countless other plant species, fruits and vegetables. In nature, a terpene smell is used to attract pollinating insects and deter unwanted predators from destroying the plant.
However, terpenes should not be confused with terpenoids. Terpenoids are the by-product of terpenes that have been denatured by oxidation during the drying and curing stage of cannabis cultivation. Terpenoids are now used frequently outside of cannabis production for creating perfumes, essential oils, and spices due to their aromatic qualities.
There are reportedly over 20,000 terpenes in existence, with at least 200 being produced by the cannabis plant. However, each terpene possesses a different aroma and therapeutic property.
Here is a list of some of the most common terpenes:
Myrcene: This is the most found terpene in cannabis. It has an earthy aroma and is known for its sedating and relaxing effects. Myrcene is also prevalent in mangos and lemongrass.
Limonene: This terpene has a strong citrusy flavour and is used for its stress relieving, mood lifting properties. Limonene is also present in lemons, oranges and junipers.
Linalool: Has sweet floral aromas and aids with sleep and relaxation. It is also found in plants such as lavender, basil, and hops.
Ocimene: Recognized by its sweet, fragrant and herbaceous aromas. Ocimene is present within vegetative plants such as pepper, basil, mint and orchids.
Pinene: This is the most common terpene found in nature. It has an earthy, pine aroma.
Terpenes & The Entourage Effect
As well as providing the unique scent of cannabis strains, terpenes have been documented to possess many medicinal and therapeutic properties, working collaboratively with cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. A 2011 study carried out by neurologist and researcher Ethan B Russo, documented how cannabinoids and terpenes work together to modulate their individual effects within the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), this is what we understand as the ‘entourage effect’. Russo claims that terpenes, ‘could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections’.
Previously it was thought that THC was the dominant psycho-active ingredient in cannabis’ DNA. However, terpenes can increase or decrease the effects of THC and other chemicals in the body that interact with our ECS making it a key component in the medicinal effectiveness of cannabis strains.
Terpenes can be used to modulate the adverse effects of certain cannabinoids, allowing scientists to create strains that focus specifically on tackling an illness or condition. If a cannabis strain is particularly high in THC, for example, a terpene that has documented anti-anxiety properties could be combined to temper the unwanted effects of THC.
For example, the terpene myrcene can enable easier passage of beneficial chemicals through the body by reducing resistance in the blood-brain barrier. Pinene helps to counteract certain side effects of THC, such as compromised cognition and memory. Furthermore, a combination of pinene, myrcene, and caryophyllene have been documented to help mitigate symptoms of anxiety and lastly, the terpenes linalool and limonene combined with CBD is currently being examined as an anti-acne treatment.
Another important terpenoid, Beta-caryophyllene, is considered a gastro-protective and is used to treat certain ulcers and offers promise as a therapeutic compound for auto-immune disorders and inflammatory ailments. This terpene can be found in the essential oil of black pepper, oregano, in various cannabis strains and in many green, leafy vegetables. In 2008, Swiss scientist Jurg Gertsch, documented beta-caryophyllene’s binding affinity for the CB2 receptor, describing it as ‘a dietary cannabinoid.’ It is the only terpenoid currently known which directly activates our CB2 receptors, a reason why it is showing such promise in effectively treating certain auto-immune disorders.
Research is still very much in its infancy, with regards to terpenoids and the ‘entourage effect’. Such examples previously stated only scratch the surface of the potential therapeutic and medicinal value these terpenoids can offer by working in synergy with the many cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant.