Cannabis industry gets crafty with terpenes

Terpenes, terpenoids, terps. Whatever you call them, these compounds in cannabis that give it distinctive aromas and flavors are popping up in consumer products everywhere. In US states where medical and recreational cannabis is legal, companies are spiking tinctures, vaping oils, lotions, foods, and beverages with terpenes, along with cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). In other places, companies are marketing similar products minus the THC, with labels claiming “whole plant” medicine or “full spectrum” CBD.

The idea is that terpenes enhance the health benefits of the products either alone or synergistically with other terpenes, THC, CBD, and other minor cannabinoids found in cannabis. Most research has focused on the health effects of individual terpenes. For example, linalool, a terpene also found in lavender, provides antianxiety effects. α-Pinene, which is also produced in rosemary, can be invigorating and lead to mental alertness. Much less is known about how terpenes work together and in combination with cannabinoids.

“We have barely begun to understand the therapeutic potential of cannabis,” says Ethan Russo, a neurologist and director of R&D at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, based in the Czech Republic. “We haven’t taken the steps that are required to really harness the abilities of some of these minor cannabinoids, particularly in conjunction with optimized terpenoid profiles.”

Russo prefers the term terpenoid over terpenes because “terpenes are hydrocarbons. Terpenoids may have oxygen or other elements, so terpenoid is actually the more encompassing term,” he says. “But when people are speaking cannabis, they are pretty much synonymous.”­

Related: Cannabis research stalled by federal inaction

A nebulous understanding of how terpenes interact with other chemicals in cannabis, however, isn’t stopping cannabis companies from jumping into terpenes. Manufacturers are getting creative and adding the flavorful compounds to a wide array of products to try to mimic—or enhance—terpene profiles found in cannabis flowers.

Plants create terpenes to protect themselves from predators or to lure pollinators. Each different strain or chemical variety of cannabis, sometimes called a chemovar, has its own signature of terpenes and cannabinoids. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these chemovars, each with random-sounding names that often allude to the kind of sensory experience a user may feel. For example, Lemon Kush is high in limonene, a terpene also found in citrus peels that is known for its mood-elevating and antibacterial properties. Blue Dream is high in myrcene, known for its relaxing and sedative effects. Sour Diesel is high in both myrcene and limonene, a combination known for its energizing and stress-relieving effects.

Just because two varieties of cannabis are sold under the same name, however, doesn’t mean they have the same chemical profile. Most of the time they do not.

A huge number of variables affect the terpene profile of plants, says Amber Wise, scientific director at Medicine Creek Analytics, a cannabis-testing lab in Washington State. If plants with the same genetic makeup are grown outdoors versus indoors, “you can end up with different terpene profiles at the end because temperature, growing medium, nutrients, sunlight, all kinds of things affect the terpene profile of plants,” Wise says.


Terpene therapeutics

The strong-smelling chemicals in cannabis products may be beneficial to your health—and they may also come from other sources.

α-Bisabolol

Aromas and flavors: Coconut, fruity, nutty
Health effects: Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory

β-Caryophyllene

Aromas and flavors: Clove, dry, spicy, woody
Health effects: Antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective

α-Humulene

Aromas and flavors: Bitter, floral, peppery, woody
Health effects: Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory

(+)-Limonene

Aromas and flavors: Citrusy, sweet
Health effects: Antibacterial, mood elevation, stress relief

Linalool

Aromas and flavors: Floral, rose, woody
Health effects: Antianxiety, sedative

Myrcene

Aromas and flavors: Celery-like, herbaceous, turpentine- like, woody
Health effects: Analgesic, sedative, relaxing

α-Pinene

Aromas and flavors: Cool, fresh, herbal, piney, turpentine- like
Health effects: Alertness, possible memory retention

β-Pinene

Aromas and flavors: Green hay, piney, spicy, woody
Health effects: Anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator

Terpinolene

Aromas and flavors: Fresh, lemon peel, sweet
Health effects: Antibacterial, antifungal, possible sedative

Source: The Werc Shop. Note: Health effects have largely been studied for individual chemicals in isolation, not in mixtures.


David Heldreth, a longtime cannabis grower and medical-cannabis patient, began nearly a decade ago to investigate how various growing conditions affect the composition of cannabis. He patented a series of lighting changes and fertilizer, plant growth hormone, and enzyme treatments that increase the production of minor cannabinoids, such as cannabigerol and cannabichromene, as well as specific terpenes.

Today, Heldreth is the chief science officer at True Terpenes, an Oregon-based company that markets terpenes to companies that reformulate them into various consumer goods. Companies are adding True Terpenes’ formulations to edibles such as chocolate, beverages such as soda and beer, and various skin lotions, Heldreth says. Manufacturers are also adding such terpene formulations to vaping oils that contain cannabinoids.

