Terpenes are fragrant essential oils that give cannabis and other plants their aromatic diversity. In cannabis plants, these oils are secreted in the same resin glands that produce almost all of the cannabinoid content of the plant. A fair amount of research has already been conducted on the health benefits of cannabis’ primary terpenes, with an impressive list of possible applications. It’s also important to note that terpenes may be bronchial irritants or allergens for some; most Licensed Producers carry neutral oils and strains with low terpene contents if you do find this to be the case. For information on the primary medicinal terpenes read below.
Myrcene is the predominant terpene in the Cannabis plant, providing its recognizable deep, herbal notes. Isolated myrcene is most often compared to clove oil, with a balsamic, spicy, and slightly sweet punch. Significant amounts of myrcene can be found in hops, mango, bay leaves, lemongrass, fresh thyme and other earthy aromatics. Myrcene eases inflammation, especially in the stomach, and relaxes the central nervous system. These qualities demonstrate promise in treating pain, insomnia, spasms, stomach ulcers, and other inflammatory conditions.
One especially useful property of Myrcene is its ability to help cannabinoids and other chemicals across cell-membranes, including the brain. Because of this, myrcene can enhance the psychotropic and mood-boosting properties of THC and CBD, as well as help the active ingredients in topical creams and patches cross through the skin.
Boiling point: 168 °C (334 °F)
Limonene is found primarily in citrus fruits, especially in rinds. Limonene also features prominently in the aromas of rosemary, juniper, and peppermint, and is one of the components that contributes to the mood-lifting effects of these aromatics.
Similar to Myrcene, Limonene enhances absorption across cell-membranes and possesses gastroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties, but its most useful applications may lie in its antifungal and antibacterial actions. In laboratory studies, limonene has even been shown to kill MRSA bacteria – something most antibiotics can’t accomplish!
Boiling point: 176 °C (349 °F)
Linalool presents a spicy, slightly citrusy, and intensely floral aroma that is immediately reminiscent of lavender, coriander, and laurels. Anyone who’s walked through a field of lavender has experienced the tranquilizing properties of this terpene, which is mildly anti-insomniac, anti-psychotic, anti-epileptic, and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety).
One potent and already popular application of linalool is its anti-psoriatic and anti-microbial action on the skin, meaning it helps to protect and repair skin cells, as well as to deal with underlying bacteria and fungi that may be contributing to irritation. This makes it especially beneficial for use in topical cannabis products.
Boiling point: 198 °C (388 °F)
Beta-caryophyllene is one of the most recognizable terpenes from smell alone – it’s the main peppery punch behind black pepper and fresh cloves. Beta-caryophyllene appears to be the most gastroprotective terpene, with potent anti-inflammatory effects on the lining of the stomach and small intestine.
Beta-caryophyllene is a unique terpene- it’s the only one also currently understood to be a cannabinoid! Beta-caryophyllene attaches to the same CB2 receptor sites that CBD and THC bind to, which is what allows it to exert its anti-inflammatory action, and also contributes to a immune-boosting effect. Because of its selective affinity for CB2 receptors, beta-caryophyllene can dampen the psychoactivity of THC, making the experience more “calming and painkilling” than “euphoric and active.”
To top it all off, beta-caryophyllene is also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and has been shown in some cases to restore normal cell function. This terpene may be useful in the treatment of a growing list of conditions, including atherosclerosis and osteoporosis, IBD and IBS, and neuropathic pain.
Boiling point: 160 °C (320 °F)
Pinene is found most abundant in pine needles and rosemary, and gives cannabis a familiar piney aroma, reminiscent of walking through a pine forest after a rain. In the cannabis plant, it likely serves as an insect repellent and insecticide. Pinene contributes to an alert and uplifting experience, helping to offset the short-term memory deficits some experience after THC consumption.
Medicinally, Pinene has shown some effectiveness in treating localized pain and inflammation, but shows most promise in its benefits for ADHD, asthma, and lung infections. This terpene is a potent bronchodilator (meaning it opens the lungs and airways) and mild expectorant (meaning it loosens mucus and helps to clear the lungs and airways), helping to alleviate symptoms such as shortness-of-breath and cough, and make the lungs less hospitable for infection. Isolated pinene has demonstrated an ability to improve focus in the short term, which makes high-pinene strains and formulations especially helpful for those those treating ADD and ADHD.
Boiling point: 155 °C (311 °F)
Humulene’s name derives from the Hops species’ latin designation – Humulus. It’s found also in salvia divinorum, coriander, sage, and Norwegian spruce. Following the trend, humulene is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, but less so than some of the other featured terpenes. Most interesting about humulene is its anti-proliferative (anti-tumour) properties. In a study using balsam fir oil (featuring high amounts of beta-caryophyllene and humulene), all tumours in a sample of various lines showed a response to treatment with the oil.
What’s more, humulene displays pharmacokinetic activity. This means humulene can be digested, metabolized, and excreted safely by humans, opening the door to oral humulene-derived treatments. It can also be absorbed topically.
Contrary to most chemicals in cannabis, humulene actually diminishes appetite, and strains higher in humulene may help curb the edge on the appetite stimulation of high-THC strains.
Boiling point: 198 °C (388 °F)
Terpinolene has a floral-yet-smoky aroma, and is found in apple, cumin, lilac and conifers. It is active against fungi and bacteria, even repelling small insects, which is useful for both the cannabis plant and those who consume it. Terpinolene also exhibits selective anti-proliferative activity, slowing the growth of certain tumours; a 2013 study showed terpinolene to slow growth of neuroblastoma tumour cells!
Terpinolene is a sedative and mild painkiller, as well as an antioxidant, protecting cells from oxidative damage.
Boiling Point: 185˚C (365˚F)
Terpineol is reminiscent of lapsang souchong tea, lime, and lilac, and is often used as a component of perfumes and flavourings. Terpineol is usually found in strains that also exhibit high levels of pinene, which may make it harder to detect, and may counteract its more sedative effects. The abundance of terpineol in Lapsang Souchong tea (black tea smoked over pinewood fires) and in concert with pinene in cannabis suggests that it may be a byproduct of pinene production.
Similar to pinene and terpinolene, terpineol is a pest repellent, as well as a mild antifungal and antibacterial agent. Terpineol is also an anxiolytic and a mild sedative.
Boiling point: 218˚C (424˚F)
Ocimene possesses a mild and pleasant woodsy odour, making it popular for use in perfumes and cosmetics. The name “ocimene” actually derives from the ancient Greek word for basil, which gives you an idea of the aroma it brings to the table.
Ocimene seems to play an important role in plant defence, with useful anti-viral, anti-bacterial, antiseptic, and anti-fungal qualities. In humans, ocimene may also act as a mild decongestant.
Boiling point: 100˚C (212˚F)