What Are Cannabis Terpenes?

by Cedric JacksonSeptember 11, 2019

Terpenes are one of the many compounds in the cannabis plant, and they serve an important purpose. Whether you use cannabis or its by-products or grow the plant, you should familiarize yourself with what terpenes are and why they matter.

Defining Terpenes

Terpenes are aromatic oils that you can find in cannabis plants. These aromatic oils give each strain its distinctive flavor. The same gland of the plant that creates cannabinoids also produces terpenes.

The Variety

So far, experts have discovered over 100 terpenes in the cannabis plant. Each strain of cannabis has its unique terpene composition and type. Although there are over 100 terpenes in cannabis plants, some experts believe that there are more than 20,000 terpenes across all kinds of plants.

Prevalence

You are more likely to find higher quantities of terpenes in female plants’ flowers than those of male plants.

Terpenes Interact With Other Compounds

Scientists know that the terpenes in cannabis plants interact with the other compounds found in these plants as well. Specifically, terpenes interact with cannabinoids synergistically.

Some experts believe that terpenes are essential for determining the effects of a cannabis strain. This idea comes from the way that people have bred cannabis recently so that it has high THC content. That breeding reduced quantities of CBD and other cannabinoids.

What Terpenes Do

Terpenes serve multiple roles in the cannabis plant. They are important for telling the various cannabis strains apart from each other. Depending on the terpene, they can serve specific functions, from relaxation to focus.

The Evolutionary Purpose

Despite the various benefits of terpenes for humans, the cannabis plant did not evolve this compound for our benefit. Instead, cannabis plants developed terpenes as an adaptive element. The terpenes initially repelled predators while attracting pollinators. This helped the cannabis plants stay safe and reproduce. Terpenes also help protect the flowers of plants from fungus and bacteria.

Terpenes can even protect the plants from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

It Varies by Terpene

The critical thing to remember is that each terpene will have its own set of benefits on humans. The terpenes in some strains of cannabis will promote stress-relief and relaxation. Linalool, for example, is a sleep aid. Terpenes in certain strains of cannabis will improve acuity and focus. Certain terpenes, such as humulene, can suppress appetite. The list of potential effects of terpenes is extensive, with the impact depending on the terpene in question.

The Entourage Effect

The entourage effect is also important for terpenes. This effect refers to the way that a terpene’s effect profile can change when other compounds are present. It can also refer to the intensification of the effects of various cannabis elements when other cannabis compounds are present.

This happens because the terpenes found in cannabis encourage cannabinoids to pass into your bloodstream. This can speed up the benefits of the cannabinoids.

What Influences Terpene Development

Many factors will influence how many terpenes a plant develops. These include age and maturation, weather, climate, soil type, and fertilizers. There may even be different levels of terpenes in cannabis plants depending on the time of the day.

Common Cannabis Terpenes

To ensure you fully understand what terpenes are and the variations in roles they can play, take a look at a few of the more common cannabis terpenes.

Alpha-bisabolol

Alpha-bisabolol also goes by the names bisabolol or levomenol. It is present in the candeia tree and the chamomile flower. This terpene is particularly common in cosmetics, but it has gain attention due to potential medical benefits. It is an antioxidant that also has analgesic and anti-irritation properties, making it potentially useful for treating wounds and bacterial infections.

Alpha-pinene

Alpha-pinene, sometimes called pinene, is also found in dill, parsley, basil, rosemary, and pine needles. There is also a beta-pinene terpene. It may be useful in treating ulcers, pain, asthma, inflammation, cancer, Crohn’s, arthritis, and anxiety. It counteracts some of the effects of THC and produces effects like memory retention and alertness. This terpene smells like pine and vaporizes at 311 degrees Fahrenheit (155 degrees Celsius).

Beta-caryophyllene

Beta-caryophyllene is also present in black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. It has an aroma that is spicy or woody, reminiscent of cloves or pepper. This terpene provides stress relief, and its potential medical applications include treating depression, ulcers, anxiety, and pain.  It vaporizes at 266 degrees Fahrenheit (130 degrees Celsius).

Some experts believe that beta-caryophyllene is the only terpene that directly activates one of the cannabinoid receptors in the body. It does this by binding to the CB2 receptors.

Borneol

Borneol has an herbal and minty scent and is found in camphor, rosemary, and mint. It works well as a natural insect repellent, helping prevent mosquito-borne diseases. It is also common in traditional Chinese medicine.

Camphene

Camphene is the terpene that smells like damp woodlands, musky earth, and fir needles. Its smell sometimes has people confuse it with myrcene, the most common terpene in cannabis. Camphene has potential as an antioxidant, particularly when combined with vitamin C. It also has the potential for lowering triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood, which reduces cardiovascular risk.

Delta-3-carene

Delta-3-carene is present in cedar, pine, bell peppers, basil, and rosemary. It has a sweet aroma similar to that of the cypress tree. The chief medical application of delta-3-carene is in healing broken bones. This may mean that it can help those with osteoporosis, arthritis, or fibromyalgia. There is also evidence that this terpene helps with memory retention, giving it promise for treating Alzheimer’s.

Eucalyptol

Eucalyptol, or cineole, is, unsurprisingly, the primary terpene found in the eucalyptus tree. It can also be found in some cannabis strains, although most only have small quantities. In most cases, it will account for about 0.06 percent of the complete terpene profile of a strain. Eucalyptol is commonly used in medicine and cosmetics. For the former application, it can relieve pain while slowing down fungal and bacterial growth. There is also some early research that eucalyptol may help with Alzheimer’s.