Demand for terpenes is booming in the US now that CBD from hemp is legal across the country. It is currently too expensive to harvest and extract CBD from hemp flowers, so companies are using the entire plant, including the leaves and stalks, Heldreth says.

Many companies use ethanol to extract CBD from the whole plant material. When the ethanol is removed, terpenes are lost through volatilization. So companies often reintroduce terpenes into their final products. Unfortunately, “there aren’t any extra terpenes around from cannabis,” Heldreth says.

True Terpenes sources its terpenes from other natural products, such as getting linalool from lavender and limonene from citrus. The company works with cannabis growers to obtain analytical data on terpenes in various cannabis strains. It then develops formulations that contain about 40 terpenes at percentages that mimic the chemical signatures of popular cannabis strains. The formulations are mixtures of essential oils that are generally recognized as safe by food regulators. Some of the products also contain refined coconut oil.

Cannabinoids are not water soluble, and formulation strategies differ for edible and topical products compared with those intended for inhalation. In aqueous products like beverages, cannabinoids are often encapsulated in micelles and microemulsions using proprietary methods developed by pharmaceutical companies.We don’t know anything about vaping terpenes or the degradation products that they might form after high heat exposure.Amber Wise, scientific director, Medicine Creek Analytics

Vaping oils require a thinning agent, such as propylene glycol, poly(ethylene glycol), or vegetable glycerin—the same chemicals used in e-cigarette liquids. Some companies use medium-chain triglycerides from refined coconut oil.

When these thinning agents are heated, they emit formaldehyde, warns Jeff Raber, cofounder and CEO of the Werc Shop, a California-based cannabis contract manufacturing and testing firm. It is not something you want to inhale, he says.

The Werc Shop was granted a US patent earlier this year related to a thinning agent made up of the terpene phytol and related compounds. The company now markets a formulation called Nexus 2.0 that combines phytol with other terpenes and compounds found in cannabis. The formulation improves the stability, performance, and inhalation safety of vaping products, Raber claims.

Related: Symrise makes synthetic cannabidiol

The Nexus formulation also aims to offer the same taste and effect that plant material does. “Our terpene formulations can comprise more than 50 components,” Raber says. “They are what we call ‘true to plant.’ ”

The concentration of terpenes in vaping oil typically ranges from 5 to 15%, depending on the preferred end formulation, Raber says. If the concentration is too high, “it can actually sting your lips or tongue,” he says. “It can taste bad if not done well.”

Some people can also develop allergies, such as skin and inhalation sensitivities, to terpenes. Many of the allergens in fragrances are terpenes, says Julie Kowalski, chief scientific officer at Trace Analytics, a cannabis-testing lab in Washington State. People need to think about allergies, particularly “when they are formulating products where they put in artificially high amounts of terpenes,” she says.

Most companies aim to replicate the terpenes in cannabis flowers at ratios that occur naturally. But not all manufacturers are doing it well.

“We’ve seen concentrations of up to 20% terpenes in some formulations,” Wise says. Such high levels of terpenes are “terrifying from a public health standpoint,” she says. Terpenes are typically found in cannabis flowers at levels of 2–5%.

“We don’t know anything about vaping terpenes or the degradation products that they might form after high heat exposure,” Wise says. Terpenes are highly reactive molecules that isomerize and interact with O2, she notes. But “it is a big unknown as to what happens when you heat them up, smoke them, or vape them,” she says. Variability of vape-oil composition makes it particularly challenging to study terpenes’ health effects.

Olala, a recreational-cannabis company in Washington, started out making vape oils. Today, the company’s biggest source of revenue is cannabis beverages—sodas, coffee, sparkling water, and terpene tonics—says the firm’s president, Randy Reed.

The company focuses on being a “best-in-class-type manufacturer, whether it be making beverages, vape oils, topicals, or capsules,” Reed says. “We don’t know what direction the cannabis industry is going. You’ve got to be flexible.” To that end, Olala has developed a manufacturing facility that can pivot quickly and change to give consumers the products they want, Reed says. That includes making products with specific terpene profiles, as well as THC and other cannabinoids.

Related: Hemp growing pains

Olala products start with fresh cannabis flowers. The company extracts all the cannabinoids and terpenes it can using a multiphase carbon dioxide extraction technique with ethanol modifiers. The method involves using subcritical CO2 to fractionate off the terpenes, followed by supercritical CO2 to pull out cannabinoids.

Each fraction is characterized and quantified, so the company has full control over how much of each ingredient is added back into its products. “For our edibles, we don’t want all those terpenes in there,” Reed says. The smell and taste of the terpenes, which can be quite bitter, would overpower whatever other flavor is in the product—for example, orange cream or lemon lime in a soda—he says.

