Terpenes are the essential oils found in all plant species, including cannabis. These aromatic compounds are responsible for giving each cannabis strain its unique taste and smell, as well as providing medical benefits that go beyond THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids.
Each cannabis strain has its own unique genetic makeup and a combination of cannabinoids and terpenes that give it a distinct taste and aroma. Cannabis breeders are now delving into the science of terpenes and breeding plants with specific genetics to get the desired terpene profile. For instance, crossing strains such as Critical Super Silver Haze, which is high in pinene, with Jack Herer, which is high in terpinolene, would create a strain high in both pinene and terpinolene which has a piney and woody smell and taste.
Cannabis is a highly personalized medication that works differently in different individuals. That is why it is crucial to understand how terpenes work and the effects they create. Blue Dream is considered a Sativa strain, but due to the myrcene content, its effects are relaxing and sedating, not what most people expect from a Sativa. Critical Super Silver Haze is another Sativa strain that is lower in myrcene, and higher in Limonene and pinene, giving it more traditional uplifting Sativa effects.
Terpenes can also be found in all plants and are generally responsible for the smells we have come to associate with different plants. Terpenes are what makes lemons smell like lemons and lavender smell like lavender, due to the Limonene and linalool in the respective plants.
Medical Benefits of Terpenes
The role of terpenes has been extensively studied as it relates to fruit, vegetables, and plants other than cannabis. Terpene profiles and related effects have been identified in nature and can be related to the study of cannabis and the effects of terpenes on different strains.
A 2011 study, in the British Journal of Pharmacology, concluded that breeding cannabis with specific terpene profiles might broaden the application of medical cannabis. The study noted that terpenes act in synergy with cannabinoids, through the Entourage Effect, to enhance the effects of each individual strain.
Now that we understand how terpenes work let’s take a look at some specific terpenes and their medical applications.
Caryophyllene is a terpene found in black pepper and all-spice. It has a spicy, peppery taste and delivers a smell similar to cinnamon or cloves. This terpene has significant anti-inflammatory effects and acts on CB2 receptors in the brain to reduce oxidative stress. Strains high in caryophyllene are excellent for patients with chronic inflammation, post-stroke patients, and individuals with acute injuries that cause swelling.
Limonene is a terpene commonly found in lemons and most citrus fruit. It has a distinct citrus smell and fruity taste and is commonly found in strains with haze genetics. Limonene produces feelings of euphoria and is great for stress and anxiety relief. Limonene also acts as an antibacterial and antifungal agent and is great for issues of the digestive tract.
Linalool is a terpene commonly found in lavender and mint plants, and it has a distinct spicy, lavender aroma. It is well known for its anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing properties, as well as its sedative effects. Strains high in linalool are great for sleep and pain reduction and are more common in Indica dominant strains.
Pinene is commonly found in pine, rosemary, basil, and dill plants and has a definitive pine, earthy, and herbal aroma. Pinene is a common terpene found in the kush species of the cannabis plant and is well known for its anti-cancer properties. Pinene inhibits acetylcholinesterase activity in the brain and improves attention, focus, and alertness, making pinene heavy strains great for daytime use.
Although we have only touched on several terpenes, there are dozens more present in nature and different cannabis strains. Work with a certified dispensary agent to determine which terpene profile will be of the greatest benefits for your individual needs.
The Entourage Effect
Terpenes play a crucial role in the entourage effect and act to increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, allowing cannabinoids to have a greater effect on the consumer. Additionally, terpenes allow cannabinoids to bind more effectively to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system and enhance the effects of cannabis.
In essence, cannabinoids and terpenes acting in synergy produce greater effects than individual cannabinoids or terpenes acting alone. There is significant power when cannabinoids and terpenes combine forces.
Therefore, it is important to understand the role of cannabinoids, and synergistic terpenes play when choosing a cannabis strain or concentrate.
Getting the Greatest Benefit from Terpenes
While smoking cannabis is the most popular form of consumption, methods such as vaping are gaining popularity. The benefit of vaping is that cannabis can be heated to a precise temperature, which releases specific terpenes. Smoking tends to burn up terpenes and lessen their effect on the consumer.
Different terpenes have different vaporization points. For instance, caryophyllene vaporizes at 160º Celsius, while Limonene does not vaporize until 176º Celsius. When using a vaporizer, it is important to determine the optimum temperature for cannabinoid and terpene release. This will allow the consumer to get the maximum benefit from their medicine.
Enhancing the Cannabis Experience
For many medical patients, consuming cannabis is about much more than “getting high.” Medical patients are seeking specific results to help manage their medical condition, and terpenes may be the answer.
Terpenes play an important role in the genetic profile that makes up different strains of cannabis and should be taken into consideration with as much weight as the cannabinoid profile.
Choosing strains with specific terpene profiles will ensure that the cannabis you are consuming is tailored to your individual needs and acts to enhance the overall experience of using cannabis as medicine.