All plants contain terpenes, chemical compounds responsible for their fragrance. Cannabis terpenes are believed to have therapeutic benefits in addition to the ones offered by cannabinoids. Some of these benefits include the ability to treat inflammation, pain, epilepsy, cancer, addiction, anxiety, and depression.

Synethetic versions of CBD lack terpenes and all of the organic chemical compounds present in the whole cannabis plant. Most pharmaceutical companies endeavoring to create synthetic cannabinoids seek to harness the medicinal benefits of the compound while excluding the psychoactive ones.  However, the cannabis plant naturally has two buffers to unwanted pyschoative effects: terpenoids and the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD).  Terpenoids and cannabidiol work together to reduce the anxiety THC can cause in some cannabis consumers.

Synthetic cannabinoids lack the benefits generated by the entourage effect, the synergistic relationship between the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemical compounds present in cannabis plant material.

One of those compounds, terpenes, can be incredibly therapeutic.  Here are some all-star terpenes you want to know more about.

Linalool

A floral terpene identified in plants such as lavender and coriander, linalool has a long history as a sleep aid.  Linalool is also known for its anxiolytic, antiepileptic, pain-relieving, and antipsychotic properties.  Linalool facilitates the body’s production of vitamin E.

Linalool is also an effective insecticide particularly against cockroaches, fruit flies, and fleas.

One 2004 study concluded that lavender oil (51% linalyl acetate and 35% linalool) was mildly toxic to human skin.  However, a study from 2002 found that linalool contained strong anti-inflammatory properties, suggesting that the toxicity identified in the 2004 study was probably not coming from the linanool.  In 2003, the same authors of the anti-inflammatory study found that linanool also possesses antinociception (pain-blocking) properties.

Terpinolene

Like linalool, terpinolene, isolated in cumin, lilac, citrus, and oregano, has been used as a sleep-aid.  It also has anti-tumor, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant, and immune-modulating properties.

Lilac found in Terpinolene, terpenes A 2014 study seeking to evaluate the oxidative and genotoxic damage terpinolene could potentially cause found that the terpene was actually an anti-oxidant and non-genotoxic.  In fact, this 2005 study found that the combination of vitamin A, vitamin E, and terpinolene prevented the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein, one of the major instigators of heart disease.

Phytol

Phytol is one of the few terpenes with very minimal odor.  Phytol helps to synthesize vitamins K and E and exhibits anti-oxidant properties.  When combined with linalool, it is also used as a sleep-aid.

β-Myrcene  

Identified in hops, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and mango, β-Myrcene has both medicinal and psychoactive benefits.  Therapeutically, it demonstrates anti-tumor, anti-spasm, and anti-inflammatory properties in addition to providing pain and insomnia relief.  β-Myrcene is also known to quicken the body’s ability to absorb a variety of chemical compounds, and in the case of THC, this usually results in a more potent and quicker onset of the cannabinoid’s psychoactive effects.  If you’ve ever heard the advice to eat a mango before inhaling cannabis for a better high, know that the recommendation comes from the research of β-Myrcene’s (present in mangos) ability to permeate the blood stream, increasing the amount of cannabinoids the brain can absorb.

One of the most important attributes of β-Myrcene is its ability to create terpenes and conduce the antibacterial properties of other terpenes.

β-Myrcene is a major conduit of the entourage effect, improving the overall effects of consuming cannabis.

Consumption of this terpene does not come without a cost.  A 2010 study exposed rats and mice to frequent, high levels of beta-myrcene for two years and found that use of the terpene resulted in significant carcinogenic activity.

Citronellol

CItronellol has been identified in some citrus, geranium, and rose.  This terpene is known for its anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and immune-regulating properties.  It also has a 2 thousand yearlong history as a mosquito repellant and has demonstrated the ability to be sedating when inhaled.

β–Caryophyllene

This anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial terpene found in plants such as cloves, black pepper, and basil, has a strong attraction for the endocannabinoid receptor, CB2, making it a very promising therapy for auto-immune and inflammatory disorders.  In fact, this particular therapeutic attribute is so significant, it could render pharmaceutical companies’ attempts to create a synthetic cannabinoid with non-psychoactive, medicinal benefits obsolete.

A 2014 study found that beta carphyllene is so effective at stress reduction, it could increase longevity in humans based on its ability to do so in Caenorhabditis elegans, worms scientists like to research because they share a lot of biological characteristics with humans.  The stress-relieving properties of caryphyllene are so potent, they may contribute to the terpene’s ability to combat alcohol dependence as this 2014 study discovered.

α-Pinene

Found in orange peels and conifer trees, this terpene is known for its
ability to alleviate or reduce asthsma, inflammation, pain, cancer α-Pinene, terpenes also found in conifer trees proliferation, oxidation damage, and bacterial growth. 
A 2011
study found evidence that α-Pinene may have the ability to fight the infectious bronchitis virus.  This is kind of a big deal since the most commonly prescribed treatment for a virus is bed-rest and chicken noodle soup therapy.

α-Pinene may be an effective treatment for another hard to beat disease.  A 2013 study found that α-Pinene reduces cancer cell growth, and a 2014 study concluded that, because of this, the terpene could be used as a non-toxic tumor therapy.

Limonene

Formed by α-Pinene, limonene is an anti-fungal, anxiolytic, anti-depressant, anti-tumor, immune stimulating terpene.  Limonene has a bitter flavor and a citrus scent.

A 2012 study found that limonene’s efficacy as an anxiolytic was so great and presented such minimal side effects that it should be used as an anxiety treatment

Limonene’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a potential treatment for bronchial asthma and even cancer.  A component of limonene, perillyl alcohol, was studied and found to increase the survival rate of patients with glioblastoma without causing any long-term side effects.

Humulene

The terpene responsible for giving beer its aroma, humulene is an anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, appetite-suppressing, anti-tumor therapeutic compound common to Chinese medicine and often combined with β–caryophyllene to alleviate inflammation.  Humulene’s anti-inflammatory properties are significant whether the terpene is applied topically or internally.  Beta caryophyllene facilitates humulene’s anticancer properties in another excellent example of the entourage effect only made possible through consumption of the whole cannabis plant.

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.