Terpenes, sometimes called terpenoids, are aromatic organic hydrocarbons contained in the cannabis plant, which give it its unique aroma.
However, there’s a whole lot more to terpenes than just smell, and you might be surprised to learn just how vital the role of terpenes is in terms of a rounded medicinal effect from cannabis. To get technical for just a moment, terpenes are secretory cells inside glandular trichomes, and their production is increased with light exposure. Terpenes are mainly found in high concentrations in unfertilized female cannabis flowers prior to senescence.
Another important role that terpenes play is to protect the cannabis plant from bacteria and fungus, insects and other environmental stresses.
Terpenes are thought to act on receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain and act as serotonin uptake inhibitors, which enhance norepinephrine activity, according to studies. They work together with flavonoids and other compounds in cannabis to produce a strong medicinal effect for cannabis patients.
In studies on mice and rats. A standardized cannabis extract of THC, CBD and CBN (SCE), another with pure THC, and also one with a THC-free extract (CBD) were tested on a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS) and a rat brain slice model of epilepsy. The study found that SCE inhibited spasticity in the MS model to a comparable level of THC alone, and caused a more rapid onset of muscle relaxation and a reduction in the time to maximum effect than the THC alone.
Enter Dr. Ethan Russo, who came up with the ‘Entourage Effect’ theory some years ago, claiming that terpenes compliment the active compounds in cannabis by inhibiting the effects of THC. According to Russo et al, terpenes increase the potential of cannabis-based medicinal extracts to treat pain, inflammation, fungal and bacterial infections, depression, and anxiety.
The Terpene Wheel is a handy diagram which illustrates the differences between terpenes and offers additional information about them. Green House Seed Co’s wheel identifies the various terpenes in each of their strains.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the main terpenes found in cannabis, as well as in a variety of other plants, fruits and herbs.
Pinene has a distinctly piney aroma, and is also found in pine needles, rosemary, basil, parsley, and dill. There are two types of this terpene, α-pinene and β-pinene, and both have been associated with the treatment of asthma, containing antiseptic properties, and also anti-inflammatory elements. Pinene is said to promote alertness and memory retention, and can be found in strains like Jack Herer, Chemdawg, and Bubba Kush.
Mycrene is another well-known terpene which smells musky, earthy, and has been closely associated in aroma with cloves, with some citrusy notes. Mycrene is thought to enduce the well-known ‘couchlock’ effect, leaving the patient slightly numb and with a substantial body sensation. This terpene has been used in the treatment of numerous conditions, as it acts like a potent analgesic, with anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties. Mycrene is prevalent also in mangos, and is found in strains like Pure Kush, El Nino, and White Widow.
Limonene is another top-shelf terpene which, as is suggested by its name, is very much on the citrusy scale, inducing a euphoric feeling, elevated mood and stress relief. Limonene-rich strains can smell of oranges and lemons, as well as being present in herbs such as rosemary, juniper and pine needles. This terpene is thought to be an ideal antifungal agent, and also could be effective when it comes to weight-loss. Limonene-rich cannabis strains include, Super Lemon Haze, Jack the Ripper, and Lemon Skunk.
Linalool is another favorite terpene among cannabis patients, due to its lavender, floral aromas, and sweet notes. Used in the treatment of anxiety, and as an anti-convulsant, and anti-depressant, this pungent terpene is thought to be very effective in the treatment of numerous medical conditions. You could find this terpene in high concentrations in strains such as, G-13, Amnesia Haze, and Lavender.
This terpene is reminiscent of peppercorns, with a slightly spicy aroma, which come people describe as ‘woody.’ Caryophyllene, or Beta-caryophyllene, as it is known technically, is considered to be effective in treating gastro issues, arthritis, ulcers and autoimmune diseases. Caryophyllene is the only terpene known to interact directly with the human endocannabinoid system, with some studies showing it to hold promise in some cancer treatments. Strains rich with this terpene include, Hash Plant, Northern Lights, and Afghan.
One Israel-based company at the forefront of terpene extraction for medical applications is Eybna Technologies Limited. They claim on their website that by ‘analyzing the finest cannabis strains in the market, we have developed rich initiatory aromas containing a wide variety of terpenes. Our product line integrates high quality natural raw materials with special attention to the delicate nuances of each strain’s terpene composition.’
The Co-Founder and CEO of Eybna, Nadav Eyal, told Cannatech exclusively, “When we founded Eybna in 2014, awareness for the importance of terpenes was still very low in the industry, as most research was only carried out on common cannabinoids such as THC & CBD.” Eyal added, “We focused our research primarily on mapping out and isolating the non-cannabinoid compounds and their therapeutic effects, with the emphasis on terpenes. We already see fascinating, very positive results, but there is plenty more research to be done here.”
The wonderful world of terpenes is one that requires a lot more exploration and research. In order to gain a better understanding of how these gifts from nature could help patients around the world who are suffering from a variety of different conditions and ailments.