Our knowledge is wisdom article.
First in the series: Terpenes, the fragrant oils and potent compounds that boost the healing potential of cannabis.
What are terpenes? Terpenes (pronounced tur-peens), or terpenoids, are aromatic metabolites found in the oils of all plants. There are more than 20,000 terpenes in existence and at least 100 produced by the Cannabis plant. Terpenoid production evolved in plants, including cannabis, to attract pollinators and to act as defense compounds. Female cannabis plants produce glandular trichomes, which are glands that look like small hairs or growths that protrude from the flowers and leaves. Trichomes house crucial compounds, including cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD), flavonoids, and terpenes. When plants are handled delicately, and the trichomes remain intact throughout collection and processing, you end up with excellent cannabis with strong and distinct flavors, colors, and smells. To humans, terpenes act as natural guides to discovering which cannabis strains our endocannabinoid system is most likely to enjoy and gain a benefit from. Terpene production is primarily governed by abiotic factors such as temperature, humidity, and light intensity (think about the fragrant scents of flowers at night time), and these factors are synthesized in response to stress. This is why medical cannabis licensed producers put so much emphasis on standardizing the growing conditions for their medical strains.
Terpenes can be considered the natural “on-the-growing-plant” version of terpenoids – which are transformed by drying and curing the cannabis flower. The drying process and conditions change the way the molecules transform (and taste) at the end of the day. Terpenoids are used regularly outside of cannabis (and outside of plants) for their aromatic qualities: it’s how we create perfumes, essential oils, and spices.
Several studies (some from as early as the 1980s) have shown that terpenes work together to help cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) pass through the bloodstream easier and “lower” the blood-to-brain barrier. You feel more or less of the effects of a strain based on the terpenes found in it. Not only that but because terpenes have their therapeutic effects (apart from providing the tastes and smells of cannabis), they work together to amp up or chill out the dominant effects of the other cannabinoids. This is called the “entourage effect” because of the way the different components can work together, play off each other, and enhance or downplay the end effects. If cannabinoids and terpenes are all together and working towards the same goal, you’ll notice stronger effects. If they’re counterbalancing each other (as they would in a group), the impact, on the whole, is muted. By using terpenes to modulate the adverse effects of other cannabinoids, producers are now able to create super strains of cannabis that are laser-focused on creating the best experience possible for as many patients as possible.
Whether that means tempering a THC “high” with anti-anxiety or anti-inflammatory properties of a particular terpene or doubling the anti-depressant properties of a CBD-rich strain, the opportunities for medicinal uses are extensive. However, research in this area is still ongoing, and the industry is looking forward to learning more about how terpenes function singularly as well as together in different strains. For example, the popular terpene myrcene is known for lowering the resistance across the blood-to-brain barrier, which speeds up the effects of the prominent cannabinoids. If myrcene were present in a THC-rich strain, it would lessen the time between consumption and the psychotropic aftereffect.
How terpenes work in the body: As we’ve mentioned, terpenes have their effects apart from their relationship with cannabinoids, including inhibiting serotonin uptake and enhancing norepinephrine activity (acting as antidepressants), increasing dopamine (regulating emotions and pleasure experiences), and augmenting GABA (the “downer” neurotransmitter associated with relaxing effects). Currently, the accepted knowledge is that terpenes compound or lighten the impact of cannabinoids THC and CBD (among others) by binding to endocannabinoid receptors and neurotransmitters and imitating compounds our bodies naturally produce (to regulate emotions, weight, health, etc.). The FDA and other agencies have recognized terpenes as safe, but how could they not? They’d have to outlaw tomatoes and cinnamon if terpenes weren’t legal. With research, cannabis scientists, growers, and enthusiasts are starting to tailor strains to use terpenes to balance the adverse effects of cannabinoids – such as pinene offsetting the short-term memory loss from high concentrations of THC.
Examples of terpenes found in cannabis
• Pinene (pine): Pinene is the most common terpene in the world, and has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also found in orange peels, 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 commonly found 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. Many indica strains have high levels of myrcene, which contribute to the tired/stoned feeling (if higher than 0.5% myrcene in a strain, it creates the “couch-lock” feeling in users).
• Limonene (citrus): As its name suggests, limonene smells like lemons, oranges, mandarins, limes, and grapefruits. It’s also – interestingly enough – probably found in your favorite 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 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 basils, cloves, cinnamon leaves, and black pepper. Studies show that it can help treat anxiety, depression, and act as an anti-inflammatory, which sounds like a big job to handle for one small terpene.
• 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.
Next Time: CANNABIS PLANTS THC CONTENT LEVELS AND AFFECT ON HUMANS.