Terpenes are organic hydrocarbons that occur in the essential oils of plants
Let’s explore this in depth:
Cannabis consumers smell and enjoy the wide range of fragrances the plants’ flowers produce which range from fruity aromas to cheese-like smells. Therefore, consumers must become familiar with all the fragrances that make their experiences unique. Behind the wide range of fragrances that create certain experiences in the mind lie terpenes or terpenoids, the chemicals within essential oils that give cannabis and other plants their different fragrances. There are more than 20,000 known terpenes and scientists have identified over 200 terpenes in various cannabis plants, giving each plant a unique terpene profile.
Terpenoids vs Terpenes
The cannabis industry generally uses the words terpenes and terpenoids as if they are the same thing yet they are slightly different.
Terpenes are naturally occurring hydrocarbons. They are a natural guide to discovering cannabis strains. Their production is greatly influenced by humidity, temperature and light intensity. That is why growers emphasise the standardisation of growing condition for medicinal cannabis.
Terpenoids are terpenes that have been modified through a drying and then curing process which alters the oxygen content of the compound, changing the taste and the aroma. Terpenoids are used all the time to create essential oils, spices and perfumes.
In the cannabis plant, terpenes are produced in the trichomes, the fine, hair-like or mushroom-like outgrowths that cover the leaves and buds. They protect the plant by producing fragrant terpenes that repel insects and animals. Human beings smell these terpenes and can make conclusions about the strain of cannabis on hand, and possibly the strain’s physiological effects.
When cannabis plants are handled gently and the trichomes remain unbroken during collection, storage and processing, you end up with high quality cannabis with strong and distinct colours, flavours and aromas.
Cannabis is an unbelievably varied plant in terms of its biological makeup and potential benefits. The same applies to terpenes. So far, over 200 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plants. The differences may be huge or quite subtle, but much progress has been made in classifying terpenes and their effects so that consumers can better understand them.
In broad terms, terpenes can be divided into bitter, sweet, sour, and spicy. Then, each category can be broken down further into more specific smells. Specific smells are linked to certain strains and to the effects of that strain. Here is an example to help you understand. One flower may have a strong lemony scent. Such lemon scents are normally correlated with strains such as lemon haze and lemon skunk. These strains give users a boost of energy and euphoria. As you learn more about the different terpenes and how they relate to the scents that you are experiencing, you can easily come to certain conclusions about the properties of each plant that you come across simply by smelling it. This is very important information for growers, users and patients.
A number of studies have discovered that terpenes work in a harmonious partnership with cannabinoids in what is known as the entourage effect. When they interact with the receptors in the endocannabinoid system, they moderate how the body interacts with cannabinoids and produce effects that differ from terpene to terpene.
Here are some of the commonest terpenes that you may have come across, and their effects on humans.
Limonene: Limonene is present in citrus-smelling cannabis, lemon, orange, lime and other citrus fruit rinds. It is the cause of that fruity smell. It is commonly used as a fragrance in cleaning products and cosmetics, giving them the citrus smell. It is well known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties and it can even treat toenail fungus. On the cannabis plant it acts as an insecticide. We absorb limonene through inhalation. We can use it to improve the absorption of other terpenes through the skin, the mucus membranes and the digestive tract. On humans it has a stress-relieving and mood enhancing effect and acts as an energizing anti-depressant.
Pinene: This terpene is commonly found in pine trees. There are two types: alpha-pinene, the smell of pine needles, which is abundant in nature. It is energetic and therapeutic. Then there is beta-pinene which smells like basil, rosemary, parsley and dill. It is also found in citrus peels, confers and turpentine. When inhaled or ingested pinene easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. It improves memory and alertness. Is also acts as a powerful bronchodilator (which improves airflow to the lungs) and an anti-inflammatory and local antiseptic. That is why many cultures used it for its healing properties for thousands of years.
Myrcene: Myrcene is known as one of the most abundant terpenes found in cannabis. It has a very important role because it helps users or growers to determine whether a strain is sativa or indica. Experts claim that if a plant contains more than 0.5% myrcene, it produces indica-like effects. Less than 0.5% myrcene indicates sativa-like effects. Myrcene is also found in thyme, hops, mango and lemongrass. It is well-known for its analgesic (pain killing), antibiotic and anti-mutagenic (mutation prevention) properties. It also increases the effect of THC and provides sedative, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Linalool: This terpene commonly occurs in lavender. Its aroma is light and floral. Its effect on humans is to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and seizure symptoms. It also acts as a sedative and it gives relief to people suffering from psychosis.
Terpinolene is lurks around in plenty of cannabis strains but only in small amounts. It carries a range of smells such as floral, piney, herbaceous and even citrusy. You can describe the smell as “fresh” which is why it is popular in soaps and perfumes. It is also present in tea tree, lilacs, cumin, apples and nutmeg. It never plays a leading role, yet it plays a key role in defining the smell and taste of many cannabis strains. It is slightly anti-bacterial, sedative, anti-cancer and anti-oxidant.
Beta-Caryophyllene It is found in black pepper, rosemary, hops and cannabis. It is known to target the CB2 receptors, meaning that it has no psychoactive effects. It protects the digestive system and is a strong anti-inflammatory.
Humulene has a subtle earthy, woody aroma with spicy herbal notes. It is found in cannabis sativa, basil, clove, and hops. It is a strong anti-inflammatory agent and a hunger-suppressant. Other potential effects are anti-tumour, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory.
Terpenes are a connoisseur’s approach to cannabis. Before scientific research on cannabis, people made decisions based on the typical characteristics and effects of sativas and indicas. Now it is well known that terpenes greatly influence the flavour and aroma of buds and also change, amp up or lower the intensity and duration of the effects of each strain.