What is a Terpene: How Terpenes in Cannabis Interact with the Human Body
Cannabis terpenes are found in the plant's trichomes and are distinct to each strain’s profile.
What is a Terpene? In its most fundamental form, a terpene is an organic compound found in plants, and is responsible for scent and taste. This allows them to deter predators and attract pollinators. In cannabis, terpenes are found in the trichomes and are distinct to each strains profile. These compounds are being studied for how they influence the overall effects of the cannabis experience.
Linalool is most commonly found in lavender, but is also found in hundreds of floral and herb-like plants. Medically, linalool is being heavily studied for its anti-inflammatory effects. These properties are promising for inflammation-based illnesses including Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, asthma and arthritis. Linalool is regularly used as a relaxation tool for essential terpene oil therapy because of its anti-anxiety and stress reducing properties.
Terpineol, with its pleasant floral aroma, is commonly used in perfume, cosmetics, and a variety of oil distillate products. Although alpha-terpineol occurs naturally, these cannabis terpenes are often derived from the more readily available alpha-pinene. Similar to linalool, terpineol is shown to have relaxing effects on the human body.
Geraniol, as the name suggests, is found in geraniums. Its floral scent can also be detected in rose, palmarosa, and citronella oil. Geraniol is a common ingredient in natural insect repellants and is being studied in animal models for treatment of neuropathy (nerve damage).
Limonene is highly concentrated in citrus fruit rinds and is largely responsible for their poignant scent. Studies have uncovered a variety of limonene’s medical benefits including aiding digestion, alleviating depression, and antibacterial activity. It also has anti-proliferative properties, meaning that it helps prevent the spread of malignant cells, which is especially promising for cancer treatment. Aside from the potential medical benefits of limonene, consuming cannabis terpenes through strains rich in limonene can promote an overall uplift in mood.
Myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis, with some plants boasting over 60% of the essential oil. Myrcene has an earthy, fruity, clove-like scent. The myrcene level is thought to determine if the plant will take on an Inidca or Sativa profile. Plants with over 0.5% typically assume an Indica profile while strains with less than 0.5% adopt a Sativa profile. Myrcene allows the cannabinoids to take effect in the body more quickly because of its ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Studies have also shown that myrcene terpenes in cannabis have the ability to stimulate the CB1 receptor more effectively than Delta-9 THC alone, allowing for heightened psychoactive stimulation.
Pinene is the most widely encountered terpenoid in nature, occurring naturally in two forms: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Both forms are important constituents of pine resin and can also found in the resins of many other conifers, as well as in non-coniferous plants. Pinene promotes alertness and memory by inhibiting the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. Studies have found that pinene has anti-inflammatory properties, can be used as both a topical antiseptic and a bronchodilator to open up airways, and can effectively reduce the size of some cancer tumors. Finally, these cannabis terpenes have been shown to subdue the paranoia that can be associated with the consumption of THC.
Humulene (alpha-humulene and alpha-caryophyllene) gets its name from Humulus lupulus, or common hops, where it can comprise as much as 40% of the essential oil. It’s also found in cannabis sativa, as well as other herb-like plants. It is described as having an earthy, woody scent. Humulene is being studied as an anti-inflammatory as well as an analgesic (pain reliever). While cannabis typically induces an appetite, Humulene has the unique ability to serve as an anorectic (appetite suppressant), making these cannabis terpenes a promising application for weight loss.
Carene has woody aroma and is found in cedar and pine residue. Carene can be used to dry excess bodily fluids, like tears and saliva, which might contribute to the cottonmouth and dry-eyes commonly associated with the consumption of cannabis.
The terpenes in cannabis known as Caryophyllene (found in the forms of beta- or trans-caryophyllene) have a peppery scent and are found in many spices like black pepper and clove, as well a variety of hops. Unlike other terpenes in cannabis, Caryophyllene is unique in its ability to selectively bind to CB2 receptors, but not CB1 receptors, meaning that caryophyllene does not produce psychoactive effects. Caryophyllene’s affinity to CB2 receptors gives it anti-inflammatory properties and it is often found in topicals and salves.