Other Olala products, such as vape oils and terpene tonics, which are formulated to taste like specific cannabis flowers, have higher terpene concentrations. According to anecdotal evidence, terpene tonics that are high in myrcene or linalool will make you feel more relaxed, Reed says. Other terpene tonics that are high in α-pinene and terpinolene will give you a more uplifting effect, he adds. The terpene tonics are “kind of a craft maker thing,” Reed says. “You have a feel for the various chemovars or the chemical profiles of the flower.”

Olala’s inclusion of THC in its products differentiates it from much of the CBD industry, which markets products for wellness rather than recreation. So-called full-spectrum or whole-plant CBD tinctures without THC are increasingly popular. These extracts contain several minor cannabinoids in addition to CBD. The problem is there are “reportedly over 300 online CBD hemp companies,” says Bonni Goldstein, medical director of Canna-Centers, a California-based medical cannabis practice. There is no way to tell what is in those bottles other than to ask the company for a certificate of analysis or pay for a lab to test a sample, she says. There are good-quality CBD products and “garbage,” she warns.

Goldstein treats children with epilepsy, cancer, severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, debilitating Tourette’s syndrome, and mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and self-injury. She emphasizes the importance of accurate labeling on CBD oils when they are used for medical purposes.

Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first pure CBD drug, Epidiolex, for treating seizures in children with two rare disorders. The drug, manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, does not contain any other cannabinoids or terpenes derived from cannabis.

Epidiolex gives certainty in CBD dosing, but researchers in Brazil have found that it is less effective than equivalent doses of CBD in extracts that also contain the full array of cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis flowers. They reported that it takes a lot less, about 22% of the dose of pure CBD, to treat severe seizures with whole-plant CBD extracts (Front Neurol. 2018, DOI: 10.3389/fneur.2018.00759).

“Because of the synergy, even a touch of THC or anticonvulsant terpenoids such as linalool can make a difference between control and lack of it” with respect to seizures, the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute’s Russo says. “If you need five times as much of the pure-compound CBD, it doesn’t mean that CBD is bad medicine. It means that the plant does it better.”

Whole-plant extracts not only are more effective but also have fewer side effects than pure CBD at higher doses, Russo says. The bottom line, he says, is that “whole-cannabis extracts are going to have an advantage over pure compounds in almost every instance.”

Consequently, some parents of children with chronic conditions continue to use CBD oils rather than Epidiolex. Such oils may be whole-plant extracts or they may be CBD extracts with terpenes added. People who buy CBD oils online sometimes pay for the oils to be tested by private laboratories, Goldstein says. In some cases, labs reported high levels of pesticides, lead, and isopropyl alcohol, she says. In other cases, the amount of CBD in the bottle was too low for treating a pediatric patient with epilepsy.

These problems drive many families to make their own oils by purchasing raw cannabis flowers from a dispensary, Goldstein says. Doing so allows them to control the quality as well as to try numerous varieties that are not available as prefabricated manufactured oil, she notes. Each variety has subtly different effects, and some work better than others for particular patients.

Using oils or extracts from cannabis flowers directly is the best way to achieve health benefits from cannabis, some argue. “There is a purist argument that you should keep cannabis together” and not introduce terpenes from other natural products, says Toby Astill, global food market manager at the instrumentation company PerkinElmer. But it probably doesn’t matter where the terpenes come from, assuming they are of food-grade quality and product manufacturers can match the profiles found in cannabis flowers. “At the end of the day, if you analytically know what your terpene is, it is the same chemistry from either source,” he says. “It does work both ways.”

Terpenes

A BRIEF DESCRIPTION

Terpenes are the organic compounds responsible for creating the unique aroma of each individual cannabis plant. Terpenes do more than determine the scent finger print, they also provide therapeutic benefits like their cannabinoid partners, THC and CBD. Formed from the same shiny, resinous trichomes as cannabinoids, cannabis terpenes also bind to the same endocannabinoid receptors located throughout the brain and body. For example, depending upon which receptors they react with, different terpenes may help to induce sleep and relax muscles while others reduce stress and elevate mood, or reduce inflammation and increase energy.

When terpenes work together with cannabinoids, in a process known as the entourage effect, the therapeutic potentials increase dramatically. Terpenes can also modify how much of each cannabinoid is absorbed. This means the presence of certain terpenes can increase or decrease the amount of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC is absorbed, effectively controlling the potency. Consequently, a strain of medical cannabis with the perfect mix of terpenes and cannabinoids could be the equivalent of a hand tailored suit, designed to treat a particular disease or condition.

