What Are Terpenes: A Simple Guide with 8 Examples
Do you find yourself preferring one marijuana or cannabis-derived product over the other? Do some aromas particularly appeal to you, or you find some CBD oil especially effective? If you answered yes to these questions, then it is likely you have your favorites among curious chemical compounds called terpenes.
What are terpenes and why do they matter? Essentially, a terpene is a volatile, organic chemical compound that is found in plants and some animals, for instance, butterflies and termites. As a part of the plant, its function is to deter predators or entice pollination.
But, what’s in it for humans? Well, for avid cannabis users, best terpenes are responsible for the pleasant, distinctive smell of buds. Moreover, their origin, concentration, and cooperation with other substances are responsible for our overall experience and cannabis’s beneficial impact.
Obviously, there is more to terpenes than the smell, and we’ll give you the full picture, so the next time you are having second thoughts about using cannabis, you’ll be able to pick the finest terpenes for yourself.
For our readers who were extra attentive in Chemistry class, we can say that terpenes are a result of a reaction between two molecules – acetic acid (CH3COOH) and mevalonic acid (C6H12O4) which then converted into isopentenyl pyrophosphate. The latter evolves into a 5-carbon-atom isoprene skeleton, which yields different types of terpenes (monoterpenes, hemiterpenes, triterpenes, and so on). To sum up, all natural compounds coming from isoprene subunits are defined as terpenes.
For those of you who are more into real-life examples, let us say that a terpene is a natural volatile substance which is the main reason why lavender, pine trees, citrus fruits, eucalyptus, roses, sage, cannabis, and plenty of other species have the unique scent or taste they do and possess specific pharmacological qualities.
By the way, terpenes and terpenoids are not one and the same thing, despite the fact that some studies and articles use them interchangeably. Terpenoids are compounds made in oxidative processes from terpenes.
Also, this article deals with the definition that interests us the most, and by which we refer to terpenes as aromatic molecules of cannabis. To this end, they are located in the resins of the cannabis flower.
Now, let’s see just how they work and why exactly they are considered a hot topic both for the cannabis community and scientific research.
What Do Terpenes Do?
Terpenes are very interesting because they act a lot like cannabinoids, which are of extreme importance for how cannabis affects our body. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis flowers, such as THC and CBD, and they have the ability to bind to our brain via receptors.
Interestingly enough, those receptors are an intricate part of our own endocannabinoid system (ECS). Notice the similarity in the terms? Terpenes too are able to connect with ECS, the system responsible for our basic functions.
For example, one of the best terpenes benefits is that some are especially prone to binding with pain receptors and make us feel relaxed. After all, the feeling of pain is nothing more than a signal sent to our brain. Even though the signal is there to tell us something is wrong, which is a very desirable trait, sometimes we don’t need such unpleasant reminders. This can easily be achieved by using a pinene terpene, among others, so people suffering from arthritis or other chronic pain can unwind.
Terpenes can serve as an excellent aid in treating stress and anxiety, too. Moreover, they are reported to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and maybe even help fight cancer, but we’ll dwell on those a bit later when we describe the types of terpenes more thoroughly.
Cannabis Sativa vs Indica Terpenes
As we have already explained, terpenes are found in a number of species, but here we are going to focus on the cannabis plant and two of its types which have inspired numerous discussions, laws, and prohibitions. We’re going to discuss their names, products, and properties.
One of the cannabis sativa strains also goes by the name hemp or industrial hemp whereas cannabis indica is universally known as marijuana, cannabis, or weed. The first one is a cannabis species that has been present for centuries and used for producing oil, food, ropes, clothes, fabrics, jewelry, and a lot of other ordinary items. Similarly, cannabis indica has also been around for thousands of years. However, one of the major indica vs sativa differences is in their legal status.
Both cannabis species used to be illegal under federal law, but that has changed since December 2018 and the signing of the Farm Bill, the moment hemp and hemp terpenes were declared to be safe for human use. By definition, hemp is a cannabis sativa species which has less than 0.3% THC (the psychoactive substance).
The act opened doors to a lot of opportunities for CBD hemp extraction, so more people are now able to take advantage of its fantastic effects (and of hemp terpenes, too). In sharp contrast, marijuana terpenes are not considered safe, neither are they FDA approved, which is a real shame, as we shall see from the following differences between them and hemp terpenes.
First of all, the level of terpenes in hemp is extremely low. As a result, a very large quantity of this cannabis sativa strain is needed for the extraction of terpenes compared to cannabis indica. Another issue concerns bio-accumulators. The bigger the amount of hemp used for extraction, the higher the level of toxins released which may end up in the final product, e.g., CBD oil.
Of course, it also puts a strain on extra purification processes. Next, more biomass is needed for hemp terpenes and it interferes with their taste. Not to mention that hemp’s original grassy and earthy scent is difficult to alter. Plus, cannabis-derived terpenes are extremely popular for their wide variety of scents, aromas, and effects for that matter.
Therefore, if you are wondering what terpenes you should go for, our recommendation goes to marijuana, weed, or cannabis terpenes as they are more efficient, and possibly more pleasant to consume, too. Also, don’t forget that these three refer to