Cannabis Terpenes & Their Effects
Terpenes may be behind the aroma, flavor, and color of the cannabis plant, but that’s not all. The therapeutic benefits of these volatile compounds have the potential to treat a broad range of illnesses. In this article, we discuss the terpenes that occur most frequently across cannabis cultivars, and their effects.
The terpene β-Caryophyllene plays a key role in plants’ ability to defend and attract, making it crucial to their survival and evolution. In addition to caryophyllene’s prominence in rosemary, hops, and cannabis, this far-reaching sesquiterpene is also responsible for black pepper’s spiciness, and its unique scent makes it a recurring ingredient in essential oils. Scientific research has shown caryophyllene to be effective in treating pain and neuropathy, and to offer protection against chronic inflammation across multiple disorders. Caryophyllene is unusual in that, like the phytocannabinoids ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), it has the unique ability to selectively bind to CB2 receptors, and provide relieving effects on pain and inflammation through both the body’s opioid and endocannabinoid systems.
Also known as α-caryophyllene, α-humulene is an isomer of β-caryophyllene and is an abundant monoterpene in hops and cannabis. It’s also found in select fruits and vegetables and a variety of spices and herbs including sage, ginseng, and clove. Humulene contributes to the distinctly woody and spicy flavors in beer, and has a presence in a variety of cannabis strains – contributing to the plant’s spicy, floral aromas. In addition to its suppressive effects on appetite, preliminary studies have shown humulene’s possible mitigating effects on pain and inflammation.
One of the most common terpenes in the natural world is D-Limonene, a monoterpene found abundantly in the peels of lemons, oranges, mandarins, and other citrus fruits. Limonene is used as a flavoring agent in a number of food items including fruit juices, baked goods, and soft drinks. Its bright, citrusy aroma and calming properties make limonene a common ingredient in essential oils. Cannabis cultivars that are high in limonene are known for their ability to energize and uplift, producing positive effects on mood and soothing effects on anxiety.
Linalool is a monoterpene abundant in basil, lavender, eucalyptus, and other aromatic plants. Due to its floral, woody scent linalool is used as a fragrance in a variety of consumer products including shampoos, lotions, and soaps. Scientific findings suggest that linalool demonstrates promise as protection against inflammation and stress. Cannabis cultivars rich in linalool are known for their effects on sleep, pain, and mood due largely to this terpene’s ability to promote relaxation, relieve pain, and mitigate anxiety.
β-Myrcene is a monoterpene that occurs naturally in more than 200 plants including hops, citrus fruits, and lemongrass. It’s long been used commercially as a food additive, is a common ingredient in soaps and cosmetics, and is a frequently-sourced component for essential oils. Myrcene is the smallest yet most prevalent terpene found in most cannabis cultivar varieties. It is a major contributor to the plant’s earthy, spicy aroma and mildly sweet flavor. Cannabis consumers know myrcene for its effects on sleep, and due to its sedative and relaxing properties is the terpene largely attributed to “couch lock”.
Pinene is one of the most plentiful terpenes in nature. It’s a monoterpene that consists of two structural isomers – α-pinene and β-pinene – and is abundant in pine trees, dill, rosemary, and several cannabis chemovars. Humans have been harnessing pinene’s therapeutic properties in traditional medicine for centuries, and it remains a major component in essential oils and perfumes due to its woody, earthy aroma. Cannabis cultivars rich in pinene are known to produce alleviating effects on pain, and calming effects on mood including anxiety.
Five isomers of terpineols exist in nature – alpha- (α-T), beta- (β-T), gamma- (γ-T), delta- (δ-T) and terpinen-4-ol (T-4-ol) – but the volatile monoterpene α-Terpineol is the most common. Found in over 150 plants including oregano, marjoram, freesia, and narcissus, and emitting a fragrance similar to lilacs, α-terpineol is widely used in cosmetics, perfumes, and as a flavoring agent. Research demonstrates terpineol’s potential use for treating ulcers, and cannabis cultivars high in terpineol may provide beneficial effects on sleep.
Terpinolene is a monoterpene found in a variety of plants that appear in small concentrations in multiple cannabis cultivars. It’s found in allspice and in addition to being used as a flavoring agent, terpinolene is a common ingredient in essential oils. While little is known about this rare terpene, studies have shown that terpinolene-dominant cultivars tend to produce energizing effects on mood. A recent study also suggests that chemovars containing between 0.5-1% myrcene and terpinolene but no CBD may have a stronger therapeutic impact than CBD-rich varieties.
We’ve only just begun understanding the medicinal potential of cannabis-derived terpenes. With expanding legalization comes the ability to conduct further scientific research into the therapeutic properties behind these powerful compounds.
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