Select one of the terpenes from the options below to learn about each one’s unique aroma and which medicinal benefits it may provide to treat your condition.

Myrcene

TERPENE PROFILE

Myrcene is the most prevalent of the more than 200 identified terpenes which form the building blocks of medical cannabis, hogging as much as 50 percent of the terpene volume at one time. Responsible for the earthy, spicy balsamic, and clove aromas, myrcene also plays a precursory role in the formation of several other terpenes. myrcene can also be found in hops, mango, lemongrass and basil.

Also playing a role in whether a particular strain displays sativa or indica characteristics, myrcene adds to the robust medical efficacy of cannabis. According to research, myrcene is attributed to producing the following therapeutic benefits:

  • Antiseptic
  • Analgesic
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-carcinogen
  • Muscle relaxant

Linalool

TERPENE PROFILE

Linalool is one of the more than 200 fragrant chemical compounds, known as terpenes, that are the foundation for the pungent aroma and medicinal value of cannabis. In medical cannabis plants, linalool is typically responsible for producing a floral, spicy or woody aroma. With documented use dating back thousands of years, linalool is one of the oldest known sedatives, or sleep aids, in the world. Linalool, like cannabinoids THC or CBD, is formed within the shiny resinous glands covering cannabis flowers, called trichomes. Also found in some citrus, birch, rosewood, laurels and coriander, linalool is arguably most recognizable in lavender.

Conferring more than just strong sedative properties, research shows linalool to supply the following medical benefits in cannabis:

  • Anti-anxiety
  • Stress relief
  • Anticonvulsant
  • Antidepressant
  • Muscle relaxant

Pinene

TERPENE PROFILE

Formed within the shiny resinous glands that cover cannabis flowers, called trichomes, pinene is one of the hundreds of terpenes that serve as the foundation for the pungent aroma and medical efficacy of cannabis. The most commonly occurring terpene among all plants, pinene, comes in two different varieties — alpha and beta. Alpha-pinene secretes aromas of pine needles or rosemary, while beta-pinene produces scents of hops, dill, parsley, or basil. Pinene is also found in turpentine, conifer trees, and orange peels.

Contributing strong medical benefits to the synergistic relationship between terpenes and cannabinoids, research reveals that pinene provides the following therapeutic qualities:

  • Bronchodilator
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Topical antiseptic
  • Promotes alertness
  • Analgesic

Limonenes

TERPENE PROFILE

Limonene is one of the more than 200 identified medical cannabis terpenes that works side by side with cannabinoids to provide the therapeutic benefits in the treatment of so many different conditions and ailments. Known for secreting the familiar smell of citrus, limonene can translate into the lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime, mint, rosemary or even juniper aroma. It is exactly the same chemical that provides fruits like oranges, lemons and limes with a citrus scent.

More than just a pungent aroma, limonene makes a powerful contribution to the impressive medical efficacy of cannabis. Research shows limonene to produce the following effects:

  • Stress relief
  • Elevated mood
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-bacterial
  • Anti-fungal
  • Aids digestion
  • Acid reflux relief

How to Pair Food and Drinks With Cannabis Terpenes

Cannabis and food: two substances with the power to make people very happy. Few things make a better pair, and with thousands of cannabis strains and the entire wide world of food and drink at our disposal, more pairings are possible today than ever before. The question is: how to go about matching a dish or beverage with its perfect cannabis counterpart?

Regardless of whether you’re a wine-and-cheese pro or completely uninitiated to the process, don’t be intimidated by pairings – they’re easier than you think.

Basic Tenets of Pairing Cannabis with Food

Basic Tenets of Pairing Cannabis with Food

No matter what you’re matching it with, the right cannabis pairing starts with an understanding of cannabis terpenes – the naturally occurring compounds that give individual strains their unique aromas and flavors. Terpenes are found in varying concentrations in different cannabis strains, with all strains containing at least a few different terpenes. Myrcene, for instance, is what gives Jillybean its tropical fruit flavor; a high concentration of pinene imparts a foresty flavor profile to Jack Herer. Terpenes are present in food, too: you’ll find them providing aromas, flavors, and health benefits in everything from oranges and tomatoes to seafood and herbs.RelatedWhat are cannabis terpenes and what do they do?

Matching these aroma and flavor profiles with other aromas and flavors that complement or accentuate them is what makes for a great pairing. Say you’re trying a new salmon recipe for dinner, and the recipe calls for a squeeze of lemon juice. A lemony strain, such as Super Lemon Haze, will help highlight those lemon flavors in the dish. Conversely, say you’ve made lemon bars for dessert; with plenty of lemon flavor packed into each bar, you might choose a strain with complementary flavors, like Blueberry, to balance out that intense citrusy sweetness.

