Terpenes and what do they do?

Terpenes fundamentally give CBD and other cannabinoids the synergistic effect called "The Entourage Effect"

Typically, terpenes are volatile molecules that evaporate easily and readily announce themselves to the nose. Therein lies the basis of aromatherapy, a popular alternative-healing modality. Like their odorless cannabinoid cousins, terpenes are oily compounds secreted in the marijuana plant’s glandular trichomes. Terpenes and THC share a biochemical precursor, geranyl pyrophosphate, which develops into the cannabinoids and terpenoids that saturate the plant’s flower tops.

But unlike THC and the other plant cannabinoids that exist nowhere else but in marijuana, terpenes are ubiquitous throughout the natural world. Produced by countless plant species, terpenes are prevalent in fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and other botanicals. Terpenes are also common ingredients in the human diet and have generally been recognized as safe to consume by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Scientists have identified and characterized the molecular structure of some 20,000 terpenes, which compose the largest category of plant chemicals. These can be further broken down into mono-terpenes, diterpenes and sesquiterpenes, depending on the number of repeating units of a five-carbon molecule called isoprene, the structural hallmark of all terpenoid compounds.

Around 200 terpenes have been found in cannabis, but only a few of these odiferous oily substances appear in amounts substantial enough to be noteworthy (or nose-worthy, as it were). 

COMMON CANNABIS TERPENES

  • Alpha-pinene (essential pine oil), the most common terpene in the plant world and one often found in cannabis, is a bronchodilator potentially helpful for asthmatics. Pinene also promotes alertness and memory retention by inhibiting the metabolic breakdown of acetylcholinesterase, a neurotransmitter in the brain that stimulates these cognitive effects.
  • Myrcene, another terpene present in numerous cannabis varietals, is a sedative, a muscle relaxant, a hypnotic, an analgesic (painkiller) and an anti-inflammatory compound. This musky terpene contributes mightily to the infamous “couch-lock” experience, Russo maintains.
  • Limonene, a major terpene in citrus as well as in cannabis, has been used clinically to dissolve gallstones, improve mood and relieve heartburn and gastrointestinal reflux. Limonene, an anticonvulsant, has been shown to destroy breast-cancer cells in lab experiments, and its powerful antimicrobial action can kill pathogenic bacteria. (Lemon Kush, anyone?)
  • Linalool, a terpenoid prominent in lavender as well as in some cannabis strains, is an anxiolytic compound that counters anxiety and mediates stress. In addition, linalool is a strong anticonvulsant, and it also amplifies serotonin-receptor transmission, conferring an antidepressant effect. Applied topically, linalool can heal acne and skin burns without scarring.
  • Beta-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene found in the essential oils of black pepper, oregano and other edible herbs, as well as in cannabis and many green, leafy vegetables. It is gastro-protective, good for treating certain ulcers, and shows great promise as a therapeutic compound for inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders because of its ability to bind directly to the peripheral cannabinoid receptor known as CB2.

WHAT ELSE CAN TERPENES DO?

Certain terpenoids dilate capillaries in the lungs, enabling smoked or vaporized THC to enter the bloodstream more easily. Nerolidol, a sedative terpenoid, is a skin penetrant that increases permeability and potentially facilitates cannabinoid absorption when applied topically for pain or skin conditions. Terpenoids and cannabinoids both increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity and kill respiratory pathogens – including MSRA, Dr. Russo’s article reports that cannabinoid-terpenoid interactions…

“could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal, and bacterial infections.”

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