By Ayman Juzi
There is something about the smell of plants that can be soothing. Whether it’s the calming Pinene in Black Pepper, or the pain-relieving Borneol in Turmeric, terpenes have a more significant effect on our lives than many of us realise. But what exactly are they?
There are over 20,000 terpenes found in nature; they are a chemical compound located in the oils and resins of plants. Each terpene produces a unique scent, and combinations of them produce the overall aroma of a given plant. Terpenes are bioactive and provide invaluable health benefits for humans and animals - helping the body in a variety of ways from increasing absorption of nutrients to deploying anti-inflammatory properties. Terpenes are the basis of the fragrance and perfume industry, however in the last decade, the cannabis industry has turned its focus on terpenes as their importance has been increasingly understood.
Terpenes in Cannabis
When it comes to terpenes, the single most complex plant in the natural world is cannabis. Within any given strain of cannabis, there can be over 100 unique terpenes present, giving cannabis the unique and pungent smell it is famous for.
In the last decade there has been an increased public awareness of terpenes due to cannabis research. Recent studies have shown that terpenes interact with cannabinoids in our Endocannabinoid System to modulate their effects. This interaction has been coined as the “Entourage Effect” in a 2011 paper by Neurologist Ethan Russo. The entourage effect means in the consumption of cannabis in any form, terpenes interact with cannabinoids to ultimately produce varying medicinal effects.
For example, a recent study showed that epilepsy patients who took “CBD-rich” cannabis extracts as opposed to CBD isolate had improved symptom control and fewer side effects in their treatment. This shows that other compounds, including terpenes, changed the way the body absorbed cannabinoids. A recent review of studies linking the entourage effect to pain management has shown there is solid evidence that it plays an important role, however it concludes that more studies are necessary. This makes the further research of terpenes essential in understanding and maximising the use of medical cannabis for patients.
Some Common Terpenes
Myrcene is the most common terpene in cannabis. It is found in Hops, Mangos, Thyme, and Lemongrass; it is earthy, musky, and herbal. It has been found to have sedating effects which can help with pain and insomnia.
Beta-Caryophyllene is found in Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Cinnamon, and Cloves; it is responsible for peppery, spicy, and woody aromas. It has been found to help with anxiety and stress relief.
Borneol is found Turmeric, Ginger, Blackberry, and many rainforest trees; it has an intense, pungent, and somewhat woody smell. It is a staple extract in Chinese medicine and reportedly has anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and pain relieving effects.
Lupeol is found in the Dandelion Leaf, Mangos, and more obscure places like the Arca trees in South America; it has a slightly sweet but mostly bitter aroma. It has been reported to have antimicrobial and anti-tumour properties.
Linalool this terpene is partially responsible for the typical smell of cannabis. It is found in plants like lavender; it is floral and refreshing and has been found to help with inflammation, insomnia and is an anti-convulsant.
Nerodilol is found in all cannabis sativa strains; it has a slightly harsh woody, earthy, and floral aroma. It has been found to be a powerful antioxidant with anti-fungal effects.
Pinene is found in pine trees and has useful properties including relief of pain, inflammation and anxiety.
Humulene is found in cannabis and the closely related hop. It smells earthy and woody and its medical properties include being anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and appetite suppressant.