Cannabis Terpenes 101
When it comes to cannabis, you are likely familiar with many of the chemical compounds found in the plant, like THC, CBD, CBN and other well-known cannabinoids. You can find CBD, or cannabidiol, products sold as a way to address issues like anxiety, sleep deprivation, and chronic pain. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives you that “high” after cannabis use. These familiar components are talked about all the time whenever it comes to the effects of cannabis, but there is so much more to discover about this amazing plant.
Cannabis also harbors compounds known as terpenes, which are an under-discussed but incredibly important part of the overall cannabis experience. Just how many terpenes are there? The answer is astounding! There are thousands of terpenes that exist in a variety of plant and animal sources, including cannabis. Just a few of the terpenes you can find in cannabis include myrcene, limonene, and linalool - which you can also find in everyday household items you are likely already using. Even more amazing is that each terpene has different aromas and various potential benefits.
What are Terpenes?
A terpene is an aromatic compound that affects the smell of the plant, and it is found in a variety of plants to give them their associated smells and flavors. From the surface, that may not seem like much, but they do much more than just provide a recognizable scent. Terpenes also hold a variety of potential medical benefits, including cancer prevention, inflammation relief, and promoting better digestion.
Many terpenes are found in teas, citrus fruits, and herbs. Of course, cannabis has terpenes too. In cannabis, the terpenes are located in the flower and trichome of the plant, along with many other beneficial compounds. The terpenes found in cannabis are among the most widely used to address various medical and mental health issues. However, why don’t people discuss them more?
In a roundabout way, people do. In Florida, as with many other states, cannabis is used for medicinal purposes. Medical THC and medical CBD oils are becoming more commonly used to treat various ailments. These ailments range from emotional concerns like anxiety and depression to physical concerns like pain, loss of appetite or even menstrual cramps. So, while people don’t often claim they’re using terpenes to address physical and mental health issues, when you break it down, that’s exactly what’s been going on. It’s clear that these terpenes are useful, but how exactly do they work, and what do they do? Let’s look a little more closely at some terpene benefits.
How Terpenes Work and What They Do
When the cannabis plant (and other terpene-heavy plants) are found in nature, terpenes serve to ward off predators like herbivores or non-beneficial insects. They also give off a nice aroma that attracts beneficial insects for pollination and have the above mentioned therapeutic benefits. That is why we’re able to use these compounds as insect repellents and natural pesticides just as easily as we can use them to create therapeutic products and pleasant smelling items like candles, soaps, and more. For human purposes, there are plenty of benefits that come from terpenes, and most of them depend on how the compounds react with other compounds within the body.
Possible Cancer Prevention and Treatment
When it comes to fighting or preventing cancers, the terpenes in cannabis appear to suppress the growth and spread of cancer cells. Many of these terpenes act as cytotoxins, the technical term for a cell-killer (think chemotherapy drugs). While the use of most cannabis terpenes as an anticancer drug is awaiting clinical trial, the studies we have so far suggest a large amount of potential in this area.
Aromatherapy benefits also cannot be overlooked. While aromatherapy and essential oils are often viewed as overhyped, it’s impossible to deny the powers that smells can have to alter your mood. Terpenes play a large role in aromatherapy, and the ones found in cannabis are no exception to that. For instance, the floral/lavender scent of linalool is used to help with anxiety. It’s unknown how or why exactly certain smells have such a strong effect on mood, but studies repeatedly prove that the various terpenes can affect mood. That’s why the use of aromatherapy and aromatic herbs has been found to date back as far as ancient China and ancient Egypt.
Other Health Benefits of Cannabis Terpenes
That’s not all the benefits of cannabis sativa terpenes. One of the main terpenes found in cannabis, known as myrcene, has multiple health benefits on its own. It can be used as an antioxidant, a muscle relaxant, and an antipsychotic, among other uses. Another major terpene, known as beta-caryophyllene, appears in many essential oils and has even more possible effects and benefits than myrcene does, including being gastro and neuroprotective, and working as an antidepressant. Beta-caryophyllene even appears to be able to fight a particular type of herpes and has many general antiviral benefits.
The terpenes in THC are even known to help with things like migraines, glaucoma, and ADHD. They can even help HIV patients by improving their appetite while decreasing their depression symptoms, which all results in a higher quality of life for these patients. Other terpenes found in cannabis include pinene and limonene, which have a variety of associated health benefits as well.
Cannabis Sativa Terpenes Scientific Studies
Several scientific studies regarding the effects and benefits of terpenes have been done in recent years. As cannabis use becomes more widespread and accepted, people are doing more research into how the compounds in the plant work. The results influence how likely it is for people to take cannabis more seriously in terms of the medicinal benefits, rather than just the psychoactive ones.
Napro Research Study
One of these studies was performed in 2015 by multiple scientists at Napro Research in Westlake Village, California. As the result of the previously inconsistent testing methods done in studies before then, these scientists worked to find a more efficient and trustworthy method of research.
This study was completed by extracting four types of terpenes from the same strain of cannabis, diluting those terpenes in pure ethanol, and analyzing them over the next five days. For the purposes of control, “blanks” were also analyzed as well. Despite the small sample size and struggles with properly analyzing or extracting specific compounds, this study proved that terpenes and cannabinoids in general can be analyzed from a single cannabis sample.
University Of British Columbia Study
The second study comes from 2019 by scientists at the University of British Columbia. The study was conducted to discover if the specific cannabis plant scents, and by extension terpenes, were directly correlated to the amount of THC in the plant. By measuring 32 cannabinoids, along with 29 monoterpenes and 38 sesquiterpenes, with the use of 33 chemovars made by a few licensed producers, this question was put to the test.
Three of the terpenes mentioned so far, limonene, myrcene, and pinene, were found in multiple chemovars, but the rest of the terpene numbers varied depending on THC levels. Some specific terpenes of note include beta-cubebene, which appeared in all chemovars except for the one with high-CBD and low-THC, alpha-farnesene and beta-sesquiphellandrene, which were both only found in one chemovar each, and terpinolene, which appeared mostly when other monoterpenes were present.
While these are only two studies focusing on terpenes, their varying methods and purposes shows how the research has changed even in just the span of four years. Research into individual terpenes exists as well, often for the purposes of determining the accuracy of aromatherapy claims or seeing if the compounds have any use in medical science.
One study from 2019 conducted by researchers at Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii, looked into a few different types of terpenes, including myrcene. Myrcene became the focus of the report after the study proved that it is a large contributor to calcium influxes. It also has similar qualities to the spice-making chemical capsaicin and has potential benefits as a painkiller for both lab mice and humans.
Not only does this study continue to prove that terpenes, including myrcene, have health benefits, but it also lends some insight into how myrcene could work as a medicine if the complex relationship with calcium is accounted for. Large amounts of calcium can inactivate the terpene, and in fact, it’s likely a user will experience an influx of calcium when myrcene is involved. If these terpenes are to be used as medicines, then studies like this must continue to be conducted.
The Power of Terpenes
Terpenes are a fascinating and under-discussed part of cannabis and plants in general, and an important part of any cannabis experience. From their distinctive aromatic scents resulting in the growing field of aromatherapy, their possible uses in the field of medical science, to their endless varieties and potential effects, beyond cannabis, terpenes really are an important aspect of agriculture and modern-day plant science.
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Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.