Terpenes are all around us and are what makes things have smells—they are the “scent molecules of nature .” They are not found only in cannabis, although cannabis does seem to have a special relationship with terpenes. The holiday season is upon us so it’s a good time to look at how these wondrous chemicals can help us share the best of times with our families and friends.
Terpenes in the world
There are over 20,000 terpenes in nature. Most plants produce terpenes, which are responsible for creating aromas and are the building blocks of essential oils. Flowers, leaves, roots, flowers, and some animals produce terpenes . Terpenes are wide-ranging in their potential roles in a plant and are used for everything from attracting pollinators to recovering from damage .
A particularly impressive plant use of terpenes was found in a 2005 study. Researchers found that when damaged by a herbivore, the Arabidopsis thaliana plant, or thale cress, releases terpenoids that attract carnivorous mites to help defend the plant .
Terpenes affect people too. Inhaling scents from plants and essential oils can alter a person’s mood and stress levels . This is known as aromatherapy and offers claims for improving psychological or physical well-being. Terpenes can also be used topically via essential oils, which aren’t actually oils. Rather, they are a combination of terpenes, alcohols, and esters that act like an oil when distilled .
Some common sources rich in terpenes are easily recognizable. For instance, orange essential oil comes from the rind of sweet oranges and it is almost 95% limonene, but also contains over a dozen other terpenes . Studies show that orange essential oil has effectiveness against some types of bacteria and fungi, and has additional therapeutic benefits .
Pine trees give us the most common terpene, pinene. It is produced by conifer trees and other plants . Pinene is used in turpentine, fungicidal agents, flavors, fragrances, and antiviral and antimicrobial agents . A range of pharmacological activities have been reported, such as antibiotic resistance modulation, anticoagulant, antitumor, antimicrobial, antimalarial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic effects .
Terpenes in cannabis
Cannabis has over 150 terpenes across various strains. The mix of which ones exist, and the levels of each in a particular strain are responsible for the strain’s aroma and flavor profile, and perhaps its effect set . Due to inconsistency in genetics and production methods, the terpene set in a strain can vary a bit crop to crop .
Common terpenes in cannabis
Myrcene – Earthy, clove-like citrus scent. Has the ability to enhance absorption through the skin, and may increase the effect of other cannabinoids. Known for relaxing effects of its own.
Limonene – Bright, citrusy scent. Limonene’s uplifting aroma can act as a mood elevator.
Pinene – Fresh, earthy, pine tree scent. As a therapeutic remedy, it can be used to evoke the inspiration of a pine forest.
Caryophyllene – Spicy and peppery scent. The only terpene that binds to CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which makes it a helpful ingredient for therapeutic purposes.
Linalool – Sweet, floral scent. This terpene is at the center of lavender’s relaxing properties.
Eucalyptol – Cooling, minty scent. Evokes clarity, refreshment, and creativity.
Part of the special relationship between cannabis and terpenes involves the entourage effect. “The entourage effect is a proposed mechanism by which cannabis compounds other than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) act synergistically with it to modulate the overall psychoactive effects of the plant ”
Other cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids may all be part of an entourage effect, aiding the efficacy of all the components of the plant. Without it, some cannabinoids don’t seem to work the same way. Scientists have found that the mixture of all the components of the plant has different effects than isolated compounds. GW Pharmaceuticals, makers of one of the only sanctioned cannabis-based drugs, Sativex (called nabiximols in the U.S.), found that a whole plant extract was more effective than a single compound for certain therapies . Another researcher said that single component drugs like Marinol, a synthetic THC pill, have less therapeutic value than those with more cannabinoids .
Research on the entourage effect is still relatively minimal and some scientists want more data before being convinced of the effect and any benefits it provides . But some producers lean on the popular anecdotal notions of entourage effect and see an opportunity to create custom blends of terpenes and cannabinoids in order to offer consumers specific designed effects .
The holidays can be fun and celebratory times you get to spend with loved ones. or frustrating and depressing trials you have to spend with them. Terpenes can help you through either way. Here are some top terpenes and how their aromatic goodness will enhance your holidays.
Caryophyllene – This terpene is prominent in common spices like basil, rosemary, cinnamon, oregano, lavender, cloves, black pepper. These all appear in our favorite holiday recipes so caryophyllene will be a big part of enjoying the season! In addition to imparting deliciousness and complexity to our food, the terpene has been used to enhance relaxation in aromatherapy properties which e a good thing for holiday stresses too.
Limonene – This terpene is a mood lifter to keep spirits up for shopping, decorating, and event preparation. Try some after a meal, especially if you tend to overindulge at the previously mentioned smorgasbord. Don’t forget the clean up – limonene is very common in cleaning products, for when the party is over. As everyone pitches in, the limonene aroma will keep it fun.
Linalool – This terpene gives lavender its rich sweet scent and is responsible for the relaxation people experience when inhaling lavender. With all of the family activities and shopping this time of year, linalool can help you deal with the crowds and relatives you don’t quite get along with, and other holiday stressors.
Humulene – This terpene is prominent in hops. Hops are of course in beer and add a bitter balance to malt’s sweetness while contributing to the aroma and flavor. Many of us will enjoy this earthy, woody terpene in beer and other alcoholic beverages for fun and easing into the festivities. Non-drinkers can enjoy hops as an herb!
Myrcene – This terpene is found in high quantities in cannabis. It helps the efficacy of other cannabinoids and seems to be a major factor in the entourage effect, as well as producing its own relaxation effects. A pre-roll or gummy might be just what you need to really enjoy the holidays. Thanks to the Farm Bill, even if you are not in a state that gives you the freedom to use cannabis for medical or adult recreational use, you can enjoy premium hemp derived products to gain the benefits of myrcene.
Primed for success
Now that you know a little more about what these chemical compounds are and do, we hope you put your nose to use and get to know them better. Terpenes are all around us and the holiday season is a great time to start exploring their characteristics and effects. Check out the references below to learn more and we hope you have fun this holiday season!
- Freedman, Andrew. Terpenes for well being: A comprehensive guide to botanical aromas for emotional and self-care, Mango Publishing, Florida, 2021