what are terpenes?

Terpenes —the universal language between plants, bacteria, fungi and humans. They are a diverse class of aromatic compounds naturally produced by plants as a way to attract pollinators or deter predators.

Terpenes aren’t just for plants, though. We can all naturally understand the way that terpenes communicate through aroma and taste. For example, the terpene a-pinene is what gives coniferous forests a sharp, sweet and refreshing aroma. Research has found that using pine essential oils in aromatherapy can bring about a sense of alertness. 

the diverse terpenes of cannabis

One plant that’s rich in terpenes is the cannabis plant. In cannabis, terpenes are to credit for the sticky texture and strong aromas that each strain has to offer.  There are several factors that can influence the terpene profile of a plant— including climate, time of year at harvest, age of the plant at harvest, and so on. Cannabis synthesizes and secretes terpenes from the same glands where therapeutic cannabinoids CBD and THC are produced. So, while cannabinoids are highly recognized for their therapeutic potential, terpenes are showing that they may play a bigger part in the therapeutic effects of cannabis than we thought. 

Scientists have found over 100 different terpenes in the cannabis plant. Here is a list of the most abundant terpenes found in cannabis.

Limonene

A common terpene to lemon and other citrus. It is the second most widely distributed terpenoid in nature. Studies with varying methodologies and dosing in citrus oils in mice suggest it to be a powerful anti-anxiety agent. These studies have also found limonene to be highly bioavailable with 70% human intake upon ingestion.

Linalool 

Found in both lavender and cannabis that has been traditionally used for sleep support. It’s been shown to possess soothing properties because of its modulatory activity on glutamate and GABA neurotransmitter systems.

A-pinene

The most widely encountered terpene found in nature, appearing in conifers and innumerable plant essential oils. The most compelling aspect of this compound is its newfound potential to support memory. It is believed by some researchers that it has the ability to counteract short-term memory loss induced by THC consumption.  

Beta-caryophyllene

has gained the attention of scientists when it was discovered to be one of the first non-cannabinoids to directly activate cannabinoid receptors. Beta-caryophyllene is a full agonist of the CB2 receptor sites primarily located on immune cells. It is the only terpene discovered that acts in the body as a cannabinoid does.

Myrcene

A highly soothing terpene that’s currently being used as a sleep aid in Germany. It’sthought that the calming effects may be the cause of the “couch-lock” phenomenon of physical sedation that is commonly described by recreational cannabis users.

Humulene

Commonly used to support sleep and can be found in several different plant species. The hoppy aroma that is released when hops steep is primarily thanks to humulene.

Bisabolol

Found in german chamomile, honey, and apples, bisabolol has a pleasantly warm aroma. While it’s known to possess a myriad of beneficial properties such as antioxidant and antimicrobial, it has also been found to express enhancements to the skin’s absorption of other substances. 

the synergy of cannabinoids and terpenes

We’ve only just scratched the surface at all of the different terpenes that are found in nature and in cannabis. As you can tell, they all either have similar or vastly different characteristics which can greatly affect the way that they interact with the body. 

Scientists used to believe that terpenes only influenced the body through olfactory processing. It was easy to make that assumption since aromas are known to have an indirect effect on mood. Therefore, terpenes were thought to trigger olfactory sensations, thus affecting emotions. 

While olfactory sensations may play a part in terpenes effect on our body and mind, it is now believed that terpenes directly modulate the behavior of brain cells. We’ve also discovered that this modulating effect is enhanced with the help of cannabinoids. The synergistic amplification of terpenoids and cannabinoids working together is referred to as the entourage effect

terpenes and the entourage effect

The entourage effect can be described as the reaction between the interaction of all the hemp plants’ cannabinoids and terpenes. Terpenes work synergistically with cannabinoids and phytochemicals to enhance the therapeutic effects that they have on the body. 

In a 2011 study conducted by a board-certified neurologist and pioneer in cannabis research, Dr. Ethan B. Russo, he states that “a better future via cannabis phytochemistry may be an achievable goal through further research of the entourage effect. [The entourage effect] may help fulfill [this versatile plants’] promise as a pharmacological treasure trove.” 

To learn more, check out our blog post here where we dive deep into the intricacies of the entourage effect.