Cannabis users are no longer satisfied with skin-deep answers. We’re curious, we’re awakening, and we’re cannahungry. It’s high time to take it further and make the most of the ongoing cannabis research!
One of the hottest questions in recent years is none other but
“What are terpenes?”
Let’s learn the secrets of these tiny aromatic molecules together.
Join(t) us below for the details.
What Are Terpenes (AKA Terps)?
Terpenes are organic molecules found in the oils of plants, vegetables, and fruits which give them their aroma.
Originating through natural evolution, the pungent smell associated with terpenes initially served as a guardrail against predators and an attractor for pollinators.
For example, think of the unique aroma when you walk through a forest of pine trees, that’s terpenes at work, more specifically pinene. When you’re peeling an orange or cutting a lemon, you’ll notice a pungent smell. That’s the terpene limonene!
Interestingly, hemp and marijuana plants produce these active compounds in highly concentrated volumes and in concentrations otherwise unseen in nature.
From a science perspective, all terpenes belong to a class of natural products known as hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons’ content is but hydrogen and carbon. When exposed to oxidation, each of these molecules is referred to as a terpenoid.
Quick Mental Floss: Did you know that terpenes compromise more than 30,000 unique compounds?
Cannabis’ Natural Aroma Compounds 101: Is This What Heaven Smells And Feels Like?
Now, getting things straight right from the start. Cannabis terpenes are special, so special.
The thing is…
The concentration of these aroma compounds found in cannabis is exceptional. It’s unlike the concentration of terpenes found in most of nature.
Think of strains like Sour Diesel, Strawberry Cough, Lamb’s Breath, Super Lemon Haze (to name a few).
Yup, these cannabis compounds are some of the major players on the global stage. Cannabis experts “consult” with them when naming a new strain.
The aroma profile of each marijuana variety features a unique form of a signature. Or ID, or the essence of a strain’s character (really, you can call it anyway).
Moreover, each cannabis strain has a different terpene expression level. The resulting mix of flavor and effects is unrivaled.
Nonetheless, there’s variation in terpene profiles in different strains of cannabis. That’s a hot topic in various studies.
Oh yes, the cannabis plant can consist of HUNDREDS of minor terpenes. Meanwhile, some of them are dominating the overall profile. The overall concentration is unique per strain, and importantly, even at an individual plant level.
Botanical Terpenes vs Terpenes In Cannabis
The extraction of a cannabinoid like THC is already a well-known process.
The good news?
Experts can isolate and extract botanical aroma compounds, too. These are available in various fruits, herbs, and spices that we use in our daily lives.
Botanical terpenes occur in many plants. Pine trees, lavender, citrus fruits, and clover are good examples, among many others.
So, what are the advantages of botanical terpenes extraction?
One of these is sourcing the flavor and aroma from plants that aren’t federally controlled and thus offer much cheaper extraction yields.
NO terpene alone can induce the psychotropic effects associated with cannabis use.
Above all, botanical terpenes attempt to mirror cannabis-derived profiles. Yet this replication is close to impossible. The terpene diversity of marijuana strains is largely unparalleled.
The terpene makeup within the cannabis plant can consist of hundreds of terpenes. All in varying levels. Hence, it’s rather difficult to mimic it. Just as it’s difficult to mimic the related properties.
Also, it’s quite unfeasible to replicate the unique flavor of any strain. In my opinion, botanical terpenes cannot achieve this. Period.
But when cannabis terpenes from a specific strain are distilled: BOOM! A symphony of aromas translates the taste of the ganja essential oils.
Adding these molecules to cannabis-derived products otherwise devoid of terps not only yields flavor but can help create the right environment for the synergistic effects of cannabis to occur, otherwise known as the entourage effect.
All of this brings much more natural complexity to products for cannabis consumers to enjoy.
Cannabis Terps: A Short & Sweet Breakdown
Cannabis-derived terpenes are harder to source than their botanical relatives.
The fact is, cannabis is a schedule 1 drug at the federal level. This leads to higher costs related to licensing and downstream, complicated, and expensive extraction methods. Also, the yields are much lower with cannabis than with botanical-derived options.
Apart from natural terps, there are also some synthetic ones. The latter are created in a lab setting by using different chemicals.
Naturally, talk to a cannabis enthusiast, and they’ll put their nose up at terps that aren’t natural and cannabis-derived.
From Trichomes To Terpenes: The Incredible Intelligence Of The Cannabis Plant
To start with, a trichome is tiny and can only be seen under a microscope. Each of these molecules sticks together making hair-like formations. They emerge from the very surface of the cannabis plant’s flowers, stalks, stems, and leaves.
The word “trichome” itself comes from the Greek word “trichoma”, meaning “hairs.”
The secret is within the head of this sticky plant exterior. There the various cannabinoid acids such as THCa and CBDa created by the cannabis plant surface and cover its exterior in a sticky substance, otherwise known as trichomes.
