Cannabinoids get plenty of attention — and for good reason. Unique to cannabis and found nowhere else in nature, cannabinoid compounds are relatively rare and require specific study to better understand their effects and applications. However, cannabinoids aren’t the only compounds within cannabis that can have physical and psychological effects. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that terpenes, the compounds that lend cannabis its delightful and distinctive aromas, could be at least as impactful as cannabinoids.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a class of organic compounds that have a strong odor, which work to protect the living thing that protects them. There are 10 categories of terpenes, in which scientists have placed over 20,000 unique compounds, with more terpenes discovered every year. Some of the plants best-known for their pleasant fragrance produce terpenes — pine trees, lavender, citrus fruits and, of course, cannabis.
In all, different strains of cannabis contain upwards of 200 terpenes, many of which are also found in other plants. Some of the most dominant terpenes in cannabis include:
- Myrcene. Also found in thyme and lemongrass, smells clove-like and slightly citrusy
- Limonene. Also found in oranges and juniper, smells strongly of citrus
- Linalool. Also found in lavender, smells floral and slightly spicy
- B-caryophyllene. Also found in black pepper and basil, smells of wood and cloves
- Terpinolene. Also found in lilacs and cumin, smells strongly floral
- Humulene. Also found in coriander and hops, smells earthy and spicy
- A-pinene. Also found in conifer trees, smells like pine and rosemary
- Eucalyptol. Also found in eucalyptus and tea tree, smells minty
- Ocimene. Also found in mint, smells sweet and earthy
- Geraniol. Also found in geraniums, smells like roses and some citronella
Different strains of marijuana will boast different terpene profiles. For example, Northern Lights, one of the most popular pure indica strains available almost everywhere, has a terpene profile of pinene, terpinolene and ocimene, making the bud smell intensely herbal and earthy with slight citrus and floral notes. In contrast, the balanced hybrid strain Blueberry boasts a terpene profile of caryophyllene, humulene, pinene and myrcene. Users who prefer the odors of certain strains over others might investigate their dominant terpenes and search out other strains with similar profiles — perhaps with the help of knowledgeable budtenders at a trusted Colorado dispensary.
What Do Terpenes Do?
As mentioned above, plants (and some insects) produce terpenes to help protect themselves. Most herbivores are disinterested in plants with strong odors, and some terpenes help attract predators that will manage herbivore populations to keep plants safe.
However, recently, researchers have begun to realize that terpenes also seem to have effects within the human body. Though research on terpenes remains slim, one study found that individuals who take in a higher number of terpenes seem to have improved health in various ways. In particular, terpenes seem to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumorigenic and neuroprotective functions. It is likely that different terpenes produce different effects on the body — for example, pinene seems to be antibiotic and aid in respiratory health while linalool supports pain management by easing inflammation.
Additionally, marijuana enthusiasts strongly believe that terpenes work in concert with cannabinoids to affect a person’s mental and physical well-being. The so-called entourage effect is not well-studied, but believers suggest that terpenes help limit the absorption of THC, which allegedly makes for a more manageable and enjoyable high.
How to Make the Most of Terpenes?
Those who want to take advantage of the healing potential of terpenes need to be more discriminating in the weed products they purchase. As mentioned before, identifying the dominant terpenes in preferred strains will help guide users to other strains they are likely to enjoy. However, it is of utmost importance that weed users carefully select the extracts and concentrates they use, to ensure they don’t buy products that have eliminated terpenes entirely. Usually, products that contain some amount of THC will also have terpene content, but CBD products sometimes wash terpenes out in the extraction process. Users should look for full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD products, which do contain terpenes.
In truth, we don’t know everything about terpenes — but we know enough to surmise that terpenes are good for the human body. Cannabis products that include terpenes have the potential to significantly improve users’ health, perhaps as much as cannabinoids do.