What are Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do?
Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give cannabis its characteristic fragrance. The plant contains more than 150 diverse types of terpenes. As most marijuana connoisseurs know, terpenes also give many strains their distinctive aromas. The gassy smell of Sour Diesel sets it apart from the sweet, cherry perfume of the strain Cherry Pie. However, in nature, pungent terpenes serve many valuable purposes for the plant such as protecting it from grazing animals and encouraging pollination.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes occur naturally in many types of plants, not just cannabis. Terpenes are what make an orange smell of citrus and give lavender its intoxicating scent. They not only produce odors but also flavors and account for the distinct taste of many spices such as rosemary, thyme, and sage.
Historically, terpenes have been extracted from plants for thousands of years to make dyes, perfumes, cleaning products, and pesticides. In addition, many are valued for their therapeutic qualities.
Where Do Terpenes Come From?
Terpenes are a miracle of Mother Nature. As mentioned, they defend the plant and help ensure pollination.
Cannabis terpenes are compounds within the trichomes of the female cannabis plant. Trichomes are produced by the glands located on the surface of buds. They are a sticky, clear resin substance. To the naked eye, it looks like sugar-coating the buds and to a lesser degree the leaves and stem. Typically, premium strains of cannabis boast an abundance of trichome-laden resin.
Terpenes are wonderfully aromatic and help to enrich the coloration of the plants. Some strains have a purplish hue, others reddish, and some deeper green. The glistening terpene-rich resin enhances the shades and pigmentation of the leaves and bud. The terpenes are also what give cannabis its flavor. Some creatures find the plant attractive and others that pose harm are deterred.
- Protection from Insects and Grazing Animals: The terpene, geraniol, which is found in the cannabis plant is a deterrent to harmful chewing insects and herbivores which might want to eat the juicy leaves and buds.
- Pollination: Terpinolene and linalool are attractants to insects such as bees for pollination. They help ensure that the bugs will spread the pollen to guarantee ample bud production and the continued existence of the plant.
- Immune System Support: Some terpenes help support the cannabis plant’s immune system by sending information to the plant about the environment so it can protect itself from stressors or potential pathogens. Interestingly, the plant’s immune system is similar to the response of the human immune system.
What Impacts the Terpene Levels in Cannabis?
Many things can impact the terpene production of cannabis. Typically, how the plant is cultivated and the location of growth influence terpene levels.
Impacts on cannabis terpenes include:
- Indoor/outdoor cultivation
- Light exposure
- Growing mediums
- Nutrient levels
- Time of harvest
- Extraction process
Extraction and Terpenes
Marijuana extracts are extremely popular. To obtain marijuana-grade CBD, vapes, dabs, and other high concentrate marijuana products entail extraction. The cannabis industry has definitely refined the extraction process of marijuana and hemp. A variety of extraction methods are used such as ones that rely on solvents like butane, CO2 extraction, Isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, and water are all main cannabis extraction methods.
Not all terpenes found in cannabis are easy to extract. Many are volatile compounds so are lost during standard extraction methods. Live resin extraction which is a method that relies on freezing the resin of the marijuana is the preferred way to save all of the plant’s terpenes. Live resin is wonderfully aromatic and filled with the robust flavors of the plant.
Aromatic Qualities of Cannabis Terpenes
The aromatic molecules of terpenes are what give each cannabis strain its unique aromatic characteristics. Many marijuana users can identify a strain simply by the smell.
When you ingest, smoke, or vape marijuana, the smells, and flavors are all thanks to the strain’s particular terpene content. You’ll taste the flavors of tropical fruits, herbs, species, skunk, coffee, diesel fuel, wood, pine, citrus, and herbs with all of the different strains. Some you’ll love and others you might not enjoy. Each one has its own impact on your olfactory and taste buds.
Many marijuana lovers compare the herb to fine wine. You have to let the aroma tantalize your nose and palate to genuinely enjoy it.
What Do Terpenes Do and How Do They Affect the Body?
Robust, aromatic terpenes have been used for centuries by humans who have valued them to formulate essential oils. Even today, aromatherapy is a favored holistic health option. The terpene linalool is found in lavender and is known to create a relaxed mood when inhaled - who doesn’t enjoy sinking into a warm bath filled with soothing lavender oil?
Certain marijuana strains are similar to lavender. Bubba Kush is known to relieve stress due to the elevated terpenes caryophyllene, limonene, and myrcene which are found in the strain.
The terpenes of marijuana also appear to extend the herb’s feel-good factors; however, research remains ongoing about the therapeutic effects of terpenes. Historically, growers and users have focused on the medical benefits of the cannabinoids of cannabis such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). However, all terpenes have varying levels of therapeutic properties for the plant such as protection from microbes and pathogens and they appear to even pass on those benefits to humans when ingested.
What are the Medicinal Benefits of Terpenes?
Terpenes found in cannabis work synergistically with the plant’s cannabinoids to create a process referred to as the ‘entourage effect.’ The interaction between the two appears to strengthen the therapeutic effects of the cannabinoids.