Their fibers contain a bitter taste. This makes wild animals that may attempt to munch on the cannabis crops back off. They assume that the plant might be inedible or toxic.
Simultaneously, some cannabis terpenes-related scents serve to attract beneficial pollinators. Or carnivorous predators of herbivores.
Actually, the power of terpenes extends even FURTHER!
Cannabis plants produce more trichomes when exposed to harsh environmental conditions. For example, the higher amounts of sea salt in the ocean air. This results in dense, heavy trichomes-coated, sparkling buds.
It is trichomes to protect the underlying plant’s tissue from heat. They also protect it from UV radiation, and excess light, among others.
More Than Essential Oils: Terpene Expression & The Sacred Communication Of Ganja Plants
The International Journal of Molecular Sciences published an intriguing 2020 study on terpenes and terpenoids in plants.
Researchers highlight that these invaluable aromas-rich compounds provide
“a way for plants to communicate with the environment”.
This includes neighboring plants, too!
Now, hold this thought in your mind and heart for a moment.
What happens when we consume marijuana? The human body interacts with the plant’s compounds through the endocannabinoid system (aka ECS).
Researchers point out the brilliant relationships between marijuana plants and the surrounding environment. They describe these interactions as “bi-directional and dynamic.”
What Are Terpenes In CBD?
Cannabis sativa is one of the richest sources of terpenes among all other plants. The cannabis sativa family includes both marijuana and hemp.
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil that is either full-spectrum or broad-spectrum possesses high terpenoid content. Often, people use the words terps and terpenoids interchangeably. Yet terpenoids form when terpenes are chemically altered (e.g., via bio-oxidation).
These compounds, otherwise known as isoprenoids, are organic. They occur naturally and are made up of isoprene units. Their properties are highly valued for both commercial- and medicine-grade resin applications.
Note that CBD isolate does not contain any of these highly aromatic molecules. So, experts may add the cannabis plant’s essential oils back into CBD oils. This is otherwise known as the process of reintroduction. This is popular with distillate-derived concentrates and tinctures alike.
Enhancement of flavor and aroma of the product. Furthermore, it has to do with the multilayered effect of cannabis and potential extended benefits.
Yes, some of the people who use CBD products deliberately seek to go deeper. The combination of CBD and a favorite essential oil, like Peppermint, is a favorite practice to many.
Botanical Terpenes At A Glance
Close your eyes and picture yourself walking amidst a vast lavender field.
What do you feel?
Can you feel the aroma filling your entire being?
Doesn’t just the thought of it make you more relaxed?
You can thank botanical terps! As hinted at earlier, these are found everywhere in nature.
Yup, in various herbs, teas, sages, spices, fruits, and veggies. Cinnamon, citrus fruits, mangoes, black pepper, broccoli, apples, red clover, cloves, basil, rosemary, hops.
Yes, just about botanically everywhere!
We keep cooking with them and recreating with them close to daily. Just as our ancestors did.
But with cannabis, the exact profiles of these molecules are unique in the plant.
Both botanical and cannabis terps are the same on the molecular level, though.
Here’s a tiny play anyone can try and join the new age terpene lover club.
Next time you pass by a pine tree, greet this beautiful creature. Then, inhale its aroma deeply. Conifers’ essential oils are high in pinene.
Thanks to this terpene, we can bathe in their healing frequencies through our senses.
Hooray for Mother Natures’ forest walking FREE therapy!
Are Terpenes Legal?
The short answer is YES. Terpenes are legal, unlike some cannabinoids, if sourced from cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC (unless in a medical/recreational approved state where plant THC levels could be higher).
Regardless, botanically-sourced terpenes are fully legal.
When isolated, these compounds are legal in the United States regardless of if they’re extracted from cannabis or other plants.
Are Terpenes Psychoactive?
You can consider anything that has an impact on your mind psychoactive.
Why Use Terpenes: Cannamazingness In A Nutshell
Cannabinoid A + Terpene B = Happy People.
Okay, this was supposed to be a funny equation. But it features more valuable information than a smile.
Imagine the numerous possible combinations between any given terpene and cannabinoid. There are over 150 cannabinoids discovered so far. AND about 200 terpenes!
Myrcene, Limonene, Linalool, and Caryophyllene are a few of the big aromatic molecules family.
You might choose to combine cannabinoids and terpenes. This relates to different effects on the body and mind.
The entourage theory suggests that cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) and terpenes work in synergy.
How Do You Use Terpenes: Top 3 Easy – Peasy Ways
You can add terpenes to pretty much any cannabis product.
Or even your bath if you like.
Usually, between 1% – 5% dilution works well. Yet always make sure to follow the content information and directions for use stated by the manufacturer.
