Terpenes are trending in the cannabis community, and for good reason. There is a variety of evidence supporting the significance of natural terpenes in cannabis products and their effects on the human body. Preserving and optimizing these compounds in cannabis is key to success in the industry.
Both cannabis professionals and consumers can benefit from knowledge about these powerful compounds and the potential of the entourage effect. With an increase in scientific research and manufacturing capabilities, cannabis businesses are able to better preserve naturally occurring terpenes and use others to enhance their products’ quality and price.
What are these compounds?
Terpenes are naturally occurring aromatic compounds produced in plants. The familiar scent and taste of common natural favorites like citrus, lavender, and pine are all created by the terpene profiles in plants. In nature, these compounds serve as protectors and attractants to help plants survive. Terpenes like linalool and terpinolene attract insects and other creatures that help with pollination, and highly-concentrated terpenes like pinene repel animal grazers.
Just like the rest of the plant world, many cannabis cultivars are rich in these compounds. There are certainly dominant and more noticeable terpenes present in cannabis, like limonene and linalool, but the plant produces over 150 unique compounds. These complex chemical profiles give different strains their distinct smells, tastes, and pigmentations which all impact the flavors and aromas consumers notice.
As a result of research into isolating terpenes, the cannabis community has learned there is much more to a strain than just its THC content. There is much we have yet to uncover, but researchers have found an array of health benefits related to the cannabinoids and terpenes produced by cannabis plants.
Preliminary research suggests that terpenes may interact with cannabinoids in ways that enhance or alter the consumption experience. The human body’s endocannabinoid system may process THC, CBD, and CBG differently when consumed with naturally occurring chemical compounds in cannabis plants. The idea that dominant terpenes work in tandem with cannabinoid content to produce the specific effects of different strains is often referred to as “the entourage effect.”
What are botanical terpenes?
Unlike synthetic terpenes, botanical terpenes are non-cannabis-derived terpenes that can activate the entourage effect in a similar way to cannabis terpenes. Businesses that buy botanical terpenes to enhance their products can purchase specified isolates, along with their esters, flavonoids, and alcohols that are extracted from the plant in the extraction process.
These compounds are in their natural form when they are produced in live plants, and many variables affect the amount a cannabis plant will produce. Their levels are affected by a plant’s exposure to light, temperature conditions, growing mediums, nutrient levels, as well as the harvesting and curing processes.
The cannabis industry is constantly creating new products using extracts, which often require isolating THC and CBD from the other compounds in the plant, similar to an essential oil. Most terpenes are volatile compounds, which means they can get lost easily during extraction processes, even when manufacturers do their best to maintain the original chemical profiles of a certain strain.
To help extracts maintain the scent, flavor, and original essence, the industry often uses botanical terpenes.
Studies on terpenes
Many terpenes have a biological potential, which means they can affect the body when consumed and offer potential health benefits. There is ample research supporting the therapeutic and medicinal effects they have on the human body. For centuries, traditional medicine has used terpenes in healing practices. When it comes to cannabis, researchers are just beginning to investigate the effects of naturally occurring terpenes, but there are studies underway that may uncover useful information about the power of the plant.
Independent of cannabis research, the medical community has uncovered the health benefits of terpenes. Not only do these compounds show therapeutic effects, like their anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties, but they have also shown promise in preventing and treating conditions like heart disease, cancer, and certain infections.
A 2018 study found limonene, a compound with proven anti-inflammatory and gastroprotective effects, can be used to help combat a variety of diseases. Another 2018 study found linalool could be used to improve drug delivery systems. Terpenes found naturally in cannabis have also shown potential in the treatment of arthritis, asthma, and strokes.
More recently, research completed in 2020 studied the effects of cannabis compounds on people with epilepsy and found their conditions were improved by the entourage effect or the consumption of terpenes and CBD simultaneously. In the study, people with epilepsy who took a CBD-rich extract had improved symptoms and fewer side effects than those who took a purified, or completely isolated, form of CBD.
Studies like these are pivotal in the medicinal and therapeutic application of cannabis, however, we still need more medically reviewed studies on how different types of terpenes from cannabis interact in the human body to gain a fuller understanding of their potential.
Most common cannabis terpenes and effects
The citrusy scents we love in both produce and cannabis can be attributed to the common terpene, limonene. Limonene is dominant in strains with fruity bouquets like Balck Cherry Soda and Mimosa. Research has found limonene to modulate the way certain immune cells behave, protecting the body from a range of disorders. Limonene has been used for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, anticancer, and anti-anxiety properties.
In the cannabis plant, pinene is produced in two forms, a-pinene and b-pinene. Pinene is a key component of many popular cultivars and provides fresh, bright scents that are also present in pine, rosemary, and basil. Aside from its signature scent, pinene offers a variety of benefits.
It acts as an anti-inflammatory and bronchodilator, allowing more air into the lungs and helping to fight some infectious germs when inhaled. Pinene also has antidepressant and anticancer properties that the contemporary medical community is working to harness effectively.
Linalool, characterized by its distinct lavender scent, offers aromatic benefits used frequently in aroma therapy. While cannabis plants rarely contain high levels of linalool, famous strains like Do-Si-Dos and Scooby Snacks are rich in linalool. Linalool is known for its microbial fighting, sedative, stress relief, and immunity properties. In the context of the entourage effect, linalool in cannabis may enhance the relaxing effects of therapeutic cannabis consumption.
Found in mango, hops, lemongrass, thyme, and on the flowers of the cannabis plant, myrcene is an herbaceous and earthy terpene that gives cannabis a mildly sweet flavor profile. Myrcene is often a dominant terpene. Studies have shown myrcene may be helpful in treating a variety of conditions with its anti-fungal and -bacterial properties. Myrcene has the potential to be used for its protective effect on heart tissue following strokes and the treatment of arthritis preventing the breakdown of certain cartilage cells.
A terpene with spicy and peppery characteristics, beta-caryophyllene is commonly found in rosemary, oregano, and black pepper. Popular strains like Girl Scout Cookies, Bubba Kush, and Sour Diesel have high concentrations of it. Beta-caryophyllene is the only known terpene that can bind to CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which may be helpful in research on the entourage effect. Independently, this natural compound is known for its anti-inflammatory, pain reduction, and anti-anxiety properties.
Humulene is a key component of the hop plant, and a dominant terpene in clove and ginseng. It has long been used in holistic and folk medicine for its energizing effects, and contemporary research has revealed its potential to prevent allergic reactions and guard against cancer. When combined with pinene in the cannabis plant, humulene creates an aroma some describe as a summer breeze.
During the growth stage of cannabis, humulene deters pests and fungal infestations. When consumed, it creates a burning bite resembling sage and ginger.