Whether you choose comparable or contrasting flavors is up to you – there are no right or wrong answers, and pairing is all about personal preference. Do you like the pairing? Then it’s a good one. Just as everyone experiences the effects of different cannabis strains a little bit differently, everyone (even the pros) experiences flavors a little bit differently, too. Factors including your body chemistry, past experiences, and the region you’re from can all affect what you taste, so don’t waste time worrying about whether you’re doing it right.

How to Get Started with Cannabis Pairings

How to Get Started with Cannabis Pairings

If you’re a beginner, cannabis strains with high terpene levels are a great place to start; they’ll have the most pronounced aromas and flavors, which make them easier to match. Your budtender will be able to guide you toward strains with high levels of terpenes (between 2% and 4% total terpene content is generally considered high). Take a whiff of the flower and consider what you smell. Is it sweet? Citrusy? Spicy? Now, think about what foods or drinks those flavors would go well with. Sticking your nose in a jar of peppery Power Plant may be inspire you to whip up some lemon-pepper chicken. With citrus-laden Tangie, your first thought may be a big glass of iced tea.

Descriptively named strains can also clue you in to potential pairings. Agent Orange, for instance, is so named for its juicy orange aroma and flavor, so think of foods or drinks that might naturally be complemented by an orange slice, such as teriyaki chicken or a summery hefeweizen.

When pairing, the best means of consuming the strain you’ve selected is with a vaporizer compatible with cannabis flower. Vaporization lets terpene flavors shine through without burning them off like combustion does; you can even customize which terpenes you’re inhaling by tweaking the temperature settings on more advanced machines.RelatedWhich Type of Vaporizer Best Suits You?

Regardless of your experience level, there’s simply no substitute for practice (good thing that’s the fun part). Pairing is far from an exact science, so the most important thing is to play around enough that you learn what you like. Whenever you try a new pairing, be sure to write down whether you liked it so you can learn from your experiences.

Basic Cannabis and Food Pairings to Try

Basic Cannabis and Food Pairings to Try

The following are a few basic pairings; use them to get you started, then strike out on your own!

  • Spinach Strawberry Salad with Blue Dream. A fresh, farmers market-inspired salad, particularly one with sliced berries, is only made better by this juicy, berry-forward hybrid.
  • Hawaiian Pizza and Pineapple Express. Everyone knows the pineapple chunks on a slice of Hawaiian pizza are the best part. Pair each bite with a hit of sweet, tropical Pineapple Express to highlight that flavor.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sour Diesel. Offset the sweetness of this classic dessert with the pungent, earthy flavor of Sour Diesel.

One more great thing about cannabis pairing is that cannabinoids – particularly THC – will heighten your enjoyment of flavors, textures, and colors in most any food or drink. To make the most of your pairings, try choosing dishes that exhibit rich flavors, bright colors, and unique textures. Furthermore, most cannabis strains augment our desire to chow down (hence the munchies), so it’s hard to go wrong with whatever you decide to cook up or snack on.

Pairing Cannabis with Beverages

Pairing Cannabis with Beverages

When pairing cannabis with beverages, particularly alcoholic ones, there’s another element to consider in addition to flavor: how the effects of the cannabis pair with the effects of the beverage. This additional layer to the pairing process makes it a little more challenging but also lots of fun.RelatedThe Leafly Beer & Cannabis Flavor Pairing Guide

Indicassativas, and hybrids can beget a wide range of effects: some strains are uplifting and euphoric, while others are relaxed and sleepy. The best pairings consider both the flavors of each individual constituent and how the effects of one will offset or accentuate the effects of the other. If you’re holding a Russian imperial stout with 12 percent alcohol by volume, you’d probably better steer clear of potent, body-heavy indicas like Granddaddy Purple, unless you want to end up napping all afternoon in an armchair (though that can be enjoyable, too). On the other hand, pairing an after-dinner espresso with an energetic sativa might be a recipe for disaster if you don’t want to be up all night – so consider switching your strain choice, or brewing a shot of decaf.

Note: With pairing cannabis with alcohol, it’s imperative that you consume responsibly. Always practice moderation, and never drive under the influence of THC, alcohol, or both.

What is CBD Bioavailability and Why Does it Matter?

We all want to get the most bang for our buck when it comes to using CBD. One of the best ways to do this? Increase CBD bioavailability! So, what is CBD bioavailability, and how can you increase it? Read below to learn more!


What is CBD Bioavailability?

Ever wonder why many medications, vitamins, and supplements are best taken with a meal? This is usually because a meal increases the absorption of whatever is being taken. That’s another way of saying the meal increases the bioavailability of the medication, vitamin or supplement. This same concept applies to CBD products.

