Terpenes are the secret life of cannabinoids – they're a family of organic molecules found in fragrant plants – and cannabis is rich in these compounds.
Cannabis' distinctive musky, skunky, and pungent odor is unmistakable: most people can smell it without seeing it. Terpenes, the fragrant compounds that give many flowers and herbs their distinct smells, give cannabis its distinct odor and add to its flavor.
There are over 150 different types of terpenes in cannabis. Despite the fact that most terpenes are present in tiny levels, the most prominent ones work together to give different cannabis strains their unique aroma characteristics. Terpenes not only give cannabis its distinctive aroma, but they also serve a variety of functions in the plant and can have a variety of medicinal and mood-altering effects on users.
Where do terpenes come from?
Terpenes are naturally occurring chemicals present in female cannabis plants' trichomes. Trichomes are transparent, sticky glands that coat the surface of buds and, to a lesser extent, leaves and stems. Trichomes, crucially, have resin glands that create terpenes.
Terpenes are essential for the development and survival of cannabis plants. These chemical components not only provide various scents, but they also enhance the colour and pigmentation of leaves and buds, as well as add to the flavour of cannabis. In a nutshell, terpenes aid to increase the plant's attraction to some species while preventing others from harming it.
Certain terpenes, like as geraniol, repel insects and herbivores who could be enticed to consume cannabis. Terpenes such as terpinolene and linalool attract insects and other tiny animals that can help distribute pollen. These aromatic chemicals aid the immune system of plants by relaying information about their surroundings, protecting them from stresses and infections, and triggering immunological responses.
Because many terpenes are volatile, they are often lost during typical cannabis extraction methods. However, as people become more aware of the medicinal benefits of terpenes, more sensitive extraction methods, such as living resin, are being developed.
Fresh and frozen cannabis plants are used to make live resin, which keeps terpenes and other volatile chemicals in the plant safe during the extraction process, resulting in a more aromatically nuanced and tasty cannabis experience.
How do terpenes affect the body?
Terpenes have long been known for their fragrant characteristics. The strong fragrances associated with terpenes have long been used to create essential oils for uses such as aromatherapy.
Anyone who has applied lavender oil—which includes linalool—behind their ears, for example, understands that it might possibly help you relax. Terpenes in particular cannabis strains can also enhance its effects.
Terpenes, on the other hand, appear to have effects that go beyond just making you feel good and relieving tension. Terpenes have also been found as a promising new therapeutic avenue in cannabis. Until recently, the attention was almost entirely centered on the therapeutic properties of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, but as our understanding of terpenes gets more sophisticated, it's becoming clear that these fragrant chemicals, too, are medical powerhouses.
Terpenes all have their own set of medicinal characteristics. Interestingly, some of the impacts terpenes have on humans are similar to their role in cannabis and other plants, such as aiding in the defense against unwanted bacteria and viruses.
How can terpenes contribute to the effects of cannabis?
Recent data shows that all plant chemicals in cannabis operate cohesively - This is known as the entourage effect, and it may be thought of as: the entirety of all compounds contained in cannabis is more than the sum of its parts. In other words, when cannabinoids and terpenes are ingested together rather than separately, they provide a unique whole-plant synergy.
Terpenes, for example, appear to have a role in modulating the effects of THC and CBD in the body. In a 2018 study of persons with epilepsy, those who took full-spectrum CBD extract—which included cannabinoids and terpenes—had better symptoms and fewer adverse effects than those who received CBD isolate, which only included cannabinoids. Full-spectrum cannabis extract is a whole-plant treatment that contains cannabinoids, terpenes, and other plant chemicals.
Analysis by the researchers also showed that full-spectrum CBD extract was four times more powerful than CBD isolate, and that patients could use a much lower dose to achieve the same effect. In addition, they identified a number of terpenes in the extract that may contribute to its positive effects. Recent studies have found that terpenes increase cannabinoid activity by a significant amount, provided that a large amount of terpenes is administered.
Scientists have made some promising discoveries on terpenes and their interactions with other cannabinoids in cannabis, but there's still a lot we don't know, and the bulk of existing research is based on animal or test-tube models.
Nonetheless, research provides evidence that terpenes are complex molecules. We expect them to become increasingly complex in the future as scientists learn more about how they work, both individually and together.
The top three terpenes found in cannabis
As previously said, cannabis contains a dizzying array of terpenes—more than 150 distinct kinds, to be exact. While many of these exist in amounts that are too low to detect, others have a more noticeable presence.
Here's a rundown of the three most common terpenes found in cannabis.
The majority of cannabis cultivars are high in either myrcene or caryophyllene. Myrcene, a terpene found in hops and lemongrass, has been characterized as having herbaceous, spicy, earthy, and musky fragrance characteristics. Myrcene, which is also contained in mangoes, provides cannabis a pleasantly sweet taste characteristic.
Myrcene, in addition to contributing to the distinctive aroma of cannabis, has anti-inflammatory properties. A 2015 research in cultured cells suggests that myrcene may effectively decrease inflammation linked with osteoarthritis.
The terpene also seemed to help prevent cartilage cell disintegration, delay the course of osteoarthritis, and reduce the creation of particular inflammatory cells produced by the body. In the future, myrcene might be used to assist treat anti-inflammatory disorders and associated symptoms.
Caryophyllene, also known as beta-caryophyllene or β-caryophyllene, is a terpene that gives some cannabis strains a spicy, peppery bite. Caryophyllene may also be present in plants such as cloves, rosemary, oregano and black pepper. If you smell spicy aromas when smelling a certain cannabis cultivar, it is most likely due to the presence of caryophyllene.
Caryophyllene is the only known terpene present in cannabis that can bind to the CB2 receptor in the body's immune system's endocannabinoid system. Caryophyllene is sometimes classified as an unusual cannabinoid due to its distinct effect.
Caryophyllene has shown promise in alleviating symptoms in a variety of disorders, including colitis, diabetes, cerebral ischemia, anxiety and depression, liver fibrosis, and Alzheimer's-like diseases, according to research.
Future research shows that caryophyllene's action at the CB2 receptor might be used to treat illnesses associated with inflammatory symptoms.
The odors connected with limonene are clean, fresh, and uplifting citrus-y scents—the name itself is a dead giveaway for the aromas associated with this terpene. Limonene may be found in the rinds of citrus fruits and ginger, and it is also present in many cannabis cultivars with a fruity, fresh aroma, such as Papaya Punch or Black Cherry Soda.
Limonene appears to change the behavior of some immune cells in the body, which may protect the body from a variety of illnesses. In one study, limonene was shown to help boost the generation of antibody-producing cells in the spleen and bone marrow, which the immune system employs to identify and eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses.
To sum up, terpenes are an integral part of the cannabis experience, and contribute to the smell and taste profiles of any strain. When you smoke or vape your flower, these terpenes are gradually inhaled, where they can interact with receptors in your brain, creating a specific effect that may change depending on the strain.
Over time, it should become easier to identify the characteristic aromas of cannabis strains, both good and bad. This is a great step forward in understanding the many aspects of this plant, from its medicinal properties to its psychoactive effects on various users. Hopefully, over time, we can take even more steps towards understanding how terpene profiles affect us and our cannabis use. Good luck!