What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are organic compounds common to the plant kingdom and some species of insects, 200 of which have been identified in the cannabis plant. These molecules are responsible for strong aromas, have been used in medicine since ancient China, and play a critical role in creating the unique therapeutic effects attributed to cannabis. Some of the more prominent terpenes found in cannabis are Linalool, Caryophyllene, Myrcene, Limonene, Humulene, Alpha-Pinene, and Beta-Pinene.
Benefits & Effects
Terpenes are highly bioactive and demonstrate a wide variety of therapeutic effects, ranging from relaxation to stimulation, to pain relief (Russo 2011). When it comes to pain relief, terpenes can exert beneficial effects in many ways; for example, by interacting with the endogenous opioid system, by influencing neurotransmitters, and by modulating inflammatory compounds (Guimaraes 2013). Terpenes also demonstrate nootropic benefits for cognition, helping to improve memory and focus. Inhalation of terpenes in lemon oil has been shown to increase dopamine and serotonin, leading to antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects (Fischedick 2013). Many terpenes are also antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Fortunately, most terpenes are also generally recognized as safe, since they occur naturally in foods and tend to be non-sensitizing to the skin (Russo 2011).
Another terpenoid found in cannabis with noteworthy effects is myrcene, which exhibits both anti-inflammatory and opioid-type analgesic effects (Russo 2013). In contrast to the stimulating properties of Pinene, the terpene Myrcene has relaxing and sedative effects. Myrcene has a musky, fruity, clove-like scent and it occurs in cannabis, as well as in hops, eucalyptus, lemongrass, basil, thyme, and mango. Myrcene has shown to enhance the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, and to increase the maximum saturation level of CB1 receptors (Steep Hill Labs 2017). This property helps to synergistically enhance the effects of cannabinoids and other compounds that are taken along with myrcene. According to anecdotal evidence, consumption of mango prior to cannabis use can accelerate the onset and intensify the effects of cannabis, possibly because of the synergistic effects of myrcene.
Myrcene is anti-inflammatory and analgesic, helping to relieve pain and muscle tension, and its sedative effects help with insomnia (Guimaraes 2013; Russo 2011). Myrcene may mediate the body’s natural endogenous opioid system to help relieve pain (Guimaraes 2013; Fine 2014). A study that compared myrcene to morphine for pain relief showed that in contrast to morphine, myrcene did not show any tolerance after 5 days of consecutive treatment (Guimaraes 2013). Myrcene also acts as a muscle relaxant and can be used in the treatment of muscle spasms (Russo 2011).
Indica strains of cannabis, known for the relaxing “couch-lock” effect often have greater than 0.5% Myrcene, while Sativa strains normally contain less than 0.5% Myrcene and tend to be less sedating (Steep Hill Labs 2017).
Medical Benefits: Antiseptic, Antibacterial, Antifungal, Anti-Inflammatory
Effects: Sedating, Relaxing, Enhances THC’s Psychoactivity
Also Found In: Mango, Thyme, Hops, Lemongrass, Basil
Limonene is one of the main terpenes formed from Pinene, and it has a distinct citrus odor. In addition to cannabis, limonene is also found in peppermint, orange, rosemary, and juniper. Limonene is a potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, and it’s shown promise as a pain-reliever (Guaimaraes 2013). Limonene is readily bioavailable, with rates of absorption up to 70% via inhalation, and it also aids in the uptake of other compounds applied topically or absorbed via mucous membranes or the digestive tract (Russo 2011; Steep Hill Labs 2017). Limonene may help alleviate gastrointestinal complaints such as reflux or heartburn, and it is antidepressive and anxiolytic, helping to elevate mood and alleviate stress and anxiety. Limonene, like many terpenes, is also antibacterial and antifungal.
Medical Benefits: Antidepressant, Anti-Anxiety, Anti-Reflux, Antifungal
Effects: Elevated Mood, Stress Relief
Also Found In: Orange, Juniper, Peppermint
Linalool is a terpene distinguishable by its floral aroma, and in addition to cannabis, it occurs in lavender, citrus, coriander, black pepper, birch, and rosewood (Steep Hill Labs 2017; Costa 2016). It is helpful for reducing stress and anxiety and improving sleep. Research has shown it can help reduce pain and inflammation, and it also can act as a local anesthetic (Guimaraes 2013; RUsso 2013). Linalool is sometimes used as an anticonvulsant or anti-epileptic, as well as an antidepressant.
