Terpenes have become a major buzzword in the cannabis industry. Most people only heard the term for the first time in the last couple of years. Scientists, however, have known about terpenes for over 100 years.
In 1910, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded German scientist Otto Wallach the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work with terpenes. He discovered that terpenes appear in many natural substances and wrote the original terpene guide.
Otto Wallach discovered how to extract terpenes from these natural substances. He also figured out that you can easily change one terpene into another.
The discovery of terpenes made a huge impact on the food and perfume industries back then and continues to do so even now. They also play a major role in how cannabis provides medical benefits to patients.
What exactly are terpenes? Are they different from cannabinoids? Are terpenes good for you?
Find out everything you didn’t know you didn’t know about terpenes in this ultimate terpene guide.
The Ultimate Terpene Guide: What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are naturally occurring chemicals found in plants, flowers, fruit, and wood. They are hydrocarbons, meaning they are made of hydrogen and carbon molecules, appearing in the essential oils of plants. They give plants like cannabis their distinct smell and flavor.
Terpenes play an important biological role by deterring insects and other animals that may eat the plants or fruit. They may also attract insects and animals to perform a task like pollination. They can even help plants fight off mold and fungal infections.
Terpenes Are Everywhere
Plants, fruit, wood, and flowers all smell the way they do thanks to terpenes. The fresh scent of a pine forest or a Christmas tree in your home is caused by one kind of terpene.
The lavender aromatherapy drops you use to relax in the bath or before bed contain another kind. Citrus fruits and their invigorating scent. Pepper and its unique spicy smell.
All of these scents can be tied to a particular type of terpene.
Cannabis plants produce terpenes in their hair-like resin glands (known as trichomes) found on their leaves and flowers. The chemical composition of terpenes makes them volatile, so they evaporate and disperse into the air very quickly. That’s why it’s so easy to smell a cannabis plant when it’s in bloom.
Scientists have identified 55,000+ unique terpene types with several hundred appearing in various order and number in each cannabis strain. Terpenes work with other chemical compounds found in cannabis, like cannabinoids and flavonoids, to produce unique effects. These effects vary from plant to plant and person to person.
Are Terpenes and Terpenoids the Same Thing?
You may hear people using the terms terpenoids and terpenes interchangeably, but they’re not exactly synonymous.
Terpenes are hydrocarbons. They contain carbon and hydrogen and nothing else.
Terpenoids, on the other hand, form from the terpenes after denaturing due to oxidation. That occurs through chemical modification or during the curing and drying process.
Terpenes vs. Flavonoids
Cannabis plants contain another type of chemical compound called flavonoids. They too occur naturally in many types of plants, fruits, and vegetables.
Flavonoids have similar effects to terpenes that may provide medical benefits as well. But rather than giving plants a scent, flavonoids are responsible for producing pigments and colors.
Cannabis plants do not contain nearly as many flavonoid compounds in comparison to the number of terpenes that are produced. Scientists do not know how they work as well as other chemicals in cannabis like cannabinoids.
Terpenes and Cannabinoids: What’s the Difference?
Before terpenes became the big buzzword, the cannabis industry could not (and still can’t) stop talking about cannabinoids. Cannabis contains more than 140 cannabinoids that appear in varying numbers, chemical structure, and properties in different cannabis strains.
Scientists believe cannabinoids protect cannabis plants from pests and predators much as terpenes do. They may also protect against UV rays.
How Do Cannabinoids Affect Humans?
Cannabinoids affect the human body’s endocannabinoid system. Your body uses this system to regulate vital functions from your temperature or hormone levels to how fast your heart beats. It produces endocannabinoids that bind to cannabinoid receptors to send signals and correct imbalances in other bodily systems.
Two known cannabinoid receptors exist, CB1 and CB2, which affect the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system respectively. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids generally prefer to bond to one receptor over the other to produce a certain effect.
What Does the Endocannabinoid System Control?
The body’s extensive endocannabinoid system regulates things like:
- Fertility and reproduction
- Immune function
- Body inflammation
- Motor control
- Temperature regulation
- Pleasure/reward center
Both cannabis cannabinoids and endocannabinoids produced in your body bind to the two cannabinoid receptors. Since cannabinoids interact with this system just like endocannabinoids, they also affect these important functions.
