Hemp is a complex plant from the cannabis family that produces hundreds of unique compounds. These compounds are split up into classifications, the most common of which are cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. Cannabinoids account for THC and CBD, two compounds that are key to the unusual, but therapeutic effects of cannabis. Flavonoids add to the taste of a strain, and potentially its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Terpenes and terpenoids are a group of compounds that have flavor, aroma and health benefits. These organic hydrocarbons are found in a variety of plants, not just hemp, and they also occur naturally in insects. It is terpenes that help us distinguish one strain of hemp from another. A strain’s terpene profile goes a long way to explaining the specific benefits a strain provides.
In this post, we’ll take you through the most abundant terpenes in the cannabis plant, and offer a glimpse at how terpenes work. Our focus will be on the following, and more:
- Beta-caryophyllene (BCP) terpenes
- Linalool terpenes
- Myrcene terpenes
- Limonene terpenes
- How terpenes contribute to the ‘entourage effect’
BCP is a terpene that many liken to CBD – indeed, some suggest that BCP is a cannabinoid, as well as a terpene. As with all terpenes, BCP doesn’t get you high. The compound has a peppery flavor, and is also present in hops. High quantities of BCP can be found in Super Silver Haze, OG Kush, Death Star, White Widow and a collection of other well-known strains.
BCP is a potent anti-inflammatory, and generates these effects as an agonist of the endocannabinoid system’s CB2 receptor. Furthermore, BCP helps to alleviate anxiety, and may also be an effective antidepressant. With some research linking depression to brain inflammation, the anti-inflammatory effects of BCP may be key to explaining why the terpene is also an antidepressant.
Interestingly, BCP uses the CB2 receptor to manage anxiety symptoms as well, according to a paper published in Physiology and Behavior in 2014. The suggestion is that brain inflammation to certain regions may cause long-term anxiogenic effects. Therefore, treating anxiety may require more than regulating neurotransmitters. If so, an anti-inflammatory terpene such as BCP could be essential for combating the mental disorder.
The limonene terpene is commonly found in citrus fruit peel (lemons, limes), and a whole host of other plants, in addition to hemp. Large amounts of limonene, which is a monoterpene, are present in Jack Herer, Super Silver Haze and Durban Poison. Limonene is a popular natural food and beverage flavoring.
Strains with rich quantities of limonene are associated with weight loss, stress relief, improved mood and antibacterial effects. Cannabis consumers may find that limonene helps with heartburn, too. Experts are uncertain as to how limonene produces its therapeutic effect. However, studies have noted that the terpene can boost serotonin and dopamine levels. Limonene may have a stimulating effect on the brain’s olfactory system.
The myrcene terpene may be best known for boosting the psychoactive effects of THC. Myrcene achieves this by speeding up the transfer of cannabinoids through the blood-brain barrier. Only by binding to receptors in the brain can THC have mind-altering effects. OG Kush, 9 Pound Hammer, Blue Dream and Grape Ape all have myrcene.
High levels of myrcene are found in mangoes, lemongrass, thyme, basil and hops. Researchers are unsure about myrcene’s full effects. However, it is thought to enhance mood, and is key to generating the ‘couchlock’ that cannabis users love. Studies have shown that myrcene has anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive properties.
As the name gives away, pinene has a piney aroma and high concentrations are to be found in pine trees. Dill, parsley and rosemary also have solid pinene levels. Pineapple Express, ACDC, Blue Dream and Snoop’s Dream are all strains that have lots of alpha-pinene terpenes.
In terms of effects, pinene may improve memory and focus. This means it could complement low doses of CBD. Pinene possibly moderates THC’s effects, and has been touted as a remedy for pain, ulcers and anxiety. A 2014 study revealed that pinene is an anti-inflammatory, and a 2016 study showed how the monoterpene increases non-REM sleep.
Humulene, sometimes referred to as alpha-humulene, is a hemp terpene with a woody and spicy aroma. This chemical plays a vital role in producing the famous flavor of hops. It’s also found in black pepper and ginseng, and has a wealth of beneficial effects. Humulene is a sesquiterpene, and is similar to BCP, with the same formula but a different structure.
While rarely a dominant terpene, above-normal amounts of humulene are found in Death Star, Thin Mint GSC and Original Glue. Humulene is an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. The terpene may also help with weight loss, with research suggesting that humulene is an appetite suppressant.
The nerolidol terpene, also known as peruviol and penetrol, is a natural sesquiterpene that occurs in ginger, lavender, tea tree and jasmine, as well as hemp. This true terpene is considered more stable than some terpenes, and is often found in low levels in strains with a woody aroma.
Nerolidol may be effective at treating skin lesions, according to a 2007 study on rodents. Research suggests that nerolidol has an antioxidant effect on the hippocampus of rats. This may help to protect memory, motivation and overall cognition. That said, we need much more research on nerolidol’s effects in humans.