Medical Benefits: Improved Sleep, Antidepressant, Anti-Anxiety, Pain Relief, Anticonvulsant
Effects: Sedating, Calming, Stress Relief
Also Found In: Lavender, CItrus, Coriander, Birch, Rosewood
Caryophyllene acts at CB2 receptors, with demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects, as well as efficacy in the treatment of neuropathic pain. The terpene Caryophyllene has a spicy, woodsy aroma and occurs in plants such as black pepper, Thai basil, cinnamon, and cloves. Caryophyllene is often the predominant terpene found in cannabis extracts or cannabis products that have been heat processed. Drying, storage, and heat decarboxylation cause other compounds in cannabis to convert to Caryophyllene (RUsso 2011). Caryophyllene is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antifungal (Steep Hill Labs 2017). Its action at CB2 receptors mimics the effects of cannabinoids (Russo 2013), and when combined with CBD, Caryophyllene has a synergistic entourage effect to help relieve inflammation and neuropathic pain (Fine 2014). A clinical trial that evaluated the analgesic effects of inhalation of black pepper oil (known to contain both Caryophyllene and linalool) showed that black pepper essential oil resulted in a significant reduction in pain intensity compared to placebo (Costa 2016). Black pepper essential oil has also been shown to reduce nicotine cravings and may be helpful in treating addictions (Russo 2011). Caryophyllene may also be helpful for gastrointestinal complaints such as ulcers. It’s FDA-recognized as a food additive and is generally recognized as safe.
Medical Benefits: Antioxidant, Anti-Inflammatory, Antispasmodic, Pain Relief, Improved Sleep
Effects: No known physical effects
Also Found In: Black Pepper, Cloves Hops, Basil, Oregano
Humulene is very closely related to Caryophyllene, with the same chemical formula and a slightly different structure. Humulene is found most notably in hops and cannabis, but also in basil, coriander, and clove. It has a spicy, woodsy or earthy smell, also associated with the “hoppy” aroma of beers. In contrast to the common reputation cannabis has for increasing appetite, Humulene on its own seems to suppress appetite. Humulene is also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial (Steep Hill Labs 2017).
Medical Benefits: Anti-Inflammatory, Antibacterial, Pain Relief
Effects: Suppresses Appetite
Also Found In: Hops, Coriander, Basil, Clove
Pinene, detectable by its characteristic pine smell, is the most commonly occurring terpene in nature, found in plants such as citrus, conifers, and cannabis, as well as culinary herbs including basil, rosemary, and dill. Pinene has stimulating nootropic effects that can enhance memory and alertness (by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase), potentially counteracting unwanted cognitive effects of THC (Russo 2011). Pinene is also anti-inflammatory and has broad-spectrum antibiotic properties. Pinene has historically been used in the treatment of asthma because it acts as a bronchodilator, improving respiratory function (Russo 2011).
Medical Benefits: Anti-Inflammatory, Anti Asthmatic
Effects: Memory Retention, Alertness
Also Found In: Pine Needles, Conifers, Citrus
Eucalyptol (also known as cineole or cajeputol) is a stimulating terpene found in eucalyptus. Eucalyptol is licensed as a medicinal product in Germany for treating rheumatism. When applied topically, Eucalyptol causes a colling sensation and localized anesthesia to help relieve pain. Eucalyptol dose-dependently blocks nerve hypersensitivity, and it’s anti-inflammatory, by way of COX inhibition and several other physiological mechanisms (Guimaraes 2013). In animal studies, low doses of Eucalyptol provided pain relief that was nearly equivalent to morphine (Guimaraes 2013). Eucalyptol also acts as a percutaneous enhancer, improving transdermal delivery, by helping promote the absorption of topical products applied to the skin (Guimaraes 2013).
Medical Benefits: Pain Relief, Antibacterial, Antifungal, Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Proliferative, Antioxidant
Effects: Stress Relief, Alertness
Also Found In: Eucalyptus, Bay Leaves, Tea Trees, Mugwort
Terpineol has been shown to induce relaxation and pain relief in animal studies. It has also been shown to attenuate the withdrawal effects of morphine dependency and to reduce the development of tolerance to the analgesic effects of morphine (Russo 2017). Terpineol may offer synergistic therapeutic effects with CBD and Caryophyllene in treating addiction (Russo 2017).
Medical Benefits: Antioxidant, Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Proliferative
Effects: Sedating, Calming
Also Found In: Lilac, Pine Trees, Lime Blossoms
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