THC and CBD both have the ability of binding with the body’s cannabinoid receptors in a positive manner. The receptors govern a wide array of body responses and can ease anxiety and bring about pain relief. The terpenes appear to enhance the entire process.
One study published in the Frontiers in Neurology found that individuals suffering from epilepsy who took a CBD-rich extract that contained terpenes experienced fewer side effects than those who used purified CBD. The study appears to show that CBD with terpenes has a more positive effect.
Possible medical benefits include:
- Anxiety relief
- Pain control
- Capacity to energy or sedate depending on the strain
- Mood enhancement
- Anti-cancer potential
- Antibacterial actions
How Do They Compare to THC and CBD?
Terpenes have the ability to intensify the effects of cannabinoids. They enhance the effects of THC and CBD in the body in a positive way. However, there is one huge drawback to terpenes: carbonization and vaporization break down many of the plant’s terpenes and render them ineffective.
Common Terpenes and Their Effects
There are more than 150 terpenes found in cannabis. However, only a few are found in abundance and appear to have a significant impact on the human body. Typically, cannabis growers focus on 11 prominent compounds because they are credited with giving cannabis its aroma, flavor, and health benefits.
Below is a list of terpenes commonly found in cannabis:
This terpene passes through the blood-brain barrier rapidly and appears to assist THC and CBD’s effectiveness. Myrcene combined with THC intensifies the psychoactive response of the body to the cannabinoid. Studies have also shown that myrcene is beneficial in pain relief and treating insomnia. In addition to occurring naturally in cannabis, myrcene is also found in elevated levels in lemongrass and thyme. It has an earthy, citrus-like flavor and aroma.
Limonene is favored to ease inflammation and treat acid reflux or heartburn. It also has very strong antifungal and antimicrobial characteristics. Research has shown that it helps to ease stress and enhance mood. Limonene is the second most common type of terpene found in cannabis. It is also in high concentrations in lemons and limes. It produces an extraordinarily strong, citrus scent.
Linalool has been used to effectively treat sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety. It is favored in Ayurvedic medicine where it has been used for thousands of years. The terpene has the ability to relieve pain. It is also a common ingredient in certain insecticides. Lavender, cinnamon, birch, and coriander all contain linalool. It has a very flower-like scent that is reminiscent of lavender. There is a subtle scent of citrus associated with the terpene too.
Pinene has extraordinarily strong anti-inflammatory characteristics. It is also often used as a bronchodilator to assist breathing during an asthma attack. It is found in cannabis, sage, pine needles, basil, dill, and rosemary.
The use of Humulene is favored by Chinese medicine for its appetite suppressive qualities. Studies have shown that it acts as a strong anti-inflammatory. It is often used as an anti-tumor agent and antibacterial. The terpene occurs naturally in hops, cloves, sage, basil, and ginseng. It has a very spicy flavor.
Ocimene is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. It is usually strongest in Sativa marijuana strains and appears to enhance the energizing effects. In the wild, the prominent levels of ocimene function as a natural insect repellent. The terpene is found in high concentrations in hops, mangos, pepper, and bergamot. It produces an extremely sweet flavor and scent.
Caryophyllene interacts with the body’s CB2 cannabinoid receptors and is the only terpene known to have such capability which is similar to the way cannabinoids interact with the receptors. It is a potent antioxidant and antibacterial terpene that might help with easing pain. It occurs in cloves, rosemary, cannabis, and black pepper. The flavor and aroma are wood-like with an undertone of spice.
This terpene occurs in low concentrations in the cannabis plant. Its effects are not usually enormously powerful. It has sedative-like properties and does function as an antioxidant. You’ll find terpinolene in nutmeg, tea, and apples. The terpene’s flavor is similar to woodsy pine.
» Notable Terpenes
Menthol is a very notable terpene used for a variety of medical applications. However, it does not typically occur in any great ratio in cannabis. Instead, it is predominantly found in mint. It has a wonderfully refreshing aroma and creates a tingly sensation when added to topicals. Sometimes, menthol is added to CBD and other marijuana topicals to enhance the effectiveness of the cannabinoids.
Camphor is another terpene that does not occur in cannabis but is famous for its use in medicinal formulas. In fact, it has been commonly used for thousands of years to treat respiratory problems, prevent infection, repel insects, improve circulation, and more. It occurs naturally in the lovely camphor laurel tree. Nowadays it is often synthesized but there is some debate about whether or not the synthesized formula is as effective as the natural terpene.
Terpenes are an integral part of the cannabis plant. They serve valuable purposes in nature and for users when ingested. The therapeutic properties are undeniable, but more research still needs to be conducted to discover the true medicinal value of the compounds. With a little research, you can learn the best cannabis strains and their terpenes to meet your own physical needs.
We here at AmericannMade Know Our Terpenes
In many places, cannabis businesses are booming as everyone tries to get in on the ground floor of the industry. AmericannMade can help launch and scale cannabis facilities and retail stores. Contact us today to learn more.