Even if you smoke, vape, or use any cannabis products, you may not be very familiar with terpenes, let alone what they do. Similar to essential oils in many ways, terpenes are known to enhance one’s “high” and purportedly carry a number of health benefits besides. While research into the full beneficial array of terpenes is ongoing, so far, the results are certainly promising.
Here’s the full lowdown on terpenes, what they’re made of, what they do, and why you should take notice.
What Are Terpenes?
Simply put, terpenes are the organic compounds in cannabis that contribute to your head high as well as your taste perception. Terpenes, as well as terpenoids, are composed of aromatic hydrocarbons that are actually found in numerous plants and even insects. These pungent hydrocarbons were designed by nature to ward off predatory herbivores without dissuading the good pollinators. Cannabis, or marijuana, has a high amount of naturally occurring terpenes. When you hear a cannabis strain referred to as “dank,” that’s in reference to its super-fragrant terpene emission.
As mentioned above, essential oils are also high in terpenes, which in turn contribute to their enhanced properties where both scent and felt effects are concerned. For example, if you feel pleasantly soothed after smelling lavender essential oil or uplifted and energized after a waft of citrus, you’re experiencing the first-hand effects of terpenes. Most of the terpenes found in essential oils are also contained in high concentrations within cannabis buds.
How Do Terpenes Affect the Body?
So far, we’ve covered the protective properties of terpenes in plants as well as their similarities to essential oils, but how do terpenes affect the human body? Comparable to cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, terpenes interact with neural and cellular receptors in one’s body, modulating neurotransmitter levels. These compounds work to bind your brain’s receptors, in turn, boosting dopamine activity responsible for feelings of pleasure, reward, and motivation, as well as slowing down or altogether inhibiting the destruction of serotonin – another “happy” neurotransmitter.
The terpenes found in cannabis play a similar role as, say, an antidepressant, only without the side effects of more traditional tricyclic impeding medications.
What Are the Strains of Terpenes and What Do They Do?
There are well over 200 strains of naturally occurring terpenes, namely found in flora & fauna, as well as some insects. Every terpene has a different purpose and outcome. But among the following found in cannabis, these particular strains carry especially unique health benefits:
This terpene exists mainly in Sativa cannabis strains, along with some topical products, and is known to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Myrcene can be found in a wide variety of cannabinoids and boasts some pretty potent anti-inflammatory powers; this terpene can also act as a sedative and muscle relaxer.
One of the most widely used and arguably popular treatments for anxiety, linalool has also been shown to lessen the effects of stress and epileptic seizures.
Studies have revealed significant anticancer benefits in terpinolene, as well as antioxidant, antibacterial, and antifungal benefits.
Why Should I Care about Terpenes?
As previously discussed, terpenes provide an impressive range of medical benefits of the anti-carcinogen, antimicrobial, and antiseptic variety, and have been successfully used to help with sleep, anxiety, and pain disorders. By expanding potential treatment for physical pain and neurological distress into the realm of cannabis-related terpenes, doctor and healthcare professionals will be better able to provide more individualized treatment options.
What Does Research Say about Terpenes?
The case for terpenes has been on the rise in recent years, with promising results coming in from around the globe. In 2011, two particularly significant studies took place: First, neurologist Ethan Russo produced a paper that disproved the belief that the only psychoactive component in cannabis was THC, reporting that terpene compounds were equally influential; Second, a lab study conducted at Chicago University revealed that pinene, a fairly common type of terpene, significantly aided in the treatment of bacterial and viral infections in patients.
More recently in 2015, a clinical study by Tokyo University found that numerous types of terpenes could aid in the alleviation of inflammation, pain, cancer-related issues, and bacterial and fungal infections, as well as depression, anxiety, and addiction. The study additionally found other commonly occurring terpenes to carry effectual anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties as well as those known to assist with depression and digestion.
One uplifting study published in the Journal of Toxicological Research explored the traditional Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, and the subsequent anti-tumorigenic, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects of a terpene-rich environment.
Terpenes and the Entourage Effect
No, we’re not talking about the popular show, but rather the working synergy of combined terpenes and cannabinoids to enhance overall health benefits. Most cannabis experts recommend whole-plant cannabis, rather than isolated cannabinoids, for a much more advantageous experience. The term “entourage effect” essentially refers to the magnification and unification of isolated components which, upon joining forces, produce a bigger medicinal impact.
Just as essential oils have undergone an extensive reevaluation in the field of medicine, so too are terpenes experiencing their own medicinal renaissance. While the cannabis industry has largely been ignored or stigmatized in prior times, fans and experts alike are discovering the awe-inspiring power combo of cannabinoids and terpenes to treat everything from anxiety and depression to various fungal and bacterial infections. If you are exploring your own alternative methods for improving your health and overall wellbeing, terpenes may just be the answer you’ve been waiting for.