12 Apr What are terpenes?
Have you ever wondered what gives some of our favourite sensory experiences their unique scent and flavour? Why lemons are citrusy, why forests are thick with the aroma of pine, or why essential oils hold such pleasant pungency? Well, we have terpenes to thank for that.
What are Terpenes?
So what are terpenes? Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds responsible for many plants’ unique odours and flavours.¹ In practical terms, these plant compounds are present to either attract or repel other organisms. And unsurprisingly, whether they exist to attract pollinators or ensure a plant’s survival, we can’t get enough of them.
Around 140 of the chemicals and compounds found in the cannabis strains we know and love belong to this class of aromatic, organic hydrocarbons – contributing to a wide and varied sensory profile with unique and often complementary effects.
Types of Terpenes
Terpenes are vital to our identification and appreciation of fruits, vegetables, and spices, and sometimes used in the careful construction of CBD oils from the cannabis plant. Terpenes in this amazing plant are made in sticky resin glands where CBD and other cannabinoids are produced.
There are many different types of terpenes. Here are some of the most important terpenes found in the cannabis plant which are used around the world for their various therapeutic effects:
Limonene (pronounced “li-muh-neen”) is found in the aroma of oranges, lemons, limes, and all things citrusy. Whether it’s citrus rind, juniper, rosemary or peppermint, this pleasant smell is attributed to an elevation in mood and spirit.
The earthy, woody smell of pinene is typically found in the bark resin of pine and fir trees. One of the most abundant terpenes in nature, it has been extensively used in medicine as an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, bronchodilator and local antiseptic.
Although evidence is limited, studies suggest that pinene also has anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving), antidepressant and anti-seizure properties, and it may even be effective in the treatment of chronic neurological conditions, such as chronic pain.
The citrus and herbal smell attributed to thyme, bay leaves, hops and the sweet mango all come from the most common terpene found in cannabis – myrcene. Hailed for an array of medicinal benefits, including its prevention of peptic ulcer disease, this incredible terpene plays a vital role in the world of CBD.
A popular flavouring and aroma agent in food and beverages, myrcene has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as the potential to relieve pain and anxiety.
Known for its calming and relaxing effects, the floral spice found in lavender, birch and rosewood is a result of linalool’s complex chemistry. Studies explore the many ways this terpene can boost our immune system, significantly reduce cigarette-induced lung inflammation, and aid in the restoration of the neurological and behavioural impairments associated with Alzheimer’s.
While more clinical trials are needed, there’s evidence to suggest that linalool can be just as effective as commercial anti-anxiety, analgesic and anti-depressant medications (such as lorazepam, benzodiazepam and paroxetine), often with a lower adverse effects profile.
Found in peppercorns, cloves, basil and cotton, beta-caryophyllene is noted for its peppery and spicy scent. Like many others, there are interesting studies surrounding this terpene which make it an attractive component of many high-quality CBD oils.
For instance, the oral combination of phytocannabinoids and beta-caryophyllene appears to be promising for the treatment of chronic pain due to their high safety and low adverse effects profiles. Furthermore, black pepper oil, of which beta-caryophyllene is the main component, is found to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive properties.
Terpenes and CBD
After methane, terpenes are the most common volatile organic compound found in the atmosphere. Put simply, they are everywhere. And like all things in nature, terpenes naturally interact with their chemical environment. In CBD oil, that’s the cannabinoids and other chemical compounds found in cannabis, and this means that they ultimately influence how we benefit from this herbal synergy.
It has been observed that terpenes “display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts”. The “entourage effect” is based on the hypothesis that the various compounds found in cannabis extracts, including terpenes and cannabinoids, can work together to enhance the extract’s effectiveness.
1. Eberhard Breitmaier (2006). Terpenes: Flavors, Fragrances, Pharmaca, Pheromones. Wiley-VCH