CBD bioavailability is the percentage of CBD that is actually absorbed into the bloodstream. This is important because the more you actually absorb into the bloodstream, the more potent the effect.

CBD bioavailability is mainly determined by the type of product you take and how you take it. However, there are a few other factors and ways you can increase CBD bioavailability and its therapeutic effects. Let’s dig in!


Increase CBD Bioavailability by Changing the Type of Product You Use

CBD products come in a variety of forms including balms, tinctures, capsules, vapor, edibles, and more. While each method provides benefits, some allow for more CBD to be directly absorbed than others.

CBD Bioavailability When Swallowed

CBD that you eat or swallow requires digestion. This means that most of the CBD gets broken down by your liver before circulating into your bloodstream. Because of this, CBD products like gummies, drinks, softgels, and capsules have a lower bioavailability than products like tinctures, which get absorbed more quickly into your bloodstream under your tongue.

The bioavailability of ingested CBD is roughly 13-19%. This means that if you swallow 20mg of pure CBD on an empty stomach, sometimes less than 3mg of it will actually make it into your blood and have an effect.

CBD Bioavailability When Taken Under the Tongue

Using a tincture, spray or strip to absorb CBD in your mouth is a popular method of taking CBD. It has slightly more bioavailability (~20-30%) than swallowed CBD (~13-19%). This is because it’s a quicker and more direct route to the bloodstream, and it also avoids the liver’s first pass effect, which lowers CBD bioavailability.

This is why we recommend holding the liquid under your tongue without talking for at least 20 seconds. You can swallow the rest, and that amount will be digested with a more similar bioavailability to a pill.

CBD Bioavailability Through the Skin

CBD topicals like balms, salves, and lotions that you rub into your skin have fairly low CBD bioavailability. However, they are typically used for site-specific discomfort so it’s unfair to compare to their bioavailability to that of other methods, which are typically used to manage mood, stress, sleep, and more.

The difference is because there are more CB2 and TRPV1 receptors in your skin and periphery system than CB1 receptors, which are mainly in your brain and central nervous system.

CBD Bioavailability of Other Methods

Vaporizing CBD can be one of the most bioavailable methods at 10-60% CBD bioavailability. CBD vapes work as a way to quickly administer CBD to help manage mood, stress, and sleep.

Knowing which temperature to use is important to get the desired effect. Overheating vape juices can convert safe and therapeutic compounds into harmful benzenes. For these reasons, and because of lack of thorough research of long-term effects, Anavii Market does not carry vaporized CBD products.

Though not as popular, a rectal suppository does have more bioavailability than CBD that you eat because it also avoids how the liver breaks it down. More research is needed for specifics on this. Some recommend using coconut oil with this method.

Intravenous administration (aka injecting) has 100% CBD bioavailability, being a direct path into the bloodstream, but this is obviously not a desirable nor recommended method.


Other Ways to Increase CBD Bioavailability

There are more ways that you can raise CBD bioavailability and enhance CBD’s therapeutic effects in addition to changing the method that you take it.

Increase CBD Bioavailability with a High Fat Snack

CBD is a fat soluble compound, meaning it dissolves in fats and fatty oils. This breaks CBD down into smaller molecules which are more easily absorbed by the body. Because of this property of CBD, one of the ways to increase bioavailability of CBD is to mix it with a high fat snack or meal.

Peanut butter, almond butter, avocado, nuts and hemp hearts are all good choices!

So is having CBD dissolved in coconut oil or hemp seed oil, like many CBD tinctures and edibles already do! This makes it easier for the body to absorb more CBD.

Most CBD edibles and capsules also use CBD dissolved in oil, though adding a high-fat snack or meal still helps!

Increase CBD Bioavailability through Emulsification

Some newer CBD products emulsify their CBD using nanotechnologyEmulsification breaks CBD down into even smaller molecules, or “micronizes” them. This can be done in a water or oil-based product.

The smaller and more dispersed the molecules are, the more bioavailable they are. This is because these micronized particles pass more easily through cell membranes and into the bloodstream than larger CBD particles.

There a few types of emulsification and some increase CBD bioavailability more than others. The main differences comes down to the size of the CBD molecules, but also whether the CBD is combined with fatty oils or terpenes.

Try Barlean’s Seriously Delicious Chocolate Mint Syrup to experience the bioavailability of emulsified CBD oil.

Increase CBD Bioavailability with Supplemental Terpenes

Terpenes are fatty oils that organically occur in the essential oils of almost all plants.

Terpenes provide many of the health benefits of essential oils, and they create the popular aromas, fragrances and flavors of many fruits and herbs. Terpenes make flowers smell nice and are used as natural flavorings in many things (drinks, gum, mint candies, etc).

