What are cannabis terpenes and what are they used for?

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Cannabis’ unique musky, skunky, pungent aroma is unmistakable: most people can smell it before they even see it. Terpenes in cannabis and flowers in general are the aromatic compounds that determine the smell of many flowers and herbs and vary depending on the type of cultivation . They give cannabis its distinctive smell and contribute to its flavor.

Cannabis contains over 150 types of terpenes. Although most terpenes are only present in trace amounts, the most important ones combine to give various cannabis strains their signature scent profiles. The combination of terpenes in Sour Diesel tells you its pungency and gassiness, while Cherry Pie evokes the pleasant scent of freshly baked sour cherry pie.

In addition to providing cannabis with its unique bouquet of flavors, terpenes also perform a variety of functions within the plant and can produce a range of therapeutic effects in consumers of hemp and CBD products.

Where do terpenes come from?

Terpenes are natural compounds found in the trichomes of female cannabis plants. Trichomes are sticky, translucent glands that cover the surface of buds, and in much smaller amounts, on leaves and stems. Importantly, trichomes contain resin glands that produce terpenes.

Terpenes play an essential role in the growth and survival of a cannabis plant. In addition to producing distinctive aromas, these organic compounds also enrich the color and pigmentation of leaves and buds, and contribute to the flavor of cannabis. In short, terpenes help improve the appeal of the plant to certain creatures, while deterring others that may cause harm.

Some terpenes like geraniol, for example, repel insects or herbivoresthat might be tempted to snack on cannabis. Other terpenes, like terpinoleneand linalool, attract insects and other small creatures that can help spread pollen. These aromatic compounds support the plant’s immune system by transmitting information about the surrounding environment, protecting plants from stressors and pathogens, and helping to trigger immune responses.

A range of variables can affect the amount of terpenes a cannabis plant produces. Factors such as whether the plant is grown outdoors or indoors, light exposure, temperature, certain growing media, nutrient levels, and time of harvest can all influence the terpene levels.

Many terpenes are volatile compounds, meaning they are easily lost during standard cannabis extraction processes. However, the growing awareness of the therapeutic value of terpenes is leading to more sensitive extraction methods, such as live resin.

Live resin is made from freshly frozen cannabis plants and maintains freezing temperatures throughout the extraction process to protect terpenes and other volatile compounds from the plant, leading to a more aromatically complex and flavorful cannabis experience .

The three main terpenes found in cannabis

As mentioned earlier, there is a staggering range of terpenes found in cannabisover 150 different types, to be exact. While many of them occur in concentrations too low to detect, some have a more robust presence.

Here’s the lowdown on three terpenes that are most prevalent in cannabis.

1 – Myrcene

Cannabis Terpenes: Myrcene
Cannabis Terpenes: Myrcene

Most cannabis cultivars are myrceneor caryophyllenedominant. Myrcene, an equally predominant terpene in hopsand lemongrass, has been described as delivering herbaceous, spicy, earthy and musky scent notes. Myrcene gives cannabis a slightly sweet flavor profile – it is also found in mangoes.

In addition to contributing to the characteristic smell of cannabis, myrcene may also have anti-inflammatory effects. A 2015 study in cultured cells indicates that myrcene can effectively reduce inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.

The terpene also appears to help prevent the breakdown of cartilage cells, slow the progression of osteoarthritis, and decrease the production of certain inflammatory cells produced by the body. Myrcene could potentially be harnessed to help relieve anti-inflammatory diseases and their symptoms in the future.

2 – Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene, also known as beta-caryophyllene or β-caryophyllene, gives a spicy, peppery kick to some cannabis strains. Caryophyllene is also found in other plants such as cloves, rosemary, oregano, and black pepper. If you notice any of these odors when you smell a certain cannabis cultivar, it’s likely because caryophyllene is present.

Caryophyllene is the only known terpene found in cannabis that can bind to the CB2 receptor in the endocannabinoid system, which is found in the body’s immune system. Thanks to this unique action, caryophyllene is sometimes also classified as an atypical cannabinoid.

Research on the therapeutic actions of caryophyllene shows that it has the potential to alleviate symptoms of various conditions such as colitis, diabetes, cerebral ischemia, anxiety and depression, liver fibrosis and heart disease. Alzheimer type.

Future research suggests that caryophyllene activity at the CB2 receptor could be harnessed to help treat conditions with inflammatory symptoms.

3 – Limonene

Clean, fresh and uplifting citrus scents – the name limonene is a giveaway for the aromas associated with this cannabis terpene. Limonene is found in citrus and ginger peels, and the terpene is also prominent in many cannabis cultivars that have a fruity, fresh bouquet, such as Papaya Punch or Black Cherry Soda.