#1 – Add To Your Distillate
This will make your THC or CBD distillate taste like real cannabis. Mmm, yum!
#2 – Add To Tinctures To Improve Effect And Flavor
Some tinctures made from CBD distillate and terpenes don’t taste herby. Instead, they take on the flavor of the terpenes. But you do lose flavonoids via distillation.
#3 – Add To Old Flower To Revitalize It
All you need to use is 1 – 2 drops added on a paper towel—place in a sealed dark storage container with the weed.
For example, 1 ml of terpenes is more than enough for 2 – 10 bottles of 10 ml CBD oil. Of course, this depends on your preference for taste and effect. So, it’s a general rule of thumb.
Then again, usually between 1% – 5% dilution works well.
8 Popular Terpenes In Nature
There are 2 types of Pinene: Alpha Pinene and Beta Pinene.
Alpha Pinene occurs in holy basil, pine, and mint, among other aromatic plants. Beta Pinene is typically found in conjunction with Alpha Pinene.
The health properties of this terpene include reported anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as antibiotic resistance modulation.
Pinene may counteract the activity of tetrahydrocannabinol. This may relate to increased focus and alertness.
Myrcene is the most prevalent terpene in marijuana. It has an earthy, cloves-like aroma profile. Naturally, Myrcene occurs in mangoes, hops, bay trees, and lemongrass.
According to researchers, this terpene allows more cannabinoids to reach the brain cells. Myrcene is often associated with the sedative effects of THC.
Preclinical science reports that it has muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, and pain relief properties.
At this point, though, most terpene studies are limited to working with animal models at best. Yet, most users’ reports affirm Myrcene’s properties for both sleep and pain management.
Limonene is the terpene that gives citrus fruits like orange, lemon, grapefruit, and lime their distinct zesty flavor body.
In research, limonene has demonstrated potential anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and heart health benefits.
Overall, strains high in Limonene are often related to euphoria, energy boost, and mood elevation.
Linalool is found in many flowers and spices. For example, Lavender, roses, cinnamon, and coriander. It’s also widely used in cosmetics. Plus, it’s a common flavoring in various foods and beverages.
The available research on Linalool terpene suggests that this compound possesses sedative, antidepressant, analgesic, and immune potentiating properties.
Humulene is yet another reasonably common terpene. It is usually found in modest amounts in many different strains.
The woody-spicy-earthy notes of top-grade hoppy beers are due to Humulene.
It occurs in hops, ginseng, and black pepper. Modern-day research suggests that this terpene possesses appetite suppressant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Herbaceous, spicy, and subtly floral notes are the distinct signatures of this terpene. Together with Myrcene and Pinene, Humulene is one of the 3 major, fundamental elements of cannabis aromatic and flavor profile.
Humulene also plays a role in pharmacokinetics. Pharmacokinetics refers to the body’s ability to absorb, metabolize and excrete drugs.
Ocimene is a lesser-known terpene with promising potential benefits. It’s responsible for the sweet-herbaceous-woody-spicy flavor and aroma tones of some strains.
Ocimene occurs in pepper, orchids, hops, and lavender.
A 2014 study revealed that Ocimene has high anti-inflammatory properties.
While an earlier 2013 study highlighted that Ocimene might inhibit critical enzymes related to type 2 diabetes, related to its antioxidative properties.
Its effects are often reported as relaxing yet simultaneously uplifting.
Caryophyllene is also known as Beta-Caryophyllene. It’s a spicy terpene found in hops, cloves, rosemary, oregano, and cinnamon. It’s a bigger molecule than Limonene and Myrcene.
Beta-Caryophyllene is the only terpene that is also known to act as a cannabinoid. It can bind to CB2 receptors. This terpene shares a fascinating relationship with the body’s endocannabinoid system and is reported to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Cannabis strains high in Beta-Caryophyllene are often anecdotally associated with relaxation, stress relief, and anxiety reduction.
Terpinolene is present in many cannabis strains. Yet this terpene only occurs in minor amounts.
This compound is intriguing yet lurky. It doesn’t come with a single-folded aroma and flavour profile like, for instance, the floral-scented Linalool. Instead, Terpinolene’s aroma is much more complex. Think of the blend as multidimensional.
Floral, herbaceous, piney. And sometimes, a little citrusy. Yup, all of that.
It is believed to possess uplifting effects. Rather limited research is available at the moment. But early science suggests this terpene holds promise in inhibiting cancer cell growth, as well as lowering the risk of heart disease.
Beta-Caryophyllene, Linalool, Myrcene, ahh holy ganja goddess…
The truth is, we must be willing to stay patient. Research in the cannabis field is compounding and moving at lightspeed but it’s still very early days in this movement.
We’re still discovering new cannabinoids far beyond THC and CBD, never mind discovering cannabis terpenes.
We need more studies that examine the cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. So, we’ll have to wait and see to conclude this one!