Would you be able to differentiate between Corn Chowder and Gazpacho? Excellent! It means your senses of smell and taste are working. What you’re sensing in meals, fruits and even cleaning products are terpenes.
Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give plants flavor and smell and it is the reason why you can tell the difference between strawberry and blueberry. These terpenes are also present in cannabis flowers.
So without further ado, let’s explore the world of cannabis terpenes, what they are, what their uses are and how you as a consumer can make informed decisions about terpene profiles when buying cannabis medically or recreationally.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes or Terpenoids are aromatic compounds found in the oils of all plants. There are in excess of 20,000 terpenes in existence and over a 100 are present in the cannabis plant. The development of terpenes in cannabis plants began for adaptive purposes; to repulse predators and draw in pollinators, primarily as a defense mechanism.
Terpenes are synthesized in cannabis in secretory cells inside glandular trichomes, and production is increased with light exposure. These terpenes are mostly found in high concentrations in unfertilized female cannabis flowers prior to senescence (the condition or process of deterioration with age). The essential oil is separated from the plant material by steam distillation or vaporization.
Many terpenes vaporize around the same temperature as THC (which boils at about 157°C), but some terpenes are more volatile than others. They also play a critical role in protecting the plant from bacteria, fungi, insects and other environmental stressors, in the same way our immune system protects us from infections.
When cannabis plants are collected and processed properly, their trichomes usually remain intact and you end up with excellent quality cannabis with strong and distinct, colors, smells and flavors. To humans, terpenes act as guides to discovering which cannabis strains our endocannabinoid system is most likely to benefit from.
Before modern research on cannabis and terpenes was conducted, many people decided on cannabis based on typical characteristics and effects of indicas and sativas. However new preliminary research has now demonstrated that terpenes altogether impact the flavor and smell of buds. They can also amp up, change or lower the intensity and duration of effects for strains.
Terpenes and The Entourage Effect
Several studies have demonstrated that terpenes cooperate to help cannabinoids like THC and CBD pass through the bloodstream easier and lower the “blood to brain” barrier. Basically you feel more or less of the effects of a strain based on the terpenes found in it. Since terpenes have their own therapeutic effects they work together to enhance or downplay the dominant effects of the other cannabinoids. This is called the entourage effect because of the way terpenes work together with other cannabinoids. If cannabinoids and terpenes are working towards the same goal you will notice stronger effects, if they are counterbalancing each other, the effect on the whole is muted.
With this revelation growers are able to create progressively effective marijuana strains that are focussed on creating the best experience for patients as possible. Whether that means tempering the high of THC with anti inflammatory and anti anxiety properties of a particular terpene or doubling the antidepressant properties of a CBD rich strain, the opportunity for medical uses are endless. However research in this area is still ongoing and the industry is looking forward to learning more about how terpenes interact with other cannabinoids and with our body.
How Terpenes Work in Our Body
So how do terpenes work in our body? We know that terpenes can modulate the effects of cannabinoids in the human body, but do they also serve any other purpose? The answer is a definitive, Yes! Terpenes can impact the human body in a unique way, more specifically they target different neurotransmitters and receptors within the body.
For example the terpene, limonene which is present in just about every citrus fruit, binds with receptors in the endocannabinoid or neuroendocrine system that in turn produce antidepressant effects. In some cases, after activating those receptors, those systems become more active and produce more of the necessary hormones needed to maintain homeostasis.
They may also cause certain receptors to become more sensitive to incoming hormones, thus improving their efficiency. As homeostasis is maintained, the body benefits in very specific ways. For example, some experts believe that shifts away from a homeostatic balance can lead to depression. Thus when terpenes encourage homeostasis they can also reduce the risk of depression.
There are a number of other physiological benefits that are commonly associated with terpenes. These benefits underline the main principles of aromatherapy. For example, there are terpenes that reduce stress, increase energy, and improve immune system function. In many of those cases, those benefits are the direct result of maintaining homeostasis that the body was struggling to maintain on its own.
Examples of Terpenes found in Cannabis
- Pinene (pine): Pinene is the most well-known terpene on the planet, and has calming properties. It’s additionally found in orange strips, pine needles, basil, and parsley. It’s been known to counter short-term memory loss from THC, improve airflow to your lungs, and promote alertness.
- Myrcene (earthy, musky, fruity): Myrcene can be found in mangoes, hops, thyme, lemongrass, and basil, and is the most regularly discovered terpene in cannabis.. It can compose up to 50 percent of a cannabis plant’s terpenes. Myrcene has also been shown to be useful as an anti-inflammatory, a sedative, and a muscle relaxer. Numerous indica strains have elevated amounts of myrcene, which add to the worn out/stoned feeling (if higher than 0.5% myrcene in a strain, it creates the “couch-lock” feeling in users).
- Limonene (citrus): Like its name suggests, limonene smells like lemons, oranges, mandarins, limes, and grapefruits. It’s also — interestingly enough — probably found in your favourite cleaning products or perfumes because of its’ citrusy scent. It’s been shown to elevate mood, relieve stress, and has antifungal and antibacterial properties to boot. It also improves the absorption of other terpenes and chemicals through the skin, which makes it great in strains that you use for tinctures, ointments, and other topicals.
- Humulene (hoppy, earthy): Humulene is found in hops, coriander, cloves, and basil. It’s best known for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to suppress appetite (while many other strains only increase appetite).
- Linalool (floral, spicy): Linalool is found in flowers and spices like lavender and coriander, and is widely known for its stress-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and anti-depressant effects. The linalool terpene balances out the anxious side effects of THC, which makes it a useful treatment of both anxiety and psychosis. Some studies also suggest that linalool can boost the immune system and significantly reduce lung inflammation.
- Caryophyllene (peppery, spicy): Caryophyllene is found in thai basil, cloves, cinnamon leaves and black pepper. Studies show that it can help treat anxiety, depression, and act as an anti-inflammatory.
- Terpinolene (smoky + woodsy): Terpinolene can be found in sage and rosemary, and has slightly sedative, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. It’s also been found to depress your central nervous system, and therefore induce drowsiness and reduce excitement or anxiety.