Limonene appears to alter the behavior of certain immune cells in the body, which may protect the body against a range of disorders. In one study, limonene helped increase the production of antibody-producing cells in the spleen and bone marrow, which are used by the immune system to identify and neutralize pathogenic bacteria and viruses.

Researchers have also recently floated the idea that limonene’s unique therapeutic profile could be useful in treatments for Covid-19.

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The medicinal benefits of terpenes

Preclinical studies in animals and in vitro studies (in test tubes) have identified a range of therapeutic benefits associated with terpenes. It should be noted, however, that terpene research is in its infancy and has not been widely performed on humans. More research needs to be done to solidify our understanding of these compounds. Here is a list of the supposed therapeutic properties of terpenes:

  • Antiviral: Researchers are always looking for new antiviral compounds. Many terpenes could show strong abilities to help kill viruses, including alphaand beta-pinene, caryophyllene, camphor, and carvone.
  • Anti-cancer :

Rising rates of many forms of cancer are prompting the search for compounds that can help suppress it. Certain terpenes, including those found in cannabis, may exhibit anticancer activity, helping to inhibit cancer cell activity or growth.

Limonene could represent a particularly notable anti-cancer and anti-tumor agent, along with other terpenes such as pinene, camphor, terpinene and beta-myrcene. A potential unique benefit of terpenes is that they are unlikely to affect healthy cells or cause side effects, which is important for cancer treatments.

  • Antidepressant: Twenty-five percent of antidepressants are formulated from plant extracts that contain terpenes. Linaloletand beta-pinene are common among many herbal extracts used in antidepressant medications.
  • Antimicrobial: A wide range of terpenes can display antimicrobial activity or the ability to stop a harmful microorganism in its tracks. Terpenes that can help kill or stop the progress of microorganisms include alpha-bisabolol, geraniol, menthol, eucalypto, and terpinolene.
  • Pain relief :

Les chercheurs ont découvert que certains terpènes du cannabis peuvent imiter les cannabinoïdes en créant un effet analgésique. In a 2021 study that combined terpenes with cannabinoids, pain-relieving effects were amplified without an increase in negative side effects. This interaction could indicate the entourage effect (see below).

Terpenes that may promote analgesic activity include humulene, geraniol, linalolet, and β-pinene. Fascinatingly, the study above also revealed that these terpenes activate the body’s CB1 receptors, which are part of the endocannabinoid system and influence pain perception.

How can terpenes contribute to the effects of cannabis?

New evidence suggests that all of the plant compounds in cannabis work together in a synergistic way – this is called the entourage effect and can be thought of as follows: all of the compounds in cannabis are more whole than the sum of its parts. In other words, a special whole-plant synergy occurs when cannabinoids and terpenes are consumed together, as opposed to themselves.

For example, terpenes seem to play a role in influencing the effects of THC and CBD on the body. In a 2018 review of people with epilepsy, those who took full-spectrum CBD extract, including cannabinoids and terpenes, had improved symptoms and fewer side effects than those who took CBD isolate, containing only cannabinoids. Full-spectrum cannabis extract is a whole-plant medicine, containing cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds found in the plant.

Researchers also found that full-spectrum CBD extract was four times more potent than CBD isolate, meaning patients could take a significantly lower dose, and attributed this to the therapeutic synergy of cannabinoids and other compounds, such as terpenes.

More recent research has shown that terpenes boost cannabinoid activity, but high concentrations of terpenes were needed to see this improvement.

It is essential to recognize that much is still unknown about terpenes and their interactions with other terpenes, cannabinoids and flavonoids found in cannabis. Additionally, the majority of the research we have is based on animal models or test tubes.

Nevertheless, the growing clinical interest in these aromatic compounds is giving rise to fascinating discoveries. It is likely that the coming years will see a more sophisticated understanding of terpenes develop and how they perform both individually and in synergy.

How do terpenes affect the body?

Awareness of the aromatic properties of terpenes is not new. Humans have long harnessed the vibrant scents associated with terpenes to formulate essential oils for practices such as aromatherapy.

For example, anyone who has dabbed lavender oil — which contains linalool — behind their ears knows that it can potentially help you relax. Likewise, the terpenes of certain cannabis strains can add to its effects.

However, the effects of terpenes appear to extend beyond wellness and stress relief benefits. Terpenes have also been identified as a new frontier in cannabis medicine. Until recently, the spotlight has focused almost exclusively on the therapeutic qualities of cannabinoids, such as THCand CBD, but as our understanding of terpenes improves, it’s becoming clear that these aromatic compounds are also medicinal powerhouses.

All terpenes exhibit unique combinations of therapeutic properties. Unsurprisingly, some of the effects of terpenes on humans work like with cannabis and other plants, to help fight off unwanted microbes and pathogens.

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