Terpenes: The 10 Most Common in Cannabis

By WeedWeek Jun 19, 2020
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Cannabinoids often take the spotlight when it comes to marijuana. Questions of THC or CBD concentrations are often the first, and sometimes the only, things people consider to be important. However, chemicals called terpenes can also play a role in the experience of consuming weed, whether smoked, vaped or cooked. This article will break down what terpenes are, how they work and why you should be paying attention to these small but mighty molecules.

What Are Terpenes?   

Terpenes are everywhere. From the sharp citrus scent of an orange peel, to the herby green aroma of a pine forest, terpenes are aromatic compounds found in plants, and some animals, that give rise to distinct aromas and flavours. Plant terpenes can serve different functions. They can attract pollinators or ward off predators. Cannabis contains particularly high concentrations of them, with well over 100 known ones so far.

The Difference Between Cannabinoids And Terpenes   

Terpenes and cannabinoids share many similarities. Among other things, both are produced within the plants’ trichome glands. But they are distinct compounds with a few key differences. 

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis sativa plants. Certain cannabinoids engage with the endocannabinoid system in human beings, for example tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces the psychoactive effect, or “high”. Other cannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD) also interact with the endocannabinoid system to deliver a range of other potential medical or therapeutic benefits such as anxiety suppression, without intoxicating the user. 

While some terpenes are also known to engage with the endocannabinoid system, they do not themselves provide psychoactive effects. Because of slight differences in their chemical structure, terpenes are primarily aromatic, which is why they are commonly extracted and concentrated into essential oils. 

Do Terpenes Get You High?   

While terpenes won’t get you high on their own, it is increasingly believed that these scent-filled compounds can act in conjunction with psychoactive cannabinoids to affect highs. Known as the “entourage effect”, this synergy allows terpenes to affect the type of high experienced by the user. For example, plants that possess similar concentrations of THC, yet different terpene profiles, may produce different highs, ranging from energetic to “couch lock”. Some terpenes may also work to hinder psychoactive effects. 

10 Most Common Cannabis Terpenes   

While cannabis sativa plants are known to contain up to 200 terpene molecules, many of them remain unfamiliar. Here’s a list of some of the best-known ones found in weed. 

    Myrcene

Myrcene is among the most common terpenes in cannabis. It’s also found in hops, which are used in beer-making. Myrcene has a musky, peppery scent, similar to cloves. It This terpene is thought to increase the permeability of cells, allowing for faster absorption of cannabinoids. It’s a classic example of the entourage effect. 

    Limonene

Limonene, as the name suggests, emits a pleasant lemon fragrance. Also found in the rinds of citrus fruits, limonene is known for its anti-inflammatory, relaxation, and antioxidant properties. It has also demonstrated anti-tumor activities.  

    Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene is one of the more abundant terpenes in nature, and possibly plays a role in maintaining health. This terpene is also thought to have a potential range of health benefits. Possessing a woody smell, caryophyllene lends itself well to use in perfumes and cosmetics. 

    Terpinolene

Terpinolene is another terpene with a woody fragrance, though mixed with hints of herbal and citrus. Terpinolene is commonly found in apples, rosemary, and cumin. It can also be used as an effective ingredient in insect repellants. 

    Pinene

Present in plants like dill, basil, and rosemary, Pinene is responsible for giving that distinctive, sought-after scent of a fresh evergreen forest. 

    Humulene

Humulene has been found to possess important anti-inflammatory, analgesic, pain relief, and appetite-suppressant properties. When combined with the terpene  caryophyllene, its benefits may be amplified. With musky, earthy aromas, humulene can also be found in sage, ginger, and ginseng. 

    Ocimene

Imagine the scent of basil, and you’ll have an idea of what ocimene smells like. With citrus and woody odors, ocimene has been found to be anti-viral, antifungal, anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory –  warding off many of the things people would rather avoid. 

    Linalool

Linalool is a distinctly floral aroma, found in high concentrations in lavender. This terpene can produce calming effects, and can function as a sedative to help with insomnia. Studies have also shown linalool to be a potential anticonvulsant

    Nerolidol

Nerolidol can be useful in combating pests infestations on both humans and plants. Studies have found this terpene to be an effective repellent for head lice, parasites, spider mites and certain bacterias. Nerolidol may also be useful in combating malaria infections, which kill hundreds of thousands of people each year around the world. Besides cannabis, nerolidol is also naturally-occurring in ginger and certain types of orchids. It has both floral and woody notes. 

    Bisabolol

Apples, honey, chamomile – these are the many fragrant notes of the bisabolol terpene. According to research, bisabolol is able to inhibit the production of cytokines, which comprise part of the body’s inflammatory response, leading to reduced inflammation. Bisabolol has also been shown to effectively combat leukemia cells in human bodies. 

List Of Other Terpenes

Research is still being done to uncover the full list of terpenes found in cannabis. Here are a few more well-known ones, ordered alphabetically: 

Borneo

Camphene

Camphor

Carene

Cedrene

Cymene

Eucalyptol

Geranyl Acetate 

Guaiol

Fenchol

Menthol

Phytol

Pulgeone

Terpenes Benefits   

The practice of aromatherapy involves extracting terpenes into essential oils which are then inhaled to produce a range of physical and psychological benefits, such as relaxation. Yet these benefits can be wrought from other sources, including the practice of forest bathing, which simply requires walking in a forest and inhaling the naturally terpene-rich air. 

How Do Terpenes Affect The Body?   

Many terpenes are bioactive, meaning they affect the body. In isolation, terpenes have differing effects. Yet it is when they are combined together that terpenes may produce the most noticeable effects. One review found that terpenes in cannabis can work synergistically to increase serotonin, dopamine and other chemicals in the human brain. This leads some to think they can affect mood, pain and other experiences. 

Properties And Uses   

Terpenes possess many properties that may benefit human health. Some terpenes have been found to function effectively combat parasitic infections, while others can be used as natural insect repellent. The chemicals have also been widely used in cosmetic industries, including perfumes, as well as additives to foods to enhance flavours. 

Conclusion   

The more that is learned about terpenes, the more popular and sought-after these compounds become. Terpenes in cannabis can not only lend pleasant aromas and flavours to weed, but may also affect the experience of weed consumption, be it psychoactive or otherwise. While cannabinoids and terpenes have always joined forces to create experiences and health benefits we enjoy, terpenes shouldn’t be overlooked anymore. 

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