There are about 400 chemical compounds in the cannabis plant. About 140 of these belong to a broad group of natural, aromatic hydrocarbons, also known as terpenes.
Although some people use the word terpene and terpenoid interchangeably, these two terms have slightly different meanings. The most vivid difference lies in terpenes and terpenoids. In short, terpenes consist of carbon and hydrogen, whereas terpenoids occur during drying and curing flowers when they are denatured by oxidation.
Okay, now that you know what terpenoids are, it’s high time you learned some facts about terpenes.
What Are Terpenes and Where To Find Them?
Looking closely at your cannabis buds, you should see a beautiful layer of crystal resin, also known as trichomes. These glandular trichomes are where terpenes are synthesized.
The highest concentrations of these terpenes are mainly found in unfertilized female marijuana flowers before they age – ageing deteriorates the number of terpenes in cannabis. There are two methods of terpenes extraction: vaporization or steam distillation. For most terpenes, the vaporization process takes place at the same temperature as THC, which is about 157 C. However, some terpenes are more volatile and will vaporize at lower temperatures.
What Is The Role of Terpenes In Cannabis?
Many people associate terpenes solely with their sensual role in the cannabis plant. Well, they are right to some extent because the aroma and taste of your weed will largely depend on the number of different terpenes.
However, terpenes play significant roles in other aspects, such as cannabis cultivation, for example. They provide the plant with a natural protection system against bacteria, insects, fungus, and other environmental dangers.
Moreover, it is well established that cannabis can affect emotions, the mind, and behaviour. Back in the day, researchers believed that the only chemical compound capable of such things was delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, short for THC. And thus, they focused all their attention on this single cannabinoid.
But with the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in the US and other cannabis-friendly countries, scientists are now studying other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. As for now, we already know that cannabinoids and terpenes can contribute to boosting the therapeutic effect of cannabis, but we still need more research to answer one question that bothers us all: HOW?
The Entourage Effect Between Terpenes And Other Compounds
The entourage effect may sound unfamiliar to some less experienced cannabis users, but scientists have studied this phenomenon for quite some time.
The entourage effect refers to a synergistic effect achieved by different cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Cannabis breeders believe that this synergy can boost the therapeutic effects of marijuana and reduce the potential side effects of taking too much THC.
In other words, whole buds and whole-plant extracts are more effective than isolated-cannabinoid concentrates and can mitigate the anxiety-driven behaviour induced by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, as cannabis advocates suggest.
Interestingly, the hypothesis supporting the synergy between different marijuana compounds finds an explanation in science. Three significant studies refer to the cannabis entourage effect.
The first study, conducted by E. A. Carlini and I.G. Karniol, have found that cannabis strains with equal or higher levels of CBD and CBN to THC enhance the effects of marijuana up to for times than THC content alone. Moreover, the double-blind study found that smoking twice as much of a THC-only strain brings no difference to the overall cannabis experience, save for the fact that the “high” was described as lacking character.
Research run by J.D. Wilkinson later reinforced the findings of that study. The study aimed to determine whether whole-cannabis extracts allow users to achieve better therapeutic effects than isolated THC. A cannabis extract of THC, CBD and CBN was compared with pure THC and a THC-free extract on mice models of brain slice models of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
The comparative study showed that THC, although active, might not be necessary to achieve the desired effects regardless of the examined case. The result of the study clearly demonstrated that the therapeutic actions of cannabis herb are not limited to the THC content.
And finally, we have Dr. Ethan Russo with his scientific evidence to support the theory that non-cannabinoid cannabis compounds such as terpenes and flavonoids can inhibit THC’s intoxicating effects while increasing the therapeutic index of the substance at the same time. Russo calls this effect “phytocannabinoid-terpenoid synergy,” meaning that the chemical compounds in marijuana increase the plant’s potential to treat infections, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, substance dependence, pain, inflammation, and even cancer.
Are Terpenes Safe?
Terpenes are, by all means, safe. These organic compounds contribute to flavourings and fragrances in different products, and unlike cannabinoids, they’re responsible for the plant's aroma. The FDA, along with other agencies, have publicly acknowledged terpenes as safe.
Terpenes are prone to merge with or dissolve in lipids. They have a wide range of effects on the brain; for example, they increase serotonin levels, boost norepinephrine activity and dopamine levels. In other words, terpenes seem to work similarly to prescription antidepressants. However, as promising as they are, these findings require more specific research to predict better how certain terpenes can be used to help medical marijuana patients treat specific illnesses.
Terpenes And Flavonoids
Flavonoids belong to the largest nutrient groups known to scientists. Over 6,000 already identified flavonoids and about 20 of these natural compounds are found in the cannabis plant.
Flavonoids have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and they contribute to the colour of the foods we eat; this is why blueberries are blue and raspberries are red.
Regarding pharmacological effects of flavonoids, those extracted from the cannabis plant have been tested in that matter, and the results are, least to say, promising. However, those clinical findings need further research to gain us a new insight into the role of flavonoids in the general therapeutic effects of marijuana treatment.
The Terpene Wheel
Terpenes are constituents of complex plant hormones, sterols, pigments, molecules, and cannabinoids. Like we said, on the one hand, they are responsible for the pleasant aroma of cannabis. But on the other, they produce certain physiological effects, and scientists believe that there is a close relationship between these two features of terpenes.
Patients who use medical marijuana will often ask the budtender at a dispensary to smell cannabis buds when selecting their strains; they say it helps them predict the effects of a given strain.
