Exploring Medical Marijuana: The Terpene InfluenceAug 25, 2021 12:02PM ● By Kris Urquhart
From the aroma of an orange to the relaxing fragrance of lavender, these scents are an indicator of terpenes at work. Terpenes are organic compounds that are vital to the flavors and smells we experience daily. Produced by countless plant species, terpenes are prevalent in fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and other botanicals. Hops terpenes are formulated to give beer a specific flavor and scent; terpenes in grapes will contribute to the taste of a wine. They’re responsible for the aromas, flavors, and even colors associated with various types of vegetation.
In cannabis, terpenes are what make certain strains smell or taste different from others. Terpenes are produced by the same glands, trichomes, responsible for the production of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Trichomes are tiny glandular hairs that cover the surface of cannabis plants, giving them a crystal-like sheen and sticky feel. They are found in the leaves and buds and have a higher concentration in the flower of the plant. It is widely accepted that strong trichome production is correlated with increased potency in the plant.
Trichomes are tiny glandular hairs that cover the surface of cannabis plants, giving them a crystal-like sheen and sticky feel.
It is hypothesized that the terpene profile of a strain works in tandem with the cannabinoid content — the amount of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids — to produce the effects people associate with different strains. “Marijuana with the terpene known as myrcene smells like clove or musk and has more relaxing, sedative effects,” says Dr. Alita Sikora, MD, of Sikora Integrative Medicine in Vero Beach. “Strains that smell like lemon contain the limonene terpene and tend to produce an uplift in attitude and mood and can help with anxiety and depression. Strains with pinene terpenes smell piney and may help with memory and retention.”
Terpenes may explain why two different strains of cannabis with the same level of THC produce different experiences for the consumer. Terpene compounds play a supporting role in the “entourage effect.” When the cannabis botanical compounds arrive in the body, each one has a unique effect and benefit which may change in the presence of other compounds, this is known as the entourage effect.
Many believe that THC and CBD when combined with terpenes can interact differently with your brain. Researchers have noticed that certain terpene types enhance particular reactions. “A terpene called beta-caryophyllene (BCP) has a spicy black pepper aroma and also binds to CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system and has anti-inflammatory effects,” explains Dr. Sikora. While there are hundreds of terpenes in cannabis, only a handful have been linked to specific effects.
Here are some common terpenes found in cannabis and their potential effects:
An essential pine oil that is a bronchodilator potentially helpful for asthmatics. Also promotes alertness and memory retention by inhibiting the metabolic breakdown of acetylcholinesterase, a neurotransmitter in the brain that stimulates these cognitive effects.
Caryophyllene is unusual because it also binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Found in cloves, rosemary, black pepper, oregano and other herbs and green, leafy vegetables. Gastro-protective and has both anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
Ancient Chinese apothecaries used plants with high amounts of humulene as a natural antibiotic and energy stimulant. Found in ginseng, sage, and black pepper it has a woody earthy scent. May be effective as a topical anti-inflammatory and for seasonal allergy relief. One 2003 study found that humulene in balsam fir oil may have the potential to kill cancer cells by turning off their antioxidant processes, resulting in arresting tumor grown. More research is needed.
One of the most common terpenes that has a citrusy smell. Associated with antibacterial and stress-reducing properties. Known to boost the immune system and clinically dissolve gallstones, improve mood and relieve heartburn and reflux.
Prominent in lavender, this terpene also gives cannabis its signature spicey and floral smell. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, counters anxiety, mediates stress, and amplifies serotonin-receptor transmission for antidepressant effect. Studies have found a promising link between the therapeutic use of linalool and managing Alzheimer’s disease.
A musky terpene that is found in mangoes, thyme and lemongrass. It is a sedative, muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic for pain relief. Studies indicate it may help in treating osteoarthritis. Myrcene plays a key role in facilitating the transport of cannabinoids into the brain. Myrcene's effects on the blood-brain barrier and other factors related to blood flow make it a key player in the entourage effect.
A component of oranges such as navel, bergamot, mandarin and tangerine, this terpene is used to sooth the central nervous system and provide a calming effect. This fruity terpene is also found in nutmeg, tea tree, cumin and lilacs. Terpinoline may also provide defenses against inflammation and oxidative damage, which are both associated with cancer, but more research is needed.