Our understanding of cannabis and all its amazing constituents has improved considerably over the last twenty years. More research and legalization, not just in many areas of the US but around the world, have encouraged greater exploration into the possible health benefits.
There’s no doubt that people, in general, have a better, more positive approach towards cannabis than they did just a few decades ago. We’re beginning to understand that there could be major benefits in taking cannabis or its isolated components for therapeutic purposes.
One area that seems to be becoming a little clearer is terpenes. This is quite an exciting area for cannabis enthusiasts and researchers, not least those who are focused on the medical benefits. While much remains to be uncovered, head online nowadays and there’s a lot of talk about terpenes and their potential for helping with a wide range of conditions.
What are Terpenes?
Cannabis is not just CBD and THC, despite the fact that these are the most talked about compounds in online forums. Like most plants, there’s a whole bunch of different elements that could be useful.
We all know that different types of cannabis have different flavors and tastes. For example, Kush strains tend to have pungent, earthy aromas and can be citrusy or spicy. In some respects, tasting cannabis is similar to wine for many enthusiasts. The aroma and the taste is down to the terpenes that are found in each plant.
Terpenes are essential oils and they are produced by all plants, including cannabis. Their purpose seems to be to attract insects or ward off animals like herbivores which are likely to eat them. The terpenes are formed in the trichomes of the flowering plant and leaves. They’re very small, almost microscopic in some cases, but highly numerous mushroom-like growths. Whether you pick up a rose or have a cannabis plant in full bloom in your living room, what you are generally smelling are the terpenes.
Terpene development can be influenced by a range of different factors including the weather, how dry or wet the climate is, the type of soil the plant is growing in and even the time of day. Research so far has uncovered over 100 different terpenes relating to the cannabis plant and there may well be many more.
The exciting thing is not simply the smell and taste these terpenes produce but their potential medical benefits too. Some terpenes, for instance, have been associated with deep relaxation, others with greater focus. They may also interact in positive ways with other more recognized components such as THC and CBD either dampening or enhancing their performance.
A recent discovery is what is called the entourage effect where not just isolated chemicals such as THC are important but how they connect and interact with other components of the plant, including with terpenes. This is not that well understood at the moment but seems to be really important.
Connoisseurs have long had a thing for terpenes, purely on the basis of their flavors and tastes. But the change in how we perceive cannabis and its medical benefits are likely to be far more pivotal. While the research here still has a long way to go, the potential appears, at least initially, pretty promising.
The Common Cannabis Terpenes You’ve Never Heard Of
Unless you use cannabis for medicinal purposes, you may not have spent a lot of your time investigating terpenes at all. To help, here are some of the more prominent ones that have caught the imagination and which may have a lot of potential going forward.
As well as being found in pine needles and rosemary, alpha-pinene is also present in a number of cannabis plants. Characterized by a pine aroma, there are potential effects in helping improve memory and alertness. It may also counter the psychoactive impact of THC. The medical or therapeutic benefits which users have mentioned include alleviating asthma, reducing pain and combatting inflammation.
If you only know a few terpenes, limonene is probably on your list. This citrus flavor and taste is popular among many users and is found in juniper and peppermint as well as cannabis. Potential medical benefits could include alleviating anxiety and depression, reducing pain and inflammation, and providing support for reducing nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Myrcene is a terpene that delivers a rather complex aroma and taste. It’s a popular one with cannabis connoisseurs and mixes cloves and cardamom aromas in an earthy and musky scent. The characteristic of this terpene in connection with THC is a very relaxing and sedating effect. It’s used by many people for insomnia but also has potentially a role to play in pain relief and reducing inflammation.
If you prefer something a little spicier, this terpene brings the aromas of pepper and cloves. It’s largely used by people who are looking for stress and anxiety relief and it may also be useful in the treatment of depression.
This has a more hoppy, earthy aroma and taste making it another popular choice for connoisseurs. The medical benefits are largely anti-inflammatory as well as anti-bacteriological and it is present in strains such as White Widow.
Present also in lavender, cannabis seeds that have this terpene are noted for their floral aroma, delivering sedating and relaxing effects. It’s no surprise that linalool is used in helping people who suffer with anxiety and depression. It also has potential for pain relief and alleviating neurogenerative diseases such as MS.
Another woody and earthy scented terpene, present in many herbs such as basil and mint, ocimene has topical applications as an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent which could make it effective in lotions and skin tonics.
It’s pine/floral aroma makes this an aromatic favorite with cannabis users. It’s a terpene that’s also present in nutmeg, apples and lilacs. Delivering relaxing effects, you can expect terpinolene to be used in combatting anxiety but it also has a role to play as an anti-fungal agent.
Why Temperature is Important for Terpenes
One thing we haven’t discussed yet is the effect that temperature has on terpenes. Key to their extraction is that each has its own vaporization temperature. For example, alpha-pinene vaporizes at 311°F while beta-caryophyllene does so at 266°F. These temperatures allow for the extraction of the terpenes directly rather than as a mix of other chemicals or compounds.
Knowing the temperature, for example, could be useful if you have a vaping device where it can be controlled. You could heat up your bud or leaves to the desired temperature and release more of the desired terpenes.
The potential here is still something that has to be better explored and a lot more work needs to be done.
Encouraging More Terpenes
If you grow your own plants, there are several things you can do to increase the number of terpenes that your crop produces. The first is choosing the right quality seeds before you even think about planting. We advise that you do your research and make sure that the cannabis seeds you decide to buy include the terpenes you are looking for.
The quality of the planting soil is always going to be a major issue if you want to grow a healthy plant with plenty of terpenes. A little low-stress training can also make a difference to the quality of your crop, although overdoing it can have exactly the opposite effect. Optimum lighting and the right temperature for your plant are also things you need to monitor closely.
The Future of Terpenes
This is a pretty exciting development for the cannabis industry and particularly for those who use it for therapeutic purposes. With the legalization of cannabis for both recreational and medical uses in recent years, we should hopefully expect more research to be done in this area.
Being able to carefully control the temperature when heating up cannabis also gives many users more control. You might also expect to see cannabis products coming onto the market which will have varying levels of particular terpenes or specific mixes of different concentrates. The technology and the research is, therefore, allowing us to be more focused in this area and for those with therapeutic needs to tailor their cannabis use more closely to their condition.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go but there is already anecdotal evidence out there which suggests terpenes certainly have many beneficial effects. We just have to wait and see what the research uncovers in the next few years.