What are terpenes

Like all plants, cannabis has complex chemistry. Throughout its evolution, it has developed hundreds of chemicals to help aid in its survival and reproduction. This includes a class of compounds called terpenes, a type of aromatic hydrocarbon. Although they are often associated with cannabis, they are found throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. We’re now finding them to have remarkable therapeutic benefits.

what are terpenes and why do they exist?

Marijuana terpenes and terpenoids are often used to denote the same chemicals. There is, however, an essential difference between the two. The scientific terpenes definition is a chemical that contains only hydrogen and carbon, whereas terpenoids can contain other atoms, like oxygen.

Terpenes play an important role in helping the cannabis plant to survive. Cannabis terpenes fend off predators while attracting species that help the plant pollinate and reproduce. Terpenes in cannabis are made from small, sebaceous cells within the leaves. These cells are like miniature factories, churning out terpenes that the plant needs, depending on the season and the threats it may face.

Terpenes are extracted from cannabis using steam distillation and vaporization. They tend to be quite volatile compounds, meaning, those who sell bottled essential oils and their derivatives need to ensure that they retain their unique chemical makeup.

how terpenes interact with the human body

Terpenes are the chemical precursors to cannabinoids – the active constituents of the cannabis plant that interact with the body. There are thousands of terpene and terpenoid compounds, with some varieties in the cannabis plant are more important than others. Although research is still in its infancy, scientists have already found a range of therapeutic terpene uses in humans.

Important terpenes include:


  • Myrcene

    Myrcene is the most common kind of terpene found in the cannabis plant. It is believed to help in the application of medicine because it helps shift molecules more easily through the blood-brain barrier – the sheath of cells that act as gatekeepers for particles interacting with neurons. Myrcene, therefore, could help drugs and dietary interventions have a more profound impact on the health of the brain. Myrcene, like many other compounds in the cannabis plant, is also believed to have anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties in the human body, just as it does in the plant itself.

  • Linalool

    Linalool is found in cannabis and is usually described as smelling a little bit like lavender. For a long time, scientists have believed that linalool could play a role in helping people fall asleep, and may explain why some people report that using cannabis relieves insomnia. Linalool, like other terpenes, helps to modulate the immune system and aids the body in fighting some of the plaque buildup associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Camphene

    Cannabis and CBD oil have both been implicated in improving cardiovascular health. This improvement could be due to the effect of camphene. Research by Vallianou et al. shows that camphene can help reduce blood markers for cardiovascular disease and inflammation, such as high cholesterol and triglycerides. Scientists are interested in camphene because it could be an alternative to statins (lipid-lowering drugs), many of which produce unpleasant side effects, like liver damage and irritable gut.

  • Caryophyllene 

    The cannabis-derived terpene, caryophyllene, is found in a wide variety of cultivars. It’s believed to exert a host of benefits on those who ingest it, including improved gastrointestinal lining and a reduction in inflammation. What’s interesting about this particular terpene is that it is the only one that is known to bind to the body’s cannabis receptors, C1 and C2. Found in high quantities in green leafy vegetables, terpenes are believed to be one of the reasons those foods are so healthy for us.

  • Phellandrene

     Chinese herbalists have been using phellandrene to treat a variety of diseases for thousands of years. But it’s only now that modern medicine is catching up and starting to realize the importance of its antifungal properties. Cannabis and a variety of other plants, including eucalyptus, ginger, turmeric, dill, and parsley contain phellandrene in high quantities.

  • Carene

    Carene is a strong-smelling terpene used in turpentine. It’s non-toxic, although it can cause irritator to the airways if inhaled, and is believed to have therapeutic benefits for treating hyperactivity and nervousness. Although it doesn’t bind directly to cannabinoid receptors, it does help to modulate the body’s endocannabinoid system, reducing common mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

  • Humulene

    Humulene, the primary aromatic hydrocarbon in hops, is also found in small amounts in cannabis. The chemical is believed to have a variety of uses but is particularly interesting from a weight loss perspective. Some researchers think that humulene could help tackle obesity by acting as an appetite suppressant. The substance has also been used extensively in Chinese medicine to reduce inflammation, prevent swelling, serve as an antibacterial agent and fight cancer.

