Much is said about the popular compounds found in cannabis called cannabinoids, and mostly the “big two”, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabinoids are what provide many of the effects that have made cannabis such a popular solution to so many problems.
There is, however, another important cannabis compound that you’ve probably never heard of. This is the terpene. So far, over 100 various terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant. Let’s talk about what terpenes are and what role they play in the effectiveness of cannabis-derived products.
More Than Just a Pretty Scent
Chances are, you’re already familiar with cannabis’ signature aroma. If so, then you’re already familiar with terpenes, too. They are the aromatic elements found in cannabis that give each strain its unique, distinctive smell and flavor profile.
And they don’t just smell and taste good. Terpenes are also thought to play an integral role in the health-promoting profile of cannabis and, in other plant species, have proven to be beneficial for general wellbeing. Recent cannabis research suggests that terpenes could be responsible for assisting in the many benefits cannabis, and therefore CBD, offers. Here we’ll take a closer look at terpenes so we can fully understand what they are and how they help.
What Are Terpenes?
To put it in simple terms, terpenes are the aromatic and flavor molecules in cannabis. Terpenes are sometimes referred to as the “essential oils“ of the cannabis plant.
If you’ve ever smelled cannabis, you know that not all strains have the same scent. Some have a pungent earthy or musky smell and some are super fruity and sweet. Each strain smells differently based upon the type of terpenes they possess.
Strains that smell “fruity”, for example, usually contain higher concentrations of a terpene known as limonene, which happens to be naturally abundant in lemons. Pungent, earthy smelling cannabis strains typically are heavy in a terpene found in black pepper known as beta-caryophyllene.
While terpenes are known to provide to the aromatic and taste profiles of various cannabis strains, it’s also been suggested that they may play a significant role in determining the various effects of cannabis. As is the case with all cannabis research, however, more studies are needed before we fully understand how terpenes may contribute to the many benefits CBD offers.
But how might terpenes add to the beneficial effects of cannabis? Take limonene and terpinolene, for example, which are said to have an energizing, uplifting properties. Strains that contain higher levels of these terpenes could impact the way a certain strain changes your mood, making you feel “energized”. On the other hand, a terpene called myrcene, which is found in hops, is known to be a powerful a sedative and could, therefore, lend calming elements to certain strains that have high myrcene concentrations.
And the environmental conditions of the cannabis plant’s growth can also ultimately change the terpene profiles of a particular strain. According to Amber Wise, scientific director at a Washington State cannabis testing lab, there are several variables that will affect the terpene profile of plants, including where the crop is grown, inside or out. “You can end up with different terpene profiles at the end because temperature, growing medium, nutrients, sunlight, all kinds of things affect the terpene profile of plants,” says Wise.
Terpenes and Trichomes: Working Together
Terpenes are comprised of both carbon and hydrogen and are produced in the “trichomes” of the cannabis plant. Trichomes
are mushroom-like crystals that cover the leaves and flowers of a mature cannabis plants snd give them their frosty, crystalline appearance. If you look at a grown plant closely, you’ll see that trichomes resemble minute little hairs. These tiny spikes act as a defense from predators and other potential environmental hazards, acting as a defense mechanism by emitting tastes and smells that drive insects and animals away before they harm the cannabis plant’s growth.
Trichomes act as a manufacturing location for terpenes and, more importantly for CBD fans, these tiny trichome resin glands are where cannabinoids are produced. Without trichomes and terpenes acting together, we wouldn’t get the distinctive and powerful elements that make a cannabinoid-rich CBD so impactful.
The Most Common Cannabis Terpenes
Take a look at the chart to the left. Although over 100 terpenes have been identified in cannabis, there are some that are found more abundantly than others.
Just as its name suggests, limonene contains a distinct citrusy aroma. It isn’t just found in cannabis but is found to be a huge part of the chemical makeup of citrus fruits like lemons (obviously), limes and oranges. Interestingly, limonene often gives cleaning supplies their invigorating, “clean” aroma.
Limonene also contains powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties that acts as a powerful insecticide for cannabis plants. It helps the body better absorb other terpenes and is widely recognized for its ability to enhance the mood and relieve stress. When you walk in a room after it has been scrubbed with a lemony cleanser, think of how the smell makes you feel!
Myrcene is the most abundant terpene found in cannabis and gives it its signature musky aroma. Myrcene is known for its antibiotic and analgesic benefits and is also found in mangoes, lemongrass, thyme and hops. Researchers have suggested that myrcene heightens relaxation and offers sedative-like qualities.
Pinene is another common terpene with an scent that matches its name. Pinene is largely present in conifer trees, citrus peels and turpentine and comes in two different forms:
- Alpha Pinene: Found in pine trees
- Beta Pinene: Present in dill, basil, parsley or rosemary
Pinene has, for centuries, been used as a natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory and is also been proven in studies to provide important other health benefits such as:
- A bronchodilator (helps open airways)
- Anti-anxiety tool
- Pain reliever
- And may help combat short-term memory impairment associated with THC
Caryophyllene is the terpene with the spicy aroma that is present in cinnamon, black pepper and cloves. It has an additional power that separates it from other terpenes in that it is the only known terpene that activates the endocannabinoid system, acting like a natural cannabinoid.
Caryophyllene is also known to contain anti-inflammatory properties and may help alleviate anxiety and help with depression.
Linalool (say it three times fast) is a terpene present in cannabis that gives lavender plants their pleasing aroma. It offers a popular, floral scent and has mood enhancing properties that have been used for ages to alleviate anxiety and depression. Linalool is also used as a natural sedative.
Terpenes And The Entourage Effect
As has been discussed, the cannabis plant is an extremely complex organism that contains hundreds of chemical compounds. Many of these elements, including terpenes, work together to create something called the “Entourage Effect”, offering greater benefits as a whole than the benefits of their isolated parts. This phenomenon wouldn’t be possible without terpenes so much care must be taken during the extraction process so that these compounds remain in the CBD.
After the CBD oil is extracted from the plant its offered in one of three forms: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and isolate, depending on its composition. Full spectrum CBD oil has had none of the cannabinoids removed, including the psychoactive elements. A further refinement of the oil takes out the unwanted cannabinoids like THC but keeps the benefit-rich compounds, like terpenes and cannabinoids, that help create the aforementioned “Entourage Effect”. Purelix Wellness is proud to offer THC-free broad spectrum products.
While we’ve given you a great deal of information on terpenes, there is much more research to be done to understand the why and how of how they work with cannabinoids to provide relief. Forbes recently referred to the “mass market appeal” of terpenes and we will undoubtedly hear more in coming days. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the many benefits these aromatic, powerful compounds offer.