It has been scientifically proven that medical marijuana strains vary from one source to another, and the concentration of specific terpenes depends on how and when they were harvested. Therefore, although there are over 140 terpenes in the cannabis plant, only some of them appear in concentrations high enough to make us able to identify them by their smell.
Those findings have given rise to the terpene wheel, which helps us identify the strains' terpenes. For example, cannabis varieties that smell of pine (high level of terpene pinene) prompt alertness and prevents issues with short-term memory; lemony and citrus aromas can improve the mood and general attitude while boosting energy levels (limonene); and smell of musk or clove brings sedative, tranquillizing effects.
The terpene wheel below illustrates the difference between strains based on the distinctive terpenes' aroma and flavours.
Terpenes in Cannabis
Although there are tons of different terpenes in cannabis, there are 11 profiles you should make yourself familiar with.
- Aroma & Flavor – Citrus.
- Effects – Limonene can be used to boost metabolism, prevent and contribute to the treatment of cancer, and combat bronchitis. Limonene is also used to make medicinal topicals. When smoking strains with high levels of this terpene, you can expect uplifted mood, euphoria, and increased focus.
- Strains With Limonene – If you’re looking for a classic strain with notable levels of limonene, Super Lemon Haze, Orange Bud, and Green Crack will come in handy.
- Aroma & Flavor – Pine. This terpene is partially responsible for the scent of pine trees.
- Effects – Pinene is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. This has actually been scientifically proven. Aside from that, pinene also inhibits the memory-impairing properties of THC, which is why people say that pinene-rich strains are great for daytime use when there is much to be done that day.
- Strains With Pinene: Jack Herer, the king of cannabis sativa strains, is one of the most popular weed varieties with high pinene levels. Other cannabis strains with high content of this terpene? Dutch Treat, Romulan, OG Kush, or Strawberry Cough.
- Aroma & Flavor – Strains with high levels of myrcene are characterized by earthy and musk scents with a touch of fruity flavours.
- Effects – Myrcene is possibly the terpene directly responsible for the tired/stoney feeling often associated with using cannabis indica strains. On top of that, Myrcene has been proven to have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Strains With Myrcene: According to a Swiss study, most strains contain high levels of myrcene. One cannabis strain, Lovrin 110, contains over 65% myrcene. The other popular weed varieties with high myrcene levels are Purple Kush, White Widow, Himalayan Gold, and Warlock CBD.
- Aroma & Flavor – Floral. This terpene is a naturally occurring compound in many flowers and spices, such as coriander and lavender.
- Effects – There’s a myriad of beneficial effects linalool can provide us with. Since ancient times, this terpene has lower stress levels, reduced inflammation, and fought anxiety and depression.
- Strains With Linalool – Amnesia Haze, Lavender, Master Kush, Pink Kush, OG Shark.
- Aroma & Flavor – This terpene is a fragrant compound produced by plants known for its calming properties, such as the candela tree in Brazil, or a more popular plant, chamomile.
- Effects – Bisabolol has long been used in the beauty industry for the production of various cosmetics. Now, this terpene is being researched for the medical benefits it shows in cannabis. According to the current data on Bisabolol’s therapeutic effects, the terpene works as an anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, antioxidant, anti-microbial, and analgesic.
- Strains With Bisabolol: Cannabis varieties believed to show high levels of bisabolol include ACDC, Harle-Tsu (a cross between Harlequin and Tsunami), Pink Kush, Master Kush, and Headband.
- Aroma & Flavor – Caryophyllene produces hoppy aromas. Actually, cannabis and hops are close cousins.
- Effects: This terpene is known to help treat anxiety and depression, but recent studies suggest that Caryophyllene can also have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.
- Strains with Caryophyllene – if you’re looking for cannabis strains with high levels of this terpene, look for such names as Bubba Kush, Trainwreck, Skywalker OG, and Sour Diesel.
- Aroma & Flavor – Trans-nerolidol is present in many strong aromatics, such as tea tree, lemongrass, and jasmine. It’s characterized by a floral aroma with apple, rose, and citrus undertones.
- Effects – This terpene is believed to provide patients with antiparasitic, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. Using cannabis strains with a high level of Trans-nerolidol produces sedating effects, which can often transform into the so-called couch lock.
- Strains With Trans-nerolidol – cannabis users who would like to enjoy the floral aroma and fruity flavour should look for strains like Jack Herer, Skywalker OG and Island Sweet Skunk.
- Aroma & Flavor – Terpineol resembles the scent of pine trees, lilacs, and lime blossoms. The terpene is used to infuse products like lotion, perfumes, and soap. Terpineol is mostly found in strains that have a high level of pinene; however, when these two occur simultaneously, terpineol can be difficult to detect due to pinene’s potent aroma.
- Effects – Strains with a high level of terpineol are characterized by their ability to relax the consumer, soothe pain, and have been shown to have antioxidant properties. This, in turn, shows great promise for patients struggling with autoimmune disorders.
- Strains With Terpineol – you will find Terpineol with Jack Herer and its cross-strains, White Widow, OG Kush, and Girl Scout Cookies.
The Future of Terpenes
We still need to learn more about terpenes to discover their full therapeutic potential. Scientists will pursue the idea of mapping out different strains based on the terpene content in each of the cannabis varieties. As terpenes are being researched in terms of their medical benefits, scientists are excited about the future of clinical tests on these aromatic, volatile molecules.
Prepare yourself for a lot of buzz about terpenes in the future!