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What Are Cannabis Terpenes & Their Potential Benefits?

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The cannabis plant is one of the most fragrant botanicals. Cannabinoids like CBD, THC, CBN, and CBC are odorless. The scent from the cannabis plant comes from phytochemical compounds called terpenes. Cannabis terpenes are produced in the same resinous glands that store cannabinoids found speckled on the flowers and stems of hemp and marijuana plants.

Aside from attributing to the scent of the plant, the terpene profile also gives the strain of cannabis unique effect profiles.

In this article, we'll discuss popular terpenes found in cannabis strains and some of their effects.

TL;DR:

  1. Terpenes are a class of compounds found in the plant kingdom that contribute to the fragrance and flavor of a plant.
  2. It's believed that plants produce terpenes to protect themselves from their environment as natural pesticides and anti-bacterial protection
  3. Terpenes may also offer some therapeutic benefits to the human body. The practice of aromatherapy with essential oils has been around for centuries.
  4. Cannabis plants have over 150 terpenes identified and are believed to play a role alongside cannabinoids to exert unique effect profiles.
  5. Terpenes are non-psychotropic (non-intoxicating) but are psychoactive as they have effects on one's mood and stress levels.
  6. The only way to verify the terpene content found in cannabis products is to reference the certificate of analysis provided by the CBD brand. This will give you better insight into the types of effects you may expect from your product.
  7. Most of the research on cannabis terpenes and their effects on the human body for medicinal purposes are in their early stages, but the current results look promising. There are no FDA-approved cannabis terpenes that can cure, mitigate, or treat any condition, so be wary of CBD brands that make these types of claims.

Terpenes & The Plant Kingdom

Although terpenes are mainly associated with the cannabis plant because they produce a high concentration of them in the flowers, terpenes are aromatic compounds found in all types of plants and some insects.

There are over 30,000 terpenes in the plant kingdom [1]. Terpenes are essentially what give plants their aroma, flavor, and sometimes pigment. Some plants have high concentrations of terpenes such as lemons, pine needles, cinnamon bark, and various herbs—in nature, terpenes protect plants from animals and harmful bacteria.

However, some terpenes may have health benefits to humans and some animals. Terpenes may be largely responsible for some plants' medicinal properties. For example, in essential oils and aromatherapy—a therapeutic practice that has been used for centuries— a large active component of therapeutic essential oils comes from terpenes.

Some scents enter through olfactory nerves to affect the emotional center of the brain to uplift one's mood (like citrus) or induce relaxation (like lavender and chamomile). When applied topically, terpenes can cab absorbed into the skin and provide anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic (pain-relieving) benefits too.

Terpenes Found In Cannabis Strains

How exactly terpenes function in the human body still remains a bit of a mystery, and researchers are still looking into how terpenes in cannabis may influence the effect profiles of cannabis strains.

It's hypothesized that terpenes work in tandem with cannabinoids to produce different effects. This may explain why some strains of cannabis can have the same THC and CBD levels but have entirely different effects depending on how they smell.

Like some wine connoisseurs, some cannabis enthusiasts can recognize different terpenes in their cannabis and predict the effects of the plant. The scent of the cannabis flower is one of the only ways of differentiating between cannabis strains without putting them under a microscope.

Cannabis plants produce terpenes for several reasons from resisting attacks from insects, animals, and bacteria to attracting pollinators, and some believe that terpenes may help protect the buds from intense UV exposure in their growing environment.

Plant breeders have influenced the terpene content in different cannabis strains through selective breeding. Some growers may want to create a cannabis strain with a citrusy aroma that comes from the terpene limonene for its uplifting and stimulating effects and will only harvest and breed strains with high limonene content for their new cannabis strain.

Many cannabis experts will recommend that users focus less on the cannabinoid content and more on the terpene profile to understand its effects. As terpenes are an integral part of aromatherapies, inhaling and consuming certain terpenes may have effects on one's mood and stress levels. It's also hypothesized that terpenes contribute to the entourage effect when taken alongside other cannabinoids [2].