Terpenes occur naturally in hemp and are extracted alongside CBD and other compounds to create full spectrum CBD products. All of these compounds work together and amplify each other’s benefits. This synergy is called the entourage effect and means these compounds work better together than they do alone, and bioavailability is part of this.

Terpenes raise CBD bioavailability in multiple ways, in addition to enhancing and modulating the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids.

Here are some key terpenes to have on your radar:

Alpha-Pinene

Limonene

  • An antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anticancer found most in grapefruit and lemons, but also lemongrass and all other citrus fruits.
  • Limonene may help regulate serotonin and dopamine levels, which helps balance mood and anxiety.

Myrcene

  • An antihypertensive, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and sedative terpene. It is found in mangos, hops and lemongrass. Considered the most sedative terpene, like CBD oil, myrcene is thought to lower your blood pressure.
  • On top of myrcene being a fat in which CBD products dissolves, it also lowers the resistance of the cell membranes CBD passes through to enter the bloodstream, which increases bioavailability. Myrcene is also a precursor of menthol, which means myrcene converts into menthol (and many other terpenes.)

Menthol

  • Found most in peppermint, but also found in spearmint and eucalyptus. It shares similar painkilling effects with myrcene, but isn’t considered sedative.
  • Menthol, limonene, pinene and myrcene are all found to increase transdermal bioavailability for the same reasons. They do this by disintegrating cell membranes to make them more permeable, so it’s easier for CBD to pass through and get into your bloodstream.
  • This same effect also helps them kill bacteria. Many CBD balms and tinctures will use peppermint oil to increase CBD bioavailability for this reason.

Linalool

  • An anti-anxiety terpene found most in lavender, but also found in cinnamon, bay leaf, and coriander. This terpene is a glutamate (NMDA) antagonist, which creates a dissociative and tranquilizing effect.
  • Linalool also enhances GABA signals without directly binding to and activating the GABA receptors to reduce excitability and anxiety.
  • Linalool and myrcene have a sedative effect with CBD and will help you sleep. This is also part of why cannabis indica is more sedative. Indica has more myrcene (> 0.5%) and linalool than cannabis sativa.

Beta-caryophyllene (BCP)

All of these terpenes increase CBD bioavailability by being lipids (a fancy name for fats), in which CBD dissolves. This is on top of their individual properties and the synergistic effect of them working together.

Terpenes make up a small percentage of a plant’s total composition so if taking in an isolated form, they should be diluted in a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed oil. Terpenes, like CBD, can be eaten, swallowed, absorbed in the mouth or inhaled so take alongside your CBD to further enhance!

Increase CBD Bioavailability with Other Supplemental Herbs

A good balanced diet never hurts bioavailability, but some specific supplements like black pepper directly increase CBD bioavailability in multiple ways.

Black pepper contains many notable compounds, including some of the terpenes mentioned above. These natural compounds have many beneficial properties that raise CBD bioavailability.

Like terpenes, some of these natural chemicals are also found in other popular plants, like chamomile and hot peppers.

Chamomile flowers contain the compound apigenin, which prevents cannabinoids naturally produced inside your body from being broken down. It extends their effects by binding to an enzyme that breaks them down. Interestingly enough, in non-clinical research trials, apigenin has been shown to both reverse drug resistant cancer cells and also kill cancer cells.

Other sources of apigenin include oreganocelery, hot peppers, carob, parsley and dark chocolate.

Piperine, another alkaloid unique to black pepper, increases the bioavailability of CBD by working against the liver’s metabolic effects and does the same for turmeric, increasing the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%. Many supplements will combine black pepper with turmeric because of this. Early research has shown that Piperine also may kill cancer by triggering apoptosis, and can also reverse drug resistance in cancer cells, like apigenin, but clinical trails are needed to prove efficacy.

Spicy Peppers contain capsaicin, which is structurally similar to cannabinoids, kill and reverse drug resistant cancer cells. This is also interesting because piperine and capsaicin both act on the TRPV1 receptors, which makes them peppery and spicy. CBD also acts on the TRPV1 receptors.

This sort of synergy occurs in other related herbs as well. Capsaicin significantly multiplies the anticancer effects of green tea catechins. The most abundant of these is EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), a polyphenol and anticancer green tea catechin, which is also a weak CB1 agonist.

Nature on nature on nature on nature! It all works together, whether it’s all of the compounds within the hemp plant or with naturally-occurring compounds from other plants.


Let’s Recap!

You can change your method of using CBD, mix CBD with fats, use emulsified CBD, combine CBD with additional terpenes and herbs like black pepper, lavender and chamomile all to get more out of it.

Whether you take CBD for sleep, mood, discomfort, or other reasons, there are many ways you can maximize CBD bioavailability and fine tune CBD’s effects to suit your needs!

