What are terpenes?
Terpenes are organic chemical compounds found in the resin glands of a plant which are responsible for their scent and flavor. Aside from cannabis, terpenes are also found in a plethora of flowers, herbs and trees and are key components in the formulation of essential oils. Have you ever sliced open a lemon and notice it’s strong citrus scent elevate your mood? The next time you take a whiff out of a fresh bag of flower—just remember, these compounds are responsible.
Terpenes: The Entourage Effect
Raise your hand if you love trichome macro photography. Trichomes are those tall mushroom shaped bulbs mainly shooting from the bud of hyper-zoomed photos of cannabis plants. These stalks of fluid are where fragrant terpenoids are produced.
Did you know that the color of the liquid seen in trichomes are indicators for cannabis growers to know if the plant is ready to harvest? The color in trichome liquid can even signify cannabinoid presence and potency.
To medical and recreational users, it will come as no surprise that the cannabis plant has therapeutic effects. What may come as a surprises are the unique chemical compounds that are responsible for the scent of your favorite strains. One of the greatest experiences of any cannabis enthusiast comes from the vast array of flavors and scents we experience. Think about it. Some of your favorite strains come from the scents they give off: Lemon Haze, Blueberry for their fruity sweet smells. While Sour diesel is known for it’s notable pungent and almost overwhelming smell, somewhat like a gas station.
Who do you thank for this array of scents? The terpenes of course. While this is one aspect of the plant, researchers are discovering that terpenes also support other cannabis molecules in producing physiological and mental effects. There is a synergy between cannabinoids and terpenes that works along with other metabolites and phytochemicals. Terpenes are an incredibly large class of molecules that are produced by many species of plants. They are also the main ingredient in many essential oils. Take a look at some of the more common terpenes and their effects.
It’s safe to say that myrcene is the most commonly found terpene in Cannabis. Often described as fruity, spicy and clove-like in aroma. You will also find myrcene present in mangos, bay leaves and cloves. A few of myrcene’s known effects in cannabis use are euphoria, pain relief and couch-lock. “There is evidence that β-myrcene can exert sedative, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, muscle-relaxant, and neuroprotective effects. It may also have potential applications in arthritis and peptic ulcers (9).” Allen V., Cannabis Science and Technology 2(3), 46-55 (2019)
Strains containing myrcene: Girl Scout Cookies, Blue Dream and Skywalker OG
Limonene is a favorable terpene for those looking for a component in a strain to combat depression. It’s most commonly found in citrus fruits like lemons. “D-limonene has been reported to have sedative, antidepressant, antimicrobial, anticancer, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory effects, with therapeutic prospects for patients suffering from gastro-esophageal reflux, colitis, or obesity.” Allen V., Cannabis Science and Technology 2(3), 46-55 (2019)
Strains high in D-Limonene: Hindu Kush, Lemon G and Cookies and Cream
Caryophyllene’s scent can be described as peppery, woody and floral and may be found in rosemary, oregano and pepper. It’s known as one of the first cannabis compounds with the ability to directly bind with receptors in the human endocannabinoid system. According to research, Caryophoyllene’s potential medical benefits include pain relief, stress and anxiety relief, anti-cancer properties, and aid in healthy digestion. (to name a few)
Strains high in Caryophyllene: Lavender, Candyland and Blueberry Cheesecake
The Future of Terpenes
Research in terpenoids and medical cannabis are fairly new to the world while terpenoids in general plant medicine can be considered ancient. This makes for an exciting next decade in science and technology in relation to medical cannabis. The potential benefits of terpenes on the human body, especially when applied synergistically with other effective compounds (cannabinoids and flavonoids) are vast and continue being explored with the expectation that a well-balanced phytochemical outcome can make all the difference in patient/consumer experience.