Humulene

Humulene is also in hops, cloves, basil, and coriander. It smells earthy or woody, similar to hops. It may have anti-inflammatory applications in medicine. It also has anti-fungal properties that protect the cannabis plant, preventing it from growing fungi. The smell of humulene also makes this one of the terpenes that repel pests that could threaten the plant. This terpene vaporizes at 222 degrees Fahrenheit (106 degrees Celsius). You can find very low levels of humulene in many strains of cannabis, but the key here is that it is in low amounts.

Limonene

Limonene is also present in juniper, peppermint, rosemary, and fruit rinds. It smells like citrus, hence the name. It can elevate the mood of the consumer and relieve stress. There are medical applications for it to potentially treat depression, anxiety, pain, inflammation, and even cancer. It is also commonly used for weight loss and is common in a range of flavorings, including bubblegum. Limonene vaporizes at 348 degrees Fahrenheit (176 degrees Celsius).

Linalool

Linalool is also present in lavender and has a floral scent. It enhances your mood and can have sedative effects. There is potential for it in treating inflammation, neurodegeneration, depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia. There is also some evidence that linalool has anticonvulsant effects, helping those with seizures. Studies with mice showed that this terpene reduced seizure severity. It vaporizes at 388 degrees Fahrenheit (198 degrees Celsius).

Myrcene

When most people think of a cannabis terpene, they imagine myrcene. This is the most common terpene in marijuana and the one responsible for the main fragrance associated with cannabis.

Myrcene is a terpene that is also present in thyme, hops, lemongrass, and mango. It smells herbal, earthy, musky, or like cloves or cardamom. It produces relaxing or sedating effects. This terpene has medical potential as an antioxidant and for treating inflammation, pain, and insomnia. It vaporizes at 332 degrees Fahrenheit (167 degrees Celsius).

Myrcene is one of the primary terpenes in cannabis. Some plants even have as much as 65 percent of their terpene profile as myrcene. Myrcene can also help determine the classification of a strain as sativa or indica. If the plant has over 0.5 percent myrcene, it will be indica.

Ocimene

You can also find ocimene in mint, pepper, parsley, mangos, basil, kumquats, and orchids. It smells sweet, woody, or herbal. Medicinal potentials for this terpene include anti-viral, antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and decongestant. It vaporizes at 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).

Terpinolene

Terpinolene is also present in lilacs, cumin, apples, conifers, tea tree, and nutmeg. It smells herbal, piney, and floral. Its potential medical value includes sedative, anti-fungal, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties. It vaporizes at 366 degrees Fahrenheit (186 degrees Celsius).

Trans-nerolido

Trans-nerolido is a secondary terpene that is common in tea tree oil, lemongrass, and jasmine. It smells like apples, citrus, and rose, with a floral, woody, and citrus scent. It has anti-cancer, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-parasitic properties.

Terpene Vaporization

You will notice that all of the above terpenes have distinct vaporization points. This is important because carbonization will destroy many terpenes, which it also does to cannabinoids. The ideal temperature for terpenes varies. Because of this, those who want to get the most from a range of terpenes should consider a portable vaporizer that has temperature control.

Legality of Terpenes

Given the complex legal status of cannabis, many wonder whether terpenes are legal. Before wondering this, keep in mind that terpenes are not just found in cannabis plants. Since terpenes are in a full range of plants, such as lavender, hops, and pine, it would be impractical and ridiculous for them to be illegal.

The FDA Says Terpenes Are Safe

Not only are terpenes legal, but the FDA says they are safe to consume.

Why They Cannot Be Illegal

It would only be impractical to make terpenes illegal. Otherwise, it would not be legal to have flowers, citrus fruits, or certain trees. It is not even practical to make the terpenes found in cannabis plants illegal and allow for others. This comes from the large overlap between terpenes in cannabis and other plants. For example, the government is not going to ban peppermint by making limonene illegal just because it is found in some strains of cannabis.

How Terpenes Affect Your Choice of Strain

When you decide which strain of cannabis to use, you should be sure to consider the terpene profile. You can even find terpene profiles for many products made from cannabis, such as CBD oils. This information is not always available, but an increasing number of manufacturers include it. But why should you care about the terpenes in your cannabis or cannabis product?

Scent

One of the biggest reasons to pay attention to the terpene profile in your chosen cannabis is because of the scent. You want to enjoy the smell of the cannabis you use since you will be exposed to the scent for a long time. Carefully choosing based on terpenes can help ensure you are happy while smoking your cannabis or using your marijuana-based product.

Effects

The major reason to consider terpenes when choosing your cannabis is that they all have different effects. As mentioned, some terpenes will help you focus while others will help you relax. Some will help you fall asleep while others will help you stay energetic. This means that you can ensure you get what you want out of your cannabis by choosing one with the appropriate terpenes. If, for example, you want to use marijuana to boost your mood, look for a strain with limonene. If your goal is pain relief, look for beta-caryophyllene.

Conclusion

Terpenes are compounds in the cannabis plant that give it its distinctive smell. There are over 100 different cannabis terpenes, with each strain having a unique terpene profile. Each terpene produces various additional benefits, such as relaxation, memory retention, or pain relief. Terpenes also interact with cannabinoids to increase their effectiveness. Terpenes are not unique to the cannabis plant as thousands of types of plants have them. As such, terpenes are legal, and you encounter them daily, even on days you do not use cannabis.

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