Terpenes are a class of organic compounds manufactured within the cannabis plant and other types of flowers, herbs, and trees. When we talk about terpene profiles in cannabis, we’re referring to which specific terpenes can be found in that particular strain.
Terpenes can be subdivided into different groups: Monoterpenes, Sesquiterpenes, Diterpenes, Triterpenes … you get the idea. The word “terpene” is actually short for “turpentine.” It pays homage to this solvent made from steam-distilling tree bark (which is rich with resins).
Terpenoids (a subclass of terpenes) tend to feature more complex molecular structures than monoterpenes, meaning they tend to be more difficult for the body to break down and process. So, if you’re ever struggling with an anxiety attack or migraine, it could be because terpenoids are getting in your way of feeling like yourself again. Whole plant hemp oil and gummies are a great way to consume beneficial terpenes.
A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON
There was a time when chemists weren’t even sure terpenes existed! That’s because these chemicals were extremely hard-to-find (if at all). Scientists thought that turpentine might be made out of only one chemical (a terpene called pinene), but this notion didn’t pan out quite as planned. They had to let go of their original theory—that only monoterpenes exist—in order to make room for sesquiterpenes, diterpenes, and so on.
Today, we know that terpenes are responsible for the unique scents of different cannabis strains. Not only do terpenes impact smell, but they also play a role in the plant’s flavor, effects, and therapeutic benefits. In other words: Terpenes are important!
Terpenes in Hemp
Hundreds of different terpenes have been identified in hemp. The most common terpenes include myrcene, limonene, pinene, linalool, caryophyllene, and humulene.
Myrcene is a monoterpene that has an earthy odor reminiscent of cloves. It’s found in high concentrations in cannabis strains that produce indica effects. Myrcene is thought to be responsible for the “couch-lock” effect associated with some indicas.
Limonene is a monoterpene that has a citrusy odor and is found in high concentrations in cannabis strains that produce sativa effects. Limonene is believed to increase the potency of cannabis when it’s consumed.
Pinene, which smells like pine trees and has been used as a bronchodilator in some forms of traditional medicine. It’s thought to increase memory retention while decreasing short-term memory, making it ideal for studying or taking tests.
Linalool is a monoterpene with a floral odor. Linalool is found in high concentrations in cannabis strains that produce sedative effects. Linalool is thought to be responsible for the anti-anxiety and antidepressant qualities associated with certain strains.
Caryophyllene is a terpene found in other plants, such as black pepper and cloves, and has a peppery aroma. It’s found in high concentrations in cannabis strains that produce indica or hybrid effects. Caryophyllene acts as a cannabinoid, but it also interacts with the serotonin receptors . In fact, caryophyllene binds well enough to these receptors to block them from absorbing anandamide, which reduces feelings of pain and anxiety. Because of this relationship, caryophyllene is used by some doctors to relieve migraines and irritable bowel syndrome.
Humulene is another terpene that’s found in cannabis and other types of flowers, herbs, and trees. It has an earthy taste with hints of wood, similar to the musky notes in hops (which is where humulene gets its name). It’s found in high concentrations in cannabis strains that produce sedative effects. Humulene is thought to increase appetite while decreasing nausea; therefore, it may be effective at reducing symptoms associated with anorexia nervosa, HIV wasting syndrome, and cancer treatments like chemo.
Terpinolene, which has a sweet, piney aroma and is found in strains that are sedating and relaxing. It’s been shown to be effective at treating anxiety, insomnia, and nausea.
TERPENE BOILING POINTS
Even though they aren’t all present at once when you smoke or inhale cannabis (depending on the strain), terpenes are typically categorized based on their boiling points:
- Monoterpenes(boil around 157.6 degrees Celsius or 315.1 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Sesquiterpenes(boil at 188-205 degrees Celsius or 374-401 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Diterpenes(boil between 230 and 233 degrees Celsius or 446-449 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Triterpenoids(boil between 237 to 243 degrees Celsius or 450 to455 degrees Fahrenheit)
What makes a terpene a terpene?
Tiny, delicate carbon rings that share their properties with cannabinoids, terpenes occur naturally in all kinds of plants, flowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs—even conifer trees.
Most terpenes are hydrocarbons, meaning they’re composed entirely of hydrogen and carbon atoms (the word “hydrocarbon” comes from the Greek words for water, “hydro,” and coal, “karbon”). Because terpenes are so small, they can pass through cell walls with relative ease.
Terpenoids are very similar to terpenes but differ in that terpenoids have an oxygen atom added to their molecular structure. While both types of molecules occur naturally in all kinds of plants, not just cannabis, there’s a link between certain strains containing large amounts of terpenoid essential oils and the presence of myrcene or humulene. There’s also another important difference: Terpenoids are usually created when a terpene is exposed to heat, light, or air.
What do terpenes do?
Terpenes interact with the human body in several ways:
- Some terpenes can pass through the blood-brain barrier and attach to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which affects mood, perception, and stress levels.
- Terpenescan also work as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), meaning they keep serotonin from being absorbed by the brain so it stays available for longer periods of time. This helps improve mood and alleviatedepression.
- Someterpenes stimulate the production ofdopamine, which is associated with feelings of pleasure and euphoria.
- Terpenescan also act as anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, andanalgesics.
The Possibilities Are Endless
As you can see, there are a variety of terpenes found in cannabis, each with their own unique effects on the body. By understanding these effects, you can better choose strains that will meet your specific needs. For example, if you’re looking for a strain to help you relax after a long day, you might want to try one that contains high levels of linalool, myrcene, or terpinolene. If you’re looking to improve your mood and lift mild depression, maybe try something with high levels of limonene or pinene. The effect you’re looking for will also determine the route of administration. If you want all-day pain relief, then consume cannabis orally by cooking it into food or taking a tincture. If you need fast, intense pain relief for a short period of time, then simply smoke a bowl.
The possibilities are endless!
As more and more research is conducted on terpenes, we’re learning more and more about the amazing ways they interact with the human body. By understanding terpenes and their effects, you can empower yourself to make informed decisions about which strains are best for you. So go out and explore the wonderful world of cannabis terpenes! You won’t be disappointed.
If you want to learn more about cannabis terpenes, here are some great resources: