Let’s talk about terpenes! What are they? What do they do?
Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants that create the characteristic scent of the plants. A combination of terpenes is what makes an orange smell like an orange, and that wonderful fresh scent of a pine tree is due to the terpenes in the tree! Terpenes are the largest and most diverse group of naturally occurring compounds; they are classified scientifically in many different ways. It is thought that one of the main purposes of terpenes is to attract pollinators to the plant or to repel other organisms from feeding off of the plant. They also may be related to the flowering process of plants.
If you have ever smelled lemons or lavender or cannabis, you have smelled terpenes. Some are sweet and floral or citrusy, and some are earthy and peppery.
Terpenes have a wide range of medicinal uses including antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial properties, to name a few. Isolated terpenes are used in manufacturing to create many products, including cosmetics, cleaning products, aromatherapy, and in flavoring foods.
Research has shown that terpenes can act directly on brain cells to help modulate their activity. The terpene beta-caryophyllene, which is found in basil, oregano, and black pepper, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and pain relieving effects and this terpene is being studied in China to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The sweet floral scent of the terpene linalool which is found in lavender has a calming, sedative effect, while the terpene pinene, found in sage and conifers, has been shown to aid in alertness and memory retention.
The cannabis plant is abundant in terpenes along with the cannabinoids and phytochemicals that make up the plant. Both cannabinoids and terpenes interact with the endocannabinoid system that is in the body. This unique combination creates what is known as the “entourage effect” by enhancing the effect of the cannabinoids and also to help speed up the passing of cannabinoids into the bloodstream.
Myrcene is the most abundant terpene in the cannabis plant. This terpene makes up as much as 65% of the terpene profile in some strains of cannabis. Myrcene is known to be useful in reducing inflammation and chronic pain and has very sedative qualities. Mangos also contain a significant amount of Myrcene.
Limonene is the second most abundant terpene in all cannabis, but not all strains have it in their makeup. This terpene gives off a wonderful citrusy smell and all citrus fruits contain large amounts of limonene. Limonene is used in cosmetics and cleaning products and it is known to have antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Humulene is a terpene found in cannabis and hops and gives off earthy, woody, and spicy flavors. It is also found in cloves, sage, and black pepper. Research shows that humulene is anti-proliferative, preventing cancer cells from growing. There is also evidence that this terpene is an effective appetite suppressant, with good potential for weight loss formulations. Humulene also helps with inflammation, pain relief and fighting bacterial infections.
Linalool is a spicy and floral terpene found in over 200 different plants, including cannabis, lavender, mint, cinnamon and coriander. This terpene is one that is known for its strong sedative and relaxing properties. There is also evidence that this terpene is helpful in preventing epileptic seizures.
Alpha-pinene and Beta-pinene terpenes smell like pine trees and are present in those trees in very large amounts. Rosemary, orange peels, basil, parsley and cannabis also contain good amounts of the pinene terpenes. These terpenes have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body but they also help to improve airflow and respiratory functions. Inhaling a strong piney cannabis used to be a medical treatment for asthma attacks before prohibition.
Beta Caryophyllene is a spicy and peppery terpene found in black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, as well as oregano, basil, and rosemary and many other plants. This terpene is the only terpene that binds to the CB2 receptors in the body, and is known to relieve anxiety and pain.
These terpenes are just a few of the gifts that nature has bestowed on us. There are over 50,000 known terpenes documented with over 150 in the cannabis plant alone. If you are interested in using more natural products to improve health and wellness, then terpenes might be just the thing that you are looking for!