CANNABIS TERPENES: HOW THEY WORK AND THEIR EFFECTS
Terpenes give cannabis plants their unique flavours and smells. Research now shows that they may also play a role for the effects of each strain, so we take a look at what they are and how they work.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are what gives cannabis strains their distinctive flavours. They are the aromatic oils that the plant produces and that make a strain taste fruity or minty, give it an earthy or citrusy aroma or can make it smell like cheese.
Cannabis plants produce terpenes in the same glands where they produce THC and CBD, yet terpenes have until recently not gotten too much attention. Growers and medical researchers have in the past focused on THC and CBD, which means the knowledge about terpenes and their function isn’t too widely spread. Only recently has come to light that terpenes play a major role when it comes to the unique effects of marijuana.
Why do plants produce aromatic compounds such as terpenes?
As is often the case in the world of plants, terpenes are one way how plants can defend themselves from predators. By excreting a pungent aroma, plants can repel certain bugs but can also attract the beneficial insects that they need for pollination.
How much and what type terpenes a cannabis plant produces depends on various factors. The same strain doesn’t necessarily always produce the same aromatic compounds. This can depend on factors such as the climate, what soil and fertilisers are being used, the age of the plant, as well as a few other things.
Today, we have discovered about 100 different terpenes in marijuana. Each particular strain has its unique types and combination of terpenes in various concentrations.
The most interesting thing about terpenes, however, is not that terpenes are responsible for cannabis’ multitude of distinctive flavours and aromas, but that terpenes work synergistically with cannabinoids, such as THC. One indication for this is that some strains may have the exact same levels of THC and CBD, yet their effects can be quite different from each other. Researchers are now saying it is the terpenes that are responsible for a strain’s unique effects.
How do terpenes work?
We know that THC binds to our brain’s receptors causing the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Terpene can actively affect those brain receptors and the way they work. Terpenes have been found to influence how much THC enters the brain through the blood-brain barrier. Most importantly, science has shown how terpenes can directly influence the brain’s neurotransmitters in various ways.
It is noteworthy to mention that not all types of terpenes work the same, either. Some types may influence the brain in a way as to relax us while others have the opposite effect, lifting our mood and energy levels.
Some cannabis users may know about the effect of eating a ripe mango 45 minutes before smoking. It is said that doing so can greatly increase the effect of marijuana. One theory here is that mangos contain Myrcene, a terpene that we can find in some fruits. The Myrcene acts in synergy with the THC and directly alters how it affects us.
Terpenes - The next frontier for medical cannabis
These findings showing the role of terpenes in producing very distinctive types of highs are now elevating the cannabis industry, research, and cultivation to all-new promising levels. Terpenes are now becoming the worthwhile focus, not just for connoisseurs who seek a certain flavour, but also to those wanting to understand and maximise marijuana’s effects. The medical cannabis industry, in particular, is interested in the effects of terpenes and their synergy with cannabinoids.
Terpenes make way for plenty of new and exciting research: We can now directly influence the herb’s high and “tune” it according to our needs.
By adding limonene, for instance, we can get a stimulating effect. In the same way, we can add linalool if we desire a more relaxing and sedative high from the plant.
Laboratories are beginning to test strains not just for THC and CBD but also for their terpene content. When we understand what types of terpenes are in a particular strain, we can know beforehand about its effects.
Understanding about terpenes opens new levels of medical research about the effects of cannabis. This means new exploration opportunities for cultivators and seedbanks. One may speculate that it won’t take too long until a strain’s smell will be sufficient enough information to be able to predict its particular effect!
THE COMMON TERPENES IN MARIJUANA
As discussed, there are more than 100 different types of terpenes in marijuana; however, this doesn’t take into account the many different variations – such as amount and concentration. A good example of this would be to compare a lemon to an orange. Both fruits contain the exact same type of terpene, limonene, but in different concentrations. A small variation of the amount is enough to make a lemon smell quite different to an orange.
Here is a list with the most commonly found terpenes in cannabis together with their effects.
Myrcene is the most commonly found terpene in marijuana, making-up the majority of aromatic oils in various cannabis strains. Myrcene can also be found in some other plants such as hops. Some compare Myrcene’s aroma to that of cloves. It is known to have anti-inflammatory, anti- bacterial and pain-relieving (analgesic) properties. Myrcene has a sedative, calming and relaxing effect. It is known to increase the psychoactive effects of THC.
After Myrcene, Limonene is the second-most common terpene that we find in marijuana. As the name suggests, it has a strong citrus smell. It is known for its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Research suggests that limonene also works as an anti-carcinogenic and that it may help preventing the growth of tumours.
Limonene can effortlessly enter the blood-brain barrier. It is understood to help increase mental focus and attention, as well as benefitting our general well-being. There is anecdotal evidence that it is also beneficial for sexual health. Some products on the market today use limonene to treat depression and anxiety. It is a natural insect repellent, one of the aromatic terpenes plants use as a natural defence from insects and other predators. Haze strains are a great source of this terpene.
Linalool is reminiscent of fresh flowers. It has a floral lavender smell with a hint of spiciness. It induces a sedative and calming effect and is used for the treatment of nervousness and anxiety. It is thought to have analgesic and anti-epileptic properties. Its effectiveness in treating certain types of cancers is also currently being researched. Linalool is the terpene that is partly responsible for the calming and sedative effects of certain cannabis strains.
Caryophyllene is a spicy flavour that is often found in herbs and spices such as black pepper. It is known for being a strong local anti-inflammatory and analgesic. Cloves that are known as being a natural remedy for toothaches contain good amounts of this terpene. Caryophyllene is also said to be anti-fungal.
The name might give it away; pinene has a scent that reminds of pine and fir trees. Many plants contain pinene; for example, Rosemary and Sage. This terpene is understood to have anti- inflammatory and local antiseptic properties. It is also known as being an expectorant and has a widening effect on the bronchi. Research has shown that pinene can positively affect our memory. Among those cannabis strains with high levels of pinene are the various Skunk strains. Pinene can boost energy and is said to improve concentration.
Terpineol has the scent of lime blossoms as well as the pleasant smell of lilac. It is often used to make perfumes and cosmetics. Terpineol is one of the terpenes with a sedative and relaxing effect. Cannabis strains that have high levels of terpineol are often also containing high amounts of pinene. The pinene can make it difficult to detect the terpineol just by smell.
Nerolidol is found in ginger, citronella and niaouli. It is used as a flavouring agent and in perfumery. It has a wooden, earthy-fresh aroma that reminds of bark. In terms of therapeutic benefits, Nerolidol is thought to be anti-fungal and is effective for the treatment of malaria. Nerolidol has a sedative and relaxing effect.
Borneol, found most abundantly in Rosemary, has a fresh, minty camphor aroma. This terpene has a long history in Chinese medicine where it sees use for the treatment of stress and fatigue. It is a local anaesthetic with sedative and antispasmodic properties. It is also a natural insect repellent.
Eucalyptol is the terpene found in essential eucalyptus oil. It has very fresh, cooling and minty smell. It is thought have pain-relieving properties along with its ability to improve concentration and focus. For that reason, it is also often found in plants that are used for meditation.