Do Terpenes Get You High?

Cannabis terpenes are not known to have psychotropic effects like THC some minor cannabinoids. However, they're still considered psychoactive because they affect the brain—much like how the caffeine in coffee is psychoactive because it stimulates the brain and affects one's mood.

While terpenes aren't considered intoxicating, they may impact some of the effects of THC (cannabis' primary psychotropic compound) and CBD, contributing to the entourage effect [3].

Common Cannabis Plant Terpenes & Their Effects

There have been over 100 cannabinoids 150 different terpenes identified in the Cannabis sativa plant, and there are still more that have not been conclusively identified in the resin of different cannabis strains [4].

While cannabinoids are the primary interest in the pharmacological effects of cannabis plants, terpenes are believed to contribute to fragrance attributes and effect profiles.

Let's go over some of the most common cannabis terpenes and their effects. It's important to underscore that the studies referenced below are conducted in preclinical trials on animals.

Aside from anecdotal reports, there isn't much to go off on on the benefits of cannabis terpenes alone in the human body, and we're not trying to suggest that cannabinoids and terpenes can cure, prevent, or mitigate any diseases or illnesses.

1. Alpha-Bisabolol

Alpha-bisabolol is also the primary active terpene in German chamomile and has a light floral aroma.

This terpene is known to have soothing and relaxing effects. Some preliminary studies suggest that alpha-bisabolol may have anti-inflammatory effects, which is why chamomile essential oils are becoming a popular ingredient in skincare products for treating redness and acne[5].

When taken alongside other cannabinoids, alpha-bisabolol may help to enhance properties towards supporting a healthy immune response and stress level regulation.

2. Alpha & Beta Pinene

Pinene gets its name from the plant that contains the highest concentration of it, the pine tree, but pinene is found in many different herbs as well such as basil, rosemary, and parsley.

There are two variations of the pinene terpene—alpha and beta—both with very similar effects and fragrance profiles. The difference is the position of certain chemical structures.

Pine is an interesting terpene as it has a lot to offer in the entourage effect. Pinene is suggested to have potent anti-inflammatory properties and neuroprotective benefits [6,7] in preclinical studies.

Cannabis strains that contain high levels of the pinene terpene tend to have energizing and focused effects that make them ideal for supporting productivity and creative work.

3. Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene is a terpene that has garnered a lot of attention in the realm of medical research because it appears to be the only terpene that binds to endocannabinoid receptors like certain cannabinoids, specifically the CB2 receptors that support healthy inflammatory response, pain perception, and stress levels to support better quality [8].

Caryophyllene is also highly concentrated in black peppercorns, which is why it has a spicy, peppery aroma. You can find this terpene in clove, cinnamon, and rosemary, which are botanicals known for their anti-inflammatory benefits in herbal medicine.

4. Humulene

Huluene is known for its spicy, slightly floral, and woody aroma and it's most abundant in hops plants—yes the same hops plant that gives beer its "hoppy" and slightly bitter flavor.

This terpene is believed to provide potent anti-inflammatory effects through inhibiting an inflammatory mediator and may have appetite-suppressing effects [9, 10].

5. Limonene

Just as the name suggests, you can find limonene in lime, lemon, and many other citrus fruits. It's one of the most common terpenes found in the cannabis plant and it has an uplifting and stimulating effect on energy levels and mood.

Limonene is suggested to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and stress-relieving properties [11]

6. Linalool

Linalool is a floral-scented terpene that's also found in medicinal herbs such as lavender, cinnamon, and birch bark.

In in vivo studies, linalool has been shown to affect the central nervous system in supporting a sense of relaxation and may also have anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant effects [12]. Linalool is believed to have sedative qualities, and it's suggested that cannabis strains that have high levels of linalool may be better for supporting sleep quality overall [13].

