How do Terpenes Influence the Effects of Cannabis?

How Terpenes Work Together with Cannabinoids and other Parts of Cannabis 
December 1, 2019
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As a cannabis consumer, enthusiast or cannabis entrepreneur, you may or may not have heard of terpenes. You may or may not know what terpenes are or what they do – but you very likely already love them, believe it or not, and stand to benefit from them. Since the general public became hip to the term ‘cannabinoids’ and graduated past the basics of cannabis and CBD (cannabidiol) benefits over the past year and change, the new term hot in the headlines and in conversations is ‘terpenes’ and ‘entourage effect.’ Don’t know what it’s all about? Terpenes are actually a big factor in what makes cannabis appealing and effective for many different uses; which makes it important to know just how they influence your experience with it. 

What are Terpenes? 

Let’s start with the basics. Terpenes are a hydrocarbon compound found in certain plants, most commonly in conifers, that give the plant a specific and recognizable odor. Researchers believe the main purpose for the presence of terpenes are to help the plant survive by warding off its natural predators, like certain insects that feed on it, with the strong odors they produce. Other uses for it may be to help attract pollinators and to help them fight off fungi and bacteria. 

Terpenes are what we associate with those plants the most; it’s what plants like eucalyptus, lemongrass, cloves, citrus, pine trees and of course, cannabis smell like to us. While this might work against certain herbivores, lucky for us humans, these scents are actually what draws us to the plants. Terpenes are a main ingredient in essential oils, which is a testament to how much we all like these aromas, seeing as the essential oil market is projected to reach a value of 27 billion worldwide by 2022. 

How do Terpenes Influence the Effects of Cannabis? 

Cannabis has over 200 different terpenes, some of which are also present in some other aromatic plants. One of the ways terpenes enhance the experience of consuming cannabis is by providing these unique smells and flavors. Many cannabis strains are even named after the different terpene combinations that are present, such as ‘Pineapple Express,’ ‘Pink Kush,’ ‘Granddaddy Purple,’ and Skywalker OG.’ This is a trait that is valuable to consumers seeking a specific smell or flavor and to entrepreneurs who are ready to fulfill that demand with inventory. 

Another way terpenes affect the cannabis experience is that they work in conjunction with other components of the cannabis plant, such as phytocannabinoids and cannabinoids, to balance out the effects and to help enhance the experience as a whole for cannabis consumers. This is known as the ‘entourage effect.’ Certain terpenes present in cannabis alongside certain cannabinoids can help keep paranoia, nausea and anxiety at bay; all side effects that keep many people from giving cannabis a chance in the first place. The presence of terpenes can help significantly reduce or eliminate certain undesirable side effects of consuming cannabis thanks to the partnership between those terpenes and other molecules in the plant. 

In addition to appealing smells and combatting unwanted side effects, every terpene has health or therapeutic benefits associated with it. Terpenes work in combination with each other in different ways to result in other therapeutic benefits for the consumer together. For example, here are some of the most common terpenes and the therapeutic benefits they provide: 

  • Limonene: This is a common terpene found in cannabis. It is, as its name implies, shared with citrus fruits like grapefruit, lemon, and orange and has a refreshing, zesty scent. Some of the benefits associated with it are anti-depressant, uplifting and even anti-cancerous properties. It has also been associated with helping to improve acne, gastric ulcers and have anti-septic properties. In cannabis, it helps to counteract the sluggish high feeling that THC causes.
  • Myrcene: This terpene, while found in cannabis, is shared with lemongrass, bay leaves, verbena, and mangoes. This terpene has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. 
  • Pinene: Found in pine trees, rosemary, sage, and other conifers, this terpene has a distinct woody, earthy and piney aroma and is a powerful bronchodilator, helps improve memory and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Together with cannabis, pinene can help reduce the forgetfulness or short term memory loss often associated with its side effects. 
  • Beta-Caryophyllene: Found in black pepper, this terpene delivers anti-inflammatory, digestion-protective and analgesic properties. 
  • Phytol: This is a terpene that you can find in green tea and offers an herbal, floral and earthy scent. Phytol delivers relaxing and calming effects that can counteract some other undesirable effects, such as anxiety, that could result from certain cannabinoids. 
  • Linalool: This terpene is found in lavender and helps deliver relaxing effects.  It is effective at reducing anxiety, being a gentle sedative and anesthetic, an anti-convulsant and a pain reliever. This terpene helps enhance the calming effects of cannabis.

There are many other terpenes out there with their own properties, these are just a few examples of common components. 

The Synergistic Effects of Terpenes 

When combined with each other, different terpene combinations have different effects. For example, the combination of Linalool, Myrcene and the cannabinoid Cannabidiol (CBD) produce a tranquilizing, anti-psychotic effect. THC, CBD and Linalool together offer anti-epileptic effects that help reduce seizures and convulsions. Another combination is Linalool, CBD and Limonene – a trio that together, helps reduce anxiety, a side effect of other cannabis components. 

There is plenty of evidence from past studies that points to therapeutic benefits being more potent and effective when the different compounds of the cannabis plant are used together. For example, a pharmaceuticals company that produces a cannabis spray in the UK has stated that a decade of experiments have revealed the benefits of a whole plant extract containing the same amounts of CBD and THC, alongside other components of the plant, are more effective  at reducing spasms and the pain associated with MS than any one ingredient in an isolated form. 


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