Terpenes Definition - What To Know About It
That is the question.
When most people hear the word “terpene,” it is as foreign as any word in a language they don’t speak. What exactly are they, what can you find them in, and what is it that they do? Allow us to explain!
Terpenes are fragrant oils that can be found in cannabis and are what is responsible for giving it its aromatic diversity. These oils are secreted in the flower’s sticky resin glands, the exact same ones that produce THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. Terpenes are by no means unique to cannabis; they can be found in many other herbs, fruits, and plants as well. For example, they are also what give the Blueberry its signature smell and Lavender its sweet floral aroma.
Like cannabinoids, terpenes bind to receptors in the brain and create various effects in the body. Below, we will go over different terpenes that can be found in different strains of cannabis as well as the properties they can provide.
Myrcene, the most common terpene produced by cannabis, is a monoterpene. Its herbal aroma can be described as musky and earthy – similar to cloves. A high myrcene level in cannabis (usually above 0.5%) results in the well-known “couch-lock” effect of classic Indica strains. Myrcene can actually be found in variety of different plants, including the oil of hops, eucalyptus, lemon grass, citrus fruits, bay leaves, and wild thyme.
Myrcene has some very special medicinal properties, including lowering the resistance across the blood to brain barrier, allowing chemicals to cross the barrier easier and more quickly. For cannabinoids (like THC), myrcene allows the effects of the cannabinoid to take effect faster. More uniquely still, myrcene has been shown to increase the maximum saturation level of the CB1 receptor, creating a greater possible psychoactive effect.
Myrcene is a potent analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antimutagenic. It blocks the action of cytochrome, aflatoxin B and other pro-mutagenic carcinogens. Its sedative and relaxing effects also make it ideal for the treatment of insomnia and pain.
Since myrcene is usually found in the essential oils in citrus fruit, it has been said that eating a fresh, fully ripe mango half an hour to an hour before the consumption of cannabis will result in a faster onset of psycho-activity with greater intensity. Make sure that you pick a mango that is ripe, otherwise the myrcene level will not be high enough to make a difference!
Another terpene, pinene is a bicyclic monoterpenoid, and has distinctive aromas of pine and fir. There are two structural isomers of pinene that can be found in nature: α-pinene and β-pinene. Both forms are primary components of pine resin. α-pinene is the most commonly found terpenoid in nature. Pinene is found in many other conifers, as well as in non-coniferous plants, but it is found mostly in balsamic resin, pine woods and some citrus fruits. The two isomers of pinene make up the primary component of wood turpentine. Pinene is one of the principal monoterpenes that is significant physiologically in both plants and animals. It reacts with a lot of other chemicals, creating a variety of other terpenes (like limonene) as well as other compounds.
Pinene is often used in medicine as an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, bronchodilator and local antiseptic. α-pinene is a natural compound taken from pine needle oil which has displayed anti-cancer properties and has also been used as an anti-cancer agent in Traditional Chinese Medicine for many years. It is also believed that the effects of THC may be dampened if mixed with pinene.
As we stated above, Limonene is one of the two major compounds formed from pinene, and is a monocyclic monoterpenoid. As the name suggests, varieties of cannabis high in limonene give off a strong citrusy aroma similar to oranges, lemons and limes. Strains that are high in limonene help to create a general uplift in both mood and attitude. This citrusy terpene is the major constituent in citrus fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper and peppermint, as well as in several pine needle oils.
Limonene is highly absorbed when inhaled and quickly fluorishes in the bloodstream. It assists in the absorption of other terpenes through the skin and other body tissue. It also suppresses the growth of many species of fungi and bacteria, making it an ideal antifungal agent for ailments like toenail fungus. Limonene may also be beneficial in protecting against various cancers, and, when orally administered, limonene is currently undergoing clinical trials in the treatment of breast cancer. Limonene has even been found to help promote weight-loss.
In nature, plants actually use limonene as a natural insecticide to ward off predators. Until recently, limonene was originally used in food and perfumes. Now, it has become better known as the main active ingredient in citrus cleaner. It also has very low toxicity and adverse effects are very rarely associated with it.
Our next terpene, Linalool is a non-cyclic monoterpenoid. It can be described as having floral and lavender undertones. Varieties of cannabis that are high in linalool help to promote calming and relaxing effects.
Linalool has been used for centuries as a sleep aid. It dampens the anxious emotions that are brought on by pure THC, making it helpful in the treatment of both psychosis and anxiety. There are studies that also suggest that linalool boosts the immune system, can significantly reduce lung inflammation, and can restore cognitive and emotional function (making it useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease).
The Ma, J., Xu et al study found that linalool may significantly reduce lung inflammation caused by cigarette smoke, and through this it may also be helpful in reducing the harm caused by inhaling cannabis smoke.
Linalool boosts the immune system as it directly activates immune cells through specific receptors and/or pathways. The Sabogal-Guáqueta et al study suggests linalool may reverse the histopathological (the microscopic examination of biological tissues to observe the appearance of diseased cells and tissues in very fine detail) hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease and could restore cognitive and emotional functions via an anti-inflammatory effect.