Linalool is one of the most common terpenes, and is present in many cannabis extracts. The terpene has a potent, sweet aroma and is abundant in lavender, sweet basil, thyme and clary sage. Linalool doesn’t just have a strong scent, but a list of benefits that elevate the therapeutic potential of hemp and cannabis strains, such as Kosher Kush.
This terpene may ease both pain and inflammation, and also reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. Experts have mooted that linalool’s possible anti-epileptic effects come from blocking glutamate, an excitatory brain chemical. A 2016 animal study highlighted that linalool reduced brain plaques and cellular tangles. This could be key to treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Eucalyptol, or cineole, is an aromatic terpene. It’s present throughout the plant kingdom. Essential oils of this terpene are present in bay leaves, tea tree, common sage, sweet basil, and more – not forgetting hemp and cannabis, of course! The terpene was first identified in 1870. Bubba Kush, Super Silver Haze, Headband and Girl Scout Cookies all have rich amounts of cineole.
Eucalyptol is a prominent antibacterial and antioxidant compound. The latter property may be why cineole may be useful for Alzhemer’s. The terpene also has potential for asthma. By lowering inflammation, cineole helps to improve overall lung function.
This terpene has a floral and sweet scent, topped off with spicy and citrusy notes. Bisabolol is a common terpene. Both German chamomile and the candeia tree contain bisabolol. Hemp is also a good source of bisabolol. The terpene is used regularly in perfume and fragrance products, and is increasingly popular in cosmetics. So what of its health benefits?
Researchers believe that bisabolol is an anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory. The terpene may be effective for pain relief and as an antioxidant, too. Bisabolol is in many strains, but especially OG Shark, ACDC, Pink Kush and Master Kush. Experts still have much more to learn about the bisabolol’s health benefits.
Ocimene is a monoterpene. Clary sage, lavender, and hemp are all great sources of ocimene. The chemical acts as a protective mechanism for plants, against pests. Ocimene has a relatively low melting point. This means the chemical is always activated if present in a full-spectrum CBD vape cartridge. Lemon Sour Diesel, OG Kush, Space Queen and Strawberry Cough all have ocimene in high levels.
Ocimene has anti-inflammatory effects, as per research published in 2013. Moreover, analysis shows the terpene may manage diabetes symptoms by blocking the spread of certain enzymes. Ocimene is an intriguing chemical that’s worthy of more research.
Terpinolene is apparently the least common of the “common” terpenes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an important role. Hemp and cannabis have low levels of terpinolene. The chemical is also found in nutmeg, conifers, apples and tea tree, and has a boiling point in excess of 350F.
What does terpinolene do? It appears to have a sedative effect, hence why it occurs in indica strains like Sensi Star. The terpene is an antioxidant, too. Terpinolene has antibacterial and antifungal qualities, and could potentially be used in topical infection treatments.
Valencene is a sesquiterpene and a common flavoring for citrusy beverages. The compound is sourced from Valencia oranges, and helps to create the grapefruit aroma.
Our knowledge of valencene is poor in comparison to other terpenes. However, there are signs it boost cognitive function and improves alertness, while alleviating inflammation. Full-spectrum CBD and cannabis products may have valencene, with the terpene occurring naturally in orangey strains like Tangie and Agent Orange.
Geraniol is a monoterpenoid. This compound occurs in citronella oil, rose oil, palmarosa oil and hemp. This terpene is very sweet and boasts citrusy notes, and is not unlike the more familiar myrcene. Geraniol, therefore, contributes to a strain’s fruitiness, and has been detected in Lemon G, Purple Punch, Tahoe OG, Strawberry Diesel and more.
As to geraniol’s effects, the terpene lowesrs inflammation and is an antioxidant, as shown by a 2015 review. The compound may help with various types of infections, and is being studied as a treatment for diabetes and atherosclerosis.
The entourage effect
The ‘entourage effect’ underpins the unique medicinal value of cannabis. There is a synergy that occurs between all the cannabinoids in hemp, but also between these compounds and terpenes. This really means that hemp and cannabis works better as a whole plant, and is more helpful than if all the compounds were isolated and taken separately.
Indeed, studies show that – in some cases – terpenes work with receptors in the endocannabinoid system. The ECS is a mysterious system, having been discovered in the 1990s, and there’s still lots we don’t know about how it functions.
Nothing in hemp is more important than cannabinoids, but terpenes run them a close second. These are also the compounds that really separate strains from one another, as far as aroma, flavor and effects go. The terpene profile shows us whether a strain will be good for anxiety, pain, mood or any other ailment. Becoming familiar with these chemicals will allow you to fine-tune your cannabis experience, much more than if you just have a simple knowledge of indicas, sativas and hybrids.
In most cases, terpenes are already infused into a cannabis or hemp product, as part of a full-spectrum extract. However, some brands make CBD products with isolated CBD and terpene essential oils. Companies that have terpenes for sale either stock them individually, or as a full terpene profile of a strain.