  • Sabinene

    Sabinene is one of the most beautiful-smelling aromatic hydrocarbons – a combination of pine, orange, and clove. Researchers are interested in sabinene because of its ability to modify unhealthy foods to make them healthier. Scientists believe that by adding sabinene to foods, they can reduce the body’s inflammatory response and increase the antioxidant activity.

  • Limonene

    Limonene gets its name from the plant in which it was first discovered: lemon. Since then, it’s been found in cannabis and a wide variety of other species too. Responsible for the citrusy, lemony flavor of lemons, this terpene has been linked to a reduction in depression, inflammation, and anxiety. Some people report that limonene can also boost mood. Finally, limonene has been shown in vitro to reduce the ability of cancerous cells to grow and multiply, suggesting that it may also have anti-tumor properties.

  • Terpinolene

    Terpinolene has a woody smell, a little bit like freshly fallen pine needles. Plants, including cannabis, use it for its antibacterial properties, but in humans, it has a range of additional effects. These effects include improved relaxation and increased ability to switch off at night.

  • Pinene

    Pinine, as its name implies, is found in most abundance in pine and fir trees. Pinine is a common terpene, and is used to provide trees and, of course, the cannabis plant, with the raw materials they need to produce more complex aromatic hydrocarbons. Patients use pinine for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.

terpenes charts and wheels

A terpenes chart is a way to classify different terpenes based on their sensory properties and flavors. At the center of the terpenes chart, or wheels, are four basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and spicy. Radiating out from that are sub-tastes, like “vegetal,” “nutty,” “sharp,” and “fruity.” These charts, or wheels, help to classify different varieties of cannabis plants that supply the various kinds of terpenes.

Many of these charts have been developed by industry to help them create new cultivars. But the charts can also be helpful in generating new varieties of cannabis that have better medicinal properties, based on their terpene profile. Already, people suffering from medical conditions use charts to determine which types of marijuana are best for their circumstances.

how to terpenes interact with cbd oil

Both terpenes and CBD can have an effect on the body’s endocannabinoid system. What’s more, the presence of terpenes can modulate (alter) the response of the body to CBD oil.

The interaction between CBD oil and terpenes can be complicated, but scientists have already unearthed some of the mechanisms.

They can cancel out the effect of CBD oil. Research shows that the terpene, myrcene, can upregulate the activity of the cannabinoid receptor CB1 on the surface of immune and nervous system cells. CBD oil, on the other hand, has been shown, in some circumstances, to downregulate the same receptor. Hence, combining terpenes with CBD oil could cancel out the effect of both.

They can help CBD move through the body. Terpenes may be able to improve the accessibility of CBD oil to specific cells in the body by literally making it easier to move around. The so-called pharmacokinetic effects of various terpenes boost the availability of CBD oil to specific difficult-to-reach tissues, such as the brain.

CBD, terpenes, and multi-target effects. When CBD oil is combined with terpenes, it may result in a better outcome than if either is used alone. CBD helps to activate serotonin receptors which determine mood, but also reduces the activity of the receptors responsible for the uptake of THC – the chemical in cannabis most closely associated with feeling “high.” Terpenes too can help to regulate the CB1 receptors to which THC binds, allowing users to get some of the benefits of THC for pain relief, but without the accompanying anxiety.

the future of terpenes

Terpenes are a natural plant product found throughout the plant kingdom, including cannabis. Although science is only just beginning to investigate their medicinal properties, it’s clear that many people find that they benefit from ingesting them, either alone, or in conjunction with CBD oil. CBD oil can also augment the effect of terpenes, interacting in positive ways that protect the patient from side effects. Going forward, it’s clear than both the public and researchers will have greater interest in the role of terpenes in managing disease.

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