Cannabis Science

10 December 2018

A beginner’s guide to terpenes

What are the medicinal properties of terpenes? And how to identify them.

By Herbert M. Green

When you are consuming cannabis, there are a wide variety of chemical compounds entering your bloodstream: Most notably cannabinoids. THC (Delta 9- Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) are two of the most common and well-known compounds in cannabis.

However, there are hundreds of other chemical compounds that make up the individual characteristics of any particular cannabis cultivar. One of those compound classes are called Terpenoids or terpenes, and they are starring in an increasing number of scientific studies around the world. To better understand how they work, and what they do with our body and mind, we’ve put together a little overview of the most prevalent and well-known terpenes to date.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are oily secretions that are responsible for the scents plants, flowers, and fruit give off. They are nature’s way of attracting insects and animals to ensure the process of pollination or to repel other animals that are a danger to the plant in question. They also protect plants from molds, fungi, and bacteria.

Terpenes reside in the Trichomes of the cannabis plant

In addition to the fact that terpenes are wholesome for plants, they are beneficial for humans as well. In the case of cannabis, terpenes are the reason each individual strain has a particular flavor, aroma and ultimately; effect. They also assist cannabinoids by making them more efficient and more easily absorbed by our bodies, through what is called “The Entourage Effect”. Combining specific terpenes with certain cannabinoids can have significant medicinal advantages.

Over the last few years, scientists have identified well over one hundred different terpenes in the cannabis plant, and more research is needed to unlock their inner workings and properties. For now though, six specific terpenes deserve our special attention because they are the most prevalent in cannabis plants, and can have potent medicinal properties.

Most Common Cannabis Terpenes

Pinene

Pinene

Boiling Point: 155℃ (311℉).

Aroma: Pinene gives your weed a sweet pine forest smell.

Positive effects on body and mind: It seems to improve your ability to retain memories, keep your mind alert and to give you extra mental focus.

Also found in: Pine cones/needles, Conifers, Sage.

Medicinal properties: Pinene may help asthma patients breathe better by increasing airflow to the lungs and can work as an anti-inflammatory.

Linalool

Boiling Point: 198℃ (388℉).

Aroma: Linalool has a strong floral scent but can also smell spicy and/or slightly like citrus fruit.

Positive effects on body and mind: It seems to have a calming and sedating effect.

Also found in: Citrus, Laurel, Lavender, Rosewood, Birch.

Medicinal properties: Linalool is thought to help with stress reduction, anxiety and depression. It is also believed to be a pain reliever, ease convulsions and help with insomnia.

Caryophyllene

Boiling Point: 160℃ (320℉).

Aroma: Very spicy scent, very much like pepper. Can also have woody undertones.

Positive effects on body and mind: To date, no significant effects have been attributed to Caryophyllene.

Also found in: Pepper, Hops, Cloves, Basil, Oregano.

Medicinal properties: Caryophyllene appears to work as a strong antioxidant, seems to relieve pain, is being researched as an anti-inflammatory and might help to reduce muscle spasms or to combat insomnia.

Myrcene

Boiling Point: 168℃ (334℉).

Aroma: Myrcene gives off a very herbal, musky, almost citrus-like scent. It smells almost exactly like mangoes.

Positive effects on body and mind: Myrcene is attributed to giving you a relaxed, sedated feeling. Besides that, there’s strong evidence Myrcene is supposed to enhance the psychoactive properties of THC. In other words; it gets you high faster and intensifies your high! Check out this article for more details.

Also found in: Mango, Citrus, Lemongrass, Laurel, Thyme.

Medicinal properties: Myrcene is being researched as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-fungal agent.

Limonene

Boiling Point: 176℃ (349℉).

Aroma: Limonene resembles the smell of citrus fruits, like lemons and oranges.

Positive effects on body and mind: There are strong signs Limonene can elevate your mood and relieves stress.

Also found in: Citrus fruits (rinds), Juniper berries, Peppermint.

Medicinal properties: Limonene seems to help with relieving stress, anxiety, and depression. It might also help to reduce gastric reflux and can act as an anti-fungal agent.

Humulene

Boiling Point: 198℃ (388℉).

Aroma: The aroma of Humulene is typically very earthy. It usually reminds people of a damp forest floor or a pile of autumn leaves.

Positive effects on body and mind: Strangely enough it seems to suppress appetite, even though smoking weed is believed to make you hungry, in most cases.   

Also found in: Hops, Coriander.

Medicinal properties: Humulene is believed to relieve pain and seems to have anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties.

This is just the beginning

As stated in the intro, there are more than a hundred varieties of terpenes to be found within the vast range of cannabis strains. It’s highly likely that further study will lead to the discovery of even more terpenes in the near future. This list then is far from complete and focuses primarily on the six most prevalent and well-understood terpenes found in cannabis. If you, dear reader, feel like some essential terpenes were left out, or you would like to know more about terpenes in general, feel free to leave a comment.

Post author
Herbert M. Green
Herbert lives and breaths cannabis. And when he’s not breathing it, he’s writing about it. If he’s not doing that, he’s reading about its history or politics. If not reading about cannabis, he’s talking about it, in the hopes he can change the world’s view on cannabis.
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