7. Myrcene

Myrcene is one of the most dominant terpenes found in the cannabis plant and it has a strong musky and earthy aroma. You can find this terpene present in ylang-ylang, thyme, mangos, and cardamom seeds.

It's said to have strong sedative properties that help to promote relaxation. Many cannabis strains with a high myrcene content are recommended for supporting healthy stress levels and sleep. High levels of myrcene may contribute to the couch lock sensation often felt with high doses of certain cannabis strains [14].

8. Nerolidol

Nerolidol is a common fragrance in perfumes and cosmetics for its woody-floral aroma with notes of citrus. Other plants that contain high levels of nerolidol include jasmine and tee tree. This terpene is best known for its relaxing effects to support sleep and may have potent anti-oxidant and pain-relieving properties [15].

How Do You Know What Terpenes Are Present in Your Cannabis Product?

While many people can develop a good nose for identifying individual terpenes in their cannabis flower, the only way to verify what's in your cannabis product is through sophisticated lab equipment through third-party testing.

As a best practice, you should always look at lab tests of all your hemp or marijuana products to verify the contents of your cannabis product to ensure it contains what's labeled and that it's free from harmful contaminants in the growing and processing stages.

All reputable CBD brands provide a certificate of analysis conducted by an accredited third-party lab for customer transparency and quality control.

One of the tests conducted on hemp extracts will assess the terpene content and will display the concentration and ratio of the predominant terpenes in the sample. You can use this information to make a more informed guess on how the cannabis product may affect you.

Here's an example of a terpene test from our full spectrum hemp extract:

From this certificate of analysis, you can see that this particular strain is high in beta-caryophyllene and alpha-humulene, which may suggest benefits towards a more mellow, uplifted mood, and better relaxation.

The Takeaway: The Terpene Profile Are Suggested To Contribute To The Effects Of Cannabis Plants

When we say not all cannabis products are equal, it couldn't be more true thanks to this insight on the effects of terpenes.

Based on the preliminary research outlined, it appears that terpenes play an important role in not only the aroma and flavor of the cannabis plant but its effects too.

Most of the research on terpenes is still in its early phases, but with more research emerging on their effects and synergistic value alongside cannabinoids, it's no wonder so many CBD brands are offering products that are rich in terpenes to suit many different people's lifestyles.

Understanding the terpene profile present in CBD extracts and cannabis strains can help users better understand the type of effects they can expect from their products. As always, it's important to reference the company's third-party lab reports to discover what's in your product before using it.

Resources:

  1. Achotegui Castells, A. (2015). The role of terpenes in the defensive responses of conifers against herbivores and pathogens. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
  2. Russo, E. B. (2019). The case for the entourage effect and conventional breeding of clinical cannabis: no “strain,” no gain. Frontiers in plant science, 9, 1969.
  3. Pamplona, F. A., da Silva, L. R., & Coan, A. C. (2018). Potential clinical benefits of CBD-rich cannabis extracts over purified CBD in treatment-resistant epilepsy: observational data meta-analysis. Frontiers in neurology, 9, 759.
  4. Booth, J. K., & Bohlmann, J. (2019). Terpenes in Cannabis sativa–From plant genome to humans. Plant Science, 284, 67-72.
  5. K Maurya, A., Singh, M., Dubey, V., Srivastava, S., Luqman, S., & U Bawankule, D. (2014). α-(-)-bisabolol reduces pro-inflammatory cytokine production and ameliorates skin inflammation. Current pharmaceutical biotechnology, 15(2), 173-181.
  6. Kim, D. S., Lee, H. J., Jeon, Y. D., Han, Y. H., Kee, J. Y., Kim, H. J., ... & Hong, S. H. (2015). Alpha-pinene exhibits anti-inflammatory activity through the suppression of MAPKs and the NF-κB pathway in mouse peritoneal macrophages. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 43(04), 731-742.
  7. Lee, G. Y., Lee, C., Park, G. H., & Jang, J. H. (2017). Amelioration of Scopolamine-Induced Learning and Memory Impairment by

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