The wide and woefully untapped world of cannabis terpenes
Cannabis is a particularly wonderful plant to smoke, not only because it makes you feel like a big glob of butter slowly melting on top of a stack of flapjacks but also because it has a unique array of different smells and tastes, made possible by a little gift from Mother Nature called terpenes.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are what make fruit smell/taste like fruit and cannabis smell/taste like cannabis (and also fruit). These are aromatic compounds found throughout nature and in particularly high concentrations in cannabis flowers. Not only do terpenes have an effect on the taste the cannabis user experiences, but they have an effect on the high as well.
The research is pretty limited in this area but many attribute the nuances of certain types of highs to terpene “profiles,” which refers to the unique combination of terpenes in different strains of cannabis. Myrcene, for instance, is often associated with an anti-anxiety effect and is believed to release GABA in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that essentially inhibits the central nervous system to calm and relax the user.
That said, you won’t get high just from terpenes alone, they need to be smoked or ingested in tandem with THC in order to have an effect on the user’s experience.
Many cannabis researchers have theorized about an “entourage effect” of sorts in which the full spectrum of cannabinoids work synergistically to create unique effects that are then associated with certain tastes and smells. These are where the blueberry flavor comes from in blue dream or the gaseous pine flavors in some of the older OG strains.
Terpenes pose a small but notable cause for concern for cannabis users because they can be extracted from anything and then added to cannabis products later on, most often being vape cartridges containing cannabis distillate concentrate.
A lot of the time the these are sourced from overseas where they’re often extracted from, for example, low-quality mass-produced fruit that has been sprayed with enough pesticides to kill the Mutant Moth that Ate Toledo.
There’s nothing we’ve ever read to suggest that cheaply-sourced terpenes pose a threat to anyone’s heath but there just hasn’t been enough research into the area. At any rate, it’s just good to be aware of where the ingredients in your product come from.
There are a lot of terpenes found in cannabis, over 400 according to some studies. Many terpenes have had little to no research performed on them, so much remains unknown about the specific effects of each. However, a select few terpenes have been the subject of limited research:
Pinene – You’ll come to find many terpenes have been named according to the low-hanging fruit so to speak. Pinene is no exception. This is what you smell when you walk through a forest full of pine trees or smell a rosemary plant. Pinene, like all the other terpenes listed here, is believed to have therapeutic benefits including anti-depression and anti-cancer. It’s also a bronchodilator, meaning it allows the lungs to take deeper breaths when inhaled.
Myrcene – As mentioned above myrcene is associated with sedative effects and is most often found in mangos, hops, lemongrass and thyme but found in many strains of cannabis as well. It is associated with a taste that is a bit sweet but also spicy. Myrcene is believed to have many beneficial properties for the human body including protecting the brain from stroke damage but the studies conducted have only been done on mice.
Humulene – This terpene is found in ginseng, ginger, hops and cloves. It is believed to have possible energizing effects and has also been studied as a potential treatment for allergies. It had success in animal trials but has largely gone unstudied since. Humulene is associated with spicy, earthy or woody flavors.
Limonene – Almost sounds like lemonade, which is on purpose because limonene is found abundantly in citrus-based fruits. Limonene produces a strong lemon-lime flavor with hints of orange or tangerine. Classic weed strains like Sour Diesel contain large amounts of limonene, which has been studied for many potential health benefits including as a treatment for anxiety and a treatment for cancer. It cannot be overstated, however, that more research needs to be done before anything can be said definitively.
Linalool – Linalool is most known for the anti-stress and beneficial sleep properties associated with the lavender plant. It is responsible for the powdery floral aroma with hints of smoke found in both lavender and linalool-rich cannabis flower. A lot of indica strains contain heavier concentrations of linalool, the most famous being Grandaddy Purp.
Caryophyllene – We call this one the snitch terpene because law enforcement agencies use caryophyllene to train drug-sniffing K9’s. Caryophyllene is very peppery, which makes sense because it is literally found in black pepper as well as rosemary and hops. Caryophyllene is found in a large amount of cannabis strains, though the numbers on that vary from 25% to 80% because frankly, it’s virtually impossible to accurately track such things. Regardless, it’s a very common terpene both in nature and in cannabis plants While not necessarily psychoactive in any way, caryophyllene is believed to be an anti-inflammatory which is why black pepper is often included in fresh-squeezed juice shots.
Overall, a lot more research needs to be done because we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what terpenes can be used for and how they interact with the human body.
- Medical News Today – What are terpenes
- Healthline – Cannabis 101: What’s the Deal with Terpenes?
- High Times – Understanding Terpenes
- Sci Flo – The protective cardiac effects of Β-myrcene
- Pub Med – Neuroprotective effects of β-myrcene
- Pub Med – The cannabinoid CB₂ receptor-selective phytocannabinoid beta-caryophyllene exerts analgesic effects
- National Library of Medicine – The “Entourage Effect”: Terpenes Coupled with Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Mood Disorders and Anxiety Disorders