How Do Terpenes Work in the Body?
Scientists do not understand how cannabis terpenes work in the body as well as they do cannabinoids.
They’ve only identified one terpene that binds to cannabinoid receptor CB2 and that’s beta-caryophyllene.
One terpene that scientists do know a little about how it works is linalool. Linalool produces a complex anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effect on the body. A study from 2014 showed its activity on 10+ systems in the body simultaneously worked to create the effect.
Desired Terpene Properties and the Entourage Effect
Terpenes contribute to the “Entourage Effect” of cannabis along with cannabinoids, flavonoids, and the hundreds of other chemical compounds found in cannabis.
Researchers have observed how the body can more easily absorb cannabinoids when ingested concurrently with certain terpenes. This is why many researchers believe different strains of cannabis may have unique medicinal effects.
The 7 Most Common Cannabis Terpenes and Their Medical Benefits
Scientists found that cannabis plants contain about 150 of the more than 55,000 different terpene types. Here are the 7 most common cannabis terpenes and their medical benefits.
Beta-Caryophyllene gives pepper and clove their spicy, herbal scent. It can also smell of wood, herbs, and a bit citrusy.
The terpene Beta-Caryophyllene has anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, anti-insomnia, and pain-relieving effects.
Find it in strains like OG Kush and White Widow.
Humulene is another spicy, woody-smelling terpene that’s earthy and herbal as well. It produces anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects and suppresses appetite.
Research shows that humulene also has impressive anti-tumor terpene properties.
Popular strains with humulene include White Widow, Sour Diesel, and Headband.
Fresh citrus, orange, and lemon scents come from the terpene limonene. It’s known for elevating mood and relieving anxiety and depression. It also has great anti-nausea effects.
Limonene features in very citrusy strains like Lemon Skunk and Super Lemon Haze as well as Durban Poison and Berry White.
Are you a fan of the calming scent of lavender? You can thank linalool for that terpene fragrance.
Linalool smells of sugar, rosewood, and flowers. The smell of linalool produces a calming and relaxing effect much like when you ingest it through cannabis.
Certain strains with linalool can be very sedative. It also relieves anxiety and has anti-bacterial properties.
You’ll find linalool in Skywalker OG, Amnesia Haze, and Strawberry Diesel.
The most abundant terpene in cannabis, myrcene has a distinctively earthy, musky, skunky smell. Mango, lemongrass, and thyme all contain myrcene. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and works well as a pain reliever and muscle relaxant.
Myrcene also causes the feeling of a body high and works well for insomnia.
Most strains of cannabis contain at least a little myrcene, but Blue Dream, OG Kush, and Grape Ape have lots.
Terpinolene is probably the least common terpene found in cannabis. The terpene produces a fresh smell almost like soap with hints of herbs, pine, flowers, and citrus.
Terpinolene supposedly has an uplifting effect as well as reducing heart disease and inhibiting cancer cell growth. However, not enough research exists to confirm these effects.
Other plants containing terpinolene are lilacs, apples, tea trees, and the spices cumin and nutmeg.
High-terpinolene cannabis strains are rare, but they exist. A few examples are Jack Herer, Dutch Treat, Golden Pineapple, and Ghost Train Haze.
7. Pinene (or A-Pinene)
Pinene, sometimes known as A-Pinene, smells like (you guessed it!) pine trees. It also has a slightly woody smell and can remind you of fresh mountain air. It appears naturally in parsley, basil, and rosemary.
Pinene has desirable medical properties from improving focus and memory to boosting energy and creativity. It also acts as a powerful bronchodilator to help relieve asthma symptoms.
High-pinene cannabis strains include Bubba Kush, Purple Punch, Granddaddy Purple, and Cereal Milk.
Buy Full-Spectrum CBD with Terpenes Online
This terpene guide does not include all 150 terpenes found in cannabis, but the most well-known ones. Terpenes work in conjunction with cannabinoids and the other compounds in cannabis to produce a wide variety of medical benefits.
That’s why you’re often better off buying full-spectrum CBD products with terpenes for the most effectiveness.
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