Earlier this year, reading up on the term “cannabinoids” might have been an intriguing new search for those interested in learning more about the cannabis market. However, the cat’s pretty much out of the bag on cannabinoids and their role in the human endocannabinoid system. The masses have educated themselves as more research has been conducted, the new trending topics and hot buzzwords of the moment are “terpenes” and “entourage effect.” If you’re still new to these terms or haven’t quite pinpointed what they have to do with cannabis, it’s important to know just how integral they are and how much they contribute to the therapeutic powers of Cannabis as a whole. For those interested in wielding the therapeutic powers of cannabis for themselves, here is the breakdown of what terpenes are, why they’re important and how they interact with cannabis.
First things first, it is important to know what terpenes are. Terpenes are a compound found in many different plants and even in some insects. They are what is responsible for making certain plants have strong aromas. Examples of plants that have terpenes are lavender, pine, citrus, rosemary, thyme, jasmine and, of course, cannabis. Terpenes are what give a certain class of plants their signature smells that we all associate with them. In the plant world, researchers believe the purpose of terpenes is to ward off a plant’s natural predators – so herbivores. But clearly, they don’t work for all their predators since for humans, they are hardly a deterrent. On the contrary, they are part of the reason we seek these plants out in the first place. To further illustrate this point, terpenes are actually the main component found in essential oils, another booming market that has retailers’ inventory flying off their brick-and-mortar and virtual shelves.
When it comes to cannabis, the terpenes it has are some of the most sought after qualities in the different strains that you can find on the market. Since they contribute to the unique smell and even flavors of the cannabis, they are a big part of how the consumer experiences that specific strain and how they are able to recognize it. In fact, growers and/or retailers will often name the strains in honor of the specific smells and flavors. For example, the cannabis strains known as ‘Blueberry,’ ‘Purple Kush,’ ‘Sour Diesel,’ and ‘Pineapple Express,’ owe their names to the terpenes that give them such distinct aromas.
Here is where the term ‘entourage effect’ comes into play. Terpenes are more than just compounds that give plants their signature smells. There have been more than 200 varieties of terpenes identified in cannabis, each having its own benefits associated. Research and studies have shown that terpenes, in combination with other components of the plant, such as the different cannabinoids present, help enhance many of the therapeutic, healing properties in cannabis and even help balance out any of the negative or undesirable side effects that might be caused by certain components. The entourage effect means that terpenes work in a synergistic manner with other parts of the plant, namely cannabinoids, to result in certain cerebral and physiological effects as well as a system of almost ‘checks and balances,’ when it comes to side effects of certain components.
Isolating certain parts of the cannabis plant, such as just the CBD (Cannabidiol) or just the THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) has it’s desired effects, such as the CBD delivering certain health benefits without the often undesired effect of getting high. However, evidence gathered from decades of studies have supported the idea that using all the components of the plant, including terpenes, has the most beneficial and powerful effects for the consumer. Terpenes in the Cannabis plant team up with phytocannabinoids, flavonoids, and cannabinoids, other components found in cannabis. This allows cannabis to interact with the human body in the most direct and potent way possible.
One of the ways these compounds work better together than when isolated is that the blood-brain barrier is permeated more effectively when these components are used together. Another way is that alpha-pinene, a terpene found in pine trees and other conifers, has been shown to help combat short-term memory loss which is a common side effect of the cannabinoid THC that many consumers seek to avoid. In fact, it is one of the deterrents for certain would-be consumers who want the therapeutic benefits but are averse to all the well-known side effects. Without this terpene being present to counter that effect, the consumer would then be more susceptible to this side effect. Yet another way they work in combination with one another is that terpenes may be responsible for enhancing the body’s absorption ability, allowing cannabinoids to be processed more effectively.
In other instances, the different components help reach the same result from many different vantage points. CBD and THC together tend to balance each other out, reducing the experience of paranoia and anxiety in the consumer, but also, the presence of specific terpenes helps enhance this effect and can help reduce the cerebral high feeling as well. Another instance of this is how many different molecules work in an ensemble with one another to attack inflammation from various sources. Inflammation is a leading cause of chronic pain and complications in the human body, so this is a highly desired outcome. The key is that cannabinoids and terpenes work together to reach different targets for an optimized outcome.
Different combinations of terpenes also work together with each other, as they do with other compounds like cannabinoids. For example, Limonene and Beta-Pinene together help fend off diabetes; the terpenes Camphene, Limonene and Beta-Pinene together deliver nausea relief; Camphene, Alpha-Pinene and Eucalyptol help improve respiration. Other groupings of specific terpenes help deliver anti-cancerous effects, help improve brain functions, help provide stress relief, act as anti-inflammatories and help reduce appetite.
While more research is still needed and is currently underway in this booming cannabis industry, enough evidence has presented itself already to prove to the consumers in the cannabis market that terpenes and their entourage effect with the rest of the components of cannabis are cause enough to seek out products that contain it all.