The Difference Between Cannabinoids and Terpenes

Terps Cannabinoids

What are terpenes? 

You already know what terpenes are because you’ve experienced them all your life. Simply put, terpenes are what gives an orange its citrusy smell. They give pine trees their unique aroma. They’re even responsible for the relaxing effects in lavender. They are chemicals that determine how things smell.

But wait. You thought that cannabinoids were the compounds in the cannabis plant that caused healing, right? Yes, but it’s been discovered that terpenes can play a big role in that as well. In fact, cannabinoids and terpenes work together in something called the entourage effect. 

The entourage effect simply means that cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, along with the hundreds of other compounds, along with the terpenes, are meant to work together. It’s the whole plant that does the best job, not just a single compound. While relief does come from using a CBD oil or a THC oil, whole plant therapy has been the most common use. Utilizing all the compounds and terpenes in the plant may just be the best way after all.

Terpenes can intensify or downplay the effects of the cannabinoids. Have you ever noticed how two similar strains can produce profoundly different effects? One may leave you with couch lock and the other may energize you? That’s another aspect of the entourage effect, which is driven by both cannabinoids and terpenes.

The terpene chart

Currently, there are at least 20,000 different terpenes in existence and the cannabis plant has more than 100 of these terpenes. Many terpenes that are produced by the cannabis plant are also found elsewhere in nature. However, there are a couple of terpenes that are in high concentrations in cannabis plants. Here are the ones to know.


Myrcene terpene

Myrcene, which can also be found in mangoes, is the primary terpene found in cannabis plants. In fact, some plants can have up to 65 percent of their terpene profile made up by myrcene alone. The presence of myrcene often determines whether a specific strain can be considered an indica or sativa. Plants with more than 0.5 percent myrcene are said to be indica. Myrcene is responsible for giving marijuana its distinctive aroma. Myrcene has relaxing properties as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Strains that are high in myrcene are Skunk XL, White Widow, and Special Kush. 

Limonene terpene

The second most abundant terpene found in cannabis, limonene can also be found in various citrus fruits and is responsible for the citrusy smell. However, it may not be present in all cannabis strains. Limonene has powerful anti fungal and antibacterial properties, and its great smell means that it is a common additive in household cleaning and cosmetic products. Limonene can also help to bust stress and enhance mood. Strains high in Limonene include Sour Diesel and OG Kush as well as Super Lemon Haze. 

Pinene terpene

This terpene’s name says it all, really. Pinene is found most abundantly in the pine tree and is what gives pine needles its distinctive smell. Found in two varieties, alpha, which is responsible for that wonderful pine aroma, and beta, which has a scent like rosemary, dill, or parsley. Pinene is a strong bronchodilator, but also has strong anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects that have been used for centuries in herbal medicines. Pinene can be found in strains like Strawberry Cough and Blue Dream.

Linalool terpene

If you’ve ever used lavender for its relaxant effects, then you’re familiar with the terpene linalool. Linalool is widely known for the stress-relieving, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant effects. Linalool can help to balance out the anxious side effect sometimes produced by THC and this makes it an ideal terpene for the treatment of anxiety. Linalool is present in strains like Special Kush, Amnesia Haze, and OG Shark. 

Caryophyllene terpene

This terpene, which has a spicy, woody, peppery scent, is also found in black pepper and cinnamon. Studies indicate that this one small terpene is capable of performing the big job of treating anxiety, depression, and inflammation. Caryophyllene is found in such strains as Super Silver Haze, Skywalker, and Rock Star. 

Humulene terpene

While many other strains help to increase appetite, which is beneficial to those who have conditions which nausea and loss of appetite are a factor, strains that contain humulene may actually help to decrease appetite. Found in hops, cloves, and basil, humulene has also shown anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties in research. Strains which contain humulene include Liberty Haze, Girl Scout Cookies, and Sour Diesel. 

As said, cannabis contains some 100 known terpenes, all of which produce their own effects. Combined with the cannabinoids and other terpenes, the future of cannabis may just be in the cultivation of strains rich in certain terpenes and cannabinoids to create strains tailored to produce certain effects. 

Vaporizing and terpenes

Carbonization destroys many of the terpenes, just like it destroys many of the cannabinoids. Because of this, using a portable vaporizer with temperature control is probably the best way to get the most out of the terpenes found in cannabis. Like cannabinoids, terpenes have their own individual optimal temperature, and these temps can vary widely. Researching the various temperatures at which the terpenes you desire to be released is key in achieving the desired effect. 

Terpenes and cannabinoids are two compounds found in cannabis that when used together help produce a synergistic effect. Selecting strains based upon the terpenes’ effects can help you to achieve the result you desire.