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved its use as a pesticide, flavor agent and scent. It is used in a wide variety of bath and body products and is commonly listed under ingredients for these products as beta linalool, linalyl alcohol, linaloyl oxide, p-linalool and alloocimenol. Its vapors have been shown to be an effective insecticide against fruit flies, fleas and cockroaches.
Linalool has been isolated in several hundred different plants. The Lamiaceae plant and herb family, which includes mints and other scented herbs, are common sources. The Lauraceae plant family, which includes laurels, cinnamon, and rosewood, is also a readily available source. The Rutaceae family, which contains citrus plants, is another viable source. Birch trees and several different plant species that are found in tropical and boreal climate zones also produce linalool. Although technically not plants, some fungi produce linalool, as well. Linalool is a critical precursor in the formation of Vitamin E. You can check this video below to know how preserving terpenes from herbs can be a delicate process.
Beta-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene found in many plants such as Thai basils, cloves, cinnamon leaves, and black pepper, as well as in small amounts in lavender. Its aroma can be described as peppery and woody. Caryophyllene is the only terpene that is known to cooperate with the endocannabinoid system (CB2). Studies show β–caryophyllene holds promise in cancer treatment plans. Research shows that β–caryophyllene selectively binds to the CB2 receptor and that it is a functional CB2 agonist. It was also identified as a functional non-psychoactive CB2 receptor ligand in foodstuff and as a macrocyclic anti-inflammatory cannabinoid in cannabis.
The Fine/Rosenfeld pain study demonstrates that other phytocannabinoids in combination, specifically cannabidiol (CBD) and β-caryophyllene, when administered orally, seem to be promising candidates for the treatment of chronic pain due to their high safety and low adverse effects profiles. The Horváth et al study suggests β-caryophyllene, through a CB2 receptor dependent pathway, may be an excellent therapeutic agent to prevent nephrotoxicity (a poisonous effect on the kidneys) that is caused by anti-cancer chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin.
The Jeena, Liju et al study looked at the chemical composition of essential oil taken from black pepper, of which caryophyllene is a main constituent, and studied its pharmacological properties. Black pepper oil was found to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive properties. Due to this, high-caryophyllene strains may be useful in treating a number of medical issues such as arthritis and neuropathy pain. Beta-caryophyllene is actually used commonly in chewing gum when combined with other spicy mixtures or citrus flavorings.
Another common terpene, Camphene, is a plant-derived monoterpene that emits pungent odors similar to damp woodlands and fir needles. Camphene may play a critical role in cardiovascular disease.
The Vallianou et al study found that camphene helps to reduce plasma cholesterol and triglycerides in hyperlipidemic rats. As it is very important to control hyperlipidemia in heart disease, the results of this study provide understanding of how camphene might also be used as an alternative to pharmaceutical lipid-lowering agents that have been proven to cause intestinal problems, liver damage and even muscle inflammation.
Camphene is a minor component of many essential oils such as turpentine, camphor oil, citronella oil and ginger oil. It is used as a food additive for flavoring, and also used in the preparation of fragrances. It is produced industrially by catalytic isomerization of the more common α-pinene.
Terpinolene is a common component of sage and rosemary and is found in the oil derived from the Monterey cypress. It is primarily used in the United States in soaps and perfumes, and it is also a great insect repellent. Terpinolene can be found to have a piney aroma with slight herbal and floral nuances. It tends to have a sweet flavor that is reminiscent of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons.
Terpinolene can act as a central nervous system depressant used to encourage drowsiness or sleep or to even low psychological excitement or anxiety. It has also been found to inhibit the cell proliferation involved in a variety of human cancers.
Similarly named but quite different, α-Terpineol, terpinen-4-ol, and 4-terpineol are three closely related monoterpenoids. The aroma of terpineol can be akin to lilacs and flower blossoms. Terpineol is often found in cannabis varieties that have high pinene levels, which tend to mask the fragrant aromas of terpineol. Terpineol, specifically α-terpineol, has calming and relaxing effects, and it also exhibits antibiotic and antioxidant antimalarial properties.
The last terpene on our list, Phellandrene, can be described as pepperminty with a slight scent of citrus. Phellandrene is believed to have special medicinal values and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat digestive disorders. It is one of the main compounds in turmeric leaf oil, which is used to prevent and treat systemic fungal infections.
Phellandrene was first discovered in eucalyptus oil. We are now aware of many essential oils that contain phellandrene. It is, however, a somewhat uncertain terpene as it can only be detected in the oils of some species, especially in Eucalyptus, at particular times of the year. It can also be found in a number of herbs and spices, including cinnamon, garlic, dill, ginger, and parsley. A number of plants produce β-phellandrene as a constituent of their essential oils, including lavender and grand fir. Phellandrene is also almost entirely responsible for the recognizable odors of some essential oils, like the oil of pepper, dill oil, and the oil of ginger, as they are composed almost entirely of phellandrene. Phellandrene, particularly α-phellandrene, is absorbed through the skin, making it attractive for use in perfumes. It is also used as a flavoring for food products.
When choosing a strain of cannabis based on its terpene content, make sure that you keep in mind that different harvests may demonstrate dramatically different terpenoid profiles due to differences in the growing and curing techniques. Lab-tested products are the only definitive way of knowing a strain’s terpene potency – but without it, you will have to depend on your nose to guide the way.