You may have never heard of terpenes, but most likely you love them. They are a naturally produced group of chemical compounds that provide for most of the aromas and odors we encounter in the plants around us. From the refreshing smell of a lemon to the unique musk of a pine tree, terpenes are interacting with our olfactory senses throughout the day, but did you know that they can also affect us both physically and psychologically?
It turns out terpenes have many uses in medicine and health, and more evidence is being found to support ways in which terpenes affect your high when consuming cannabis.
What is a terpene?
Terpenes are hydrocarbons (a compound made of hydrogen and carbon) found in plants, which are produced for various reasons including to discourage insect feeding, attract pollinators, defend against bacteria and fungus, and much more.
Compounds such as limonene, caryophyllene and other terpenoids have a variety of proposed anti-inflammatory, antineoplastic, antibacterial and antifungal effects. More research will be required to determine factors such as dosing and therapeutic drug monitoring. You will probably be familiar with some of their benefits and effects if you have ever used essential oils, which are typically concentrated terpenes.
The cannabis plant is well known for being a rich source of terpenes, the variety of which is what makes each strain’s smell and taste so unique. But, it is not only the pleasurable fragrances that terpenes provide, they are also responsible for altering the ‘high’ one experiences when smoking or consuming the cannabis plant.
Terpenes are the primary reason why laboratory experiments using synthetic THC always fail to reproduce the results of studies using the natural, full plant extracts from cannabis, and are a fascinating and rapidly developing area of science.
Terpenes do not always directly react with the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, but have been known to trigger separate molecular targets in the same pathways, potentially creating the entourage effect. It should be noted that the entourage effect is still being researched and there is no scientific consensus on exactly what it is and whether it even exists.
Do terpenes affect your high?
Bioassays of the cannabis plant have shown that terpenes are highly abundant, and highly variable between strains. Furthermore, growing evidence is showing the synergy between the cannabinoids and terpenes in the cannabis plant, and how that influences their effects on the body’s endocannabinoid system.
Several studies and reviews have been completed, and using two of the most valuable, a 2011 study on terpene synergy with THC and a 2011 Review from the British Journal of Pharmacology, we have put together the following list of terpenes and their influence on the recreational and medicinal effects of cannabis.
The terpenes that affect your high
Across the various species and strains of cannabis plants, they are thought to contain over 100 different terpenes. The most abundant terpenes in the cannabis plant vary, however, the ones which tend to occur in the greatest proportions are, in order; β-Carophyllene, Pinene, Mycrene, Himulene, Terpinolene, Limonene, and β-Ocimene.
Most of these are not well studied and more research will need to be done to understand how terpenes affect your high. That being said there are is promising research and consumer experiences.
Generally the most abundant terpene in cannabis, and one which has been shown to have a wide range of medicinal uses and health benefits by itself. There is some research to suggest that it carries analgesic, or pain reliever properties comparable to many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Furthermore, it has been shown to protect the lining of the stomach, relieve itchy skin, treat malaria, and also play a role in the treatment of addiction. Its pain reducing properties come from its ability to affect the CB-2 receptors in the body, also associated with the pain-relieving effects of CBD, and is a great complement to high CBD cannabis in the treatment of chronic and acute pain. β-Caryophyllene is also found in black pepper, and thought to help decrease the paranoia or anxiety that can come with the overconsumption of THC.
One of the most abundant terpenes in nature, and as you may have guessed, is responsible for the smell of pine trees. Medicinally, studies have shown pinene to be an effective anti-inflammatory agent, as well as a bronchodilator. Its anti-inflammatory effect works synergistically with CBD by interacting with CB-2 receptors in the body, and its bronchodilator effects contribute to those provided by THC. Pinene has also been found to help improve memory, and taking it with cannabis may help to reduce the ‘mental fog’, or forgetfulness which some users experience.
Another terpene which is quite abundant in cannabis, and seems to mimic or enhance many of the same properties which CBD holds regarding health benefits. Indeed, it has been shown to act upon the CB-2 receptors in the body in much the same way. As such, it could be an anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and also helpful in the fight against cancer by promoting cell apoptosis. Myrcene is also a mild sedative, and works synergistically with THC to provide the relaxing and comfortable feeling of smoking marijuana. Eating foods high in myrcene, such as mangos, lemongrass, bay leaves, and hops an hour before consuming cannabis is thought to enhance the high derived from THC and also aid in healthy sleep cycles.
The second most abundant terpene in nature, and is what gives citrus fruits their aroma, as well as also certain strains of cannabis which smell like lemons or oranges. Limonene is a terpene which studies have suggested to have high bioavailability, and has many health improving properties, including being an anti-septic, immunostimulant, gastric protectant, and may aid in cancer prevention or treatment.
It has been shown by multiple studies to be an effective treatment of acne and gastric ulcers, and is largely associated with CB-2 receptors alongside CBD. Like CBD, it has been shown to be an antidote to THC, and even since Sumerian times has been used to reduce the uncomfortable effects of THC overconsumption.
As it is found in high concentration in lemons, lemonade is often used alongside black pepper to reduce or balance the psychoactive effects of cannabis consumption. Though studies still need to be done to determine the efficacy.
Although not highly abundant as some other terpenes in cannabis, it is the one which gives lavender its relaxing effects. Linalool has also been shown to have the additional health properties of reducing anxiety, being a mild sedative, local anesthetic, pain reliever and anti-convulsant. When used in aromatherapy, it can help enhance the relaxing effects of cannabis.
Also a mild sedative with potent anti-malarial properties. It is thought to be an entourage compound with both THC and CBN, and is often found in oranges. Ingestion alongside cannabis can improve relaxation and sleep.
A well-known anti-fungal agent and insect deterrent. It influences the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors synergistically with cannabinoids, however the physical or psychoactive consequences of that interaction are not well studied.
Also found in cannabis plants, and has been found to be associated with the cannabinoid CBG. Phytol activates the GABA system in the brain, creating a relaxing and calming effect. It may be responsible for the relaxing effect in cannabis, and also from green tea.
The above list highlights some of the most important, or well-studied terpenes present in the cannabis plant. However, there are over a hundred more trace terpenes which have yet to be explored. As science in this field continues to develop, we are only beginning to understand the interactions between this ‘entourage’ of chemicals, and their potential for human health and well-being.
This information is presented for informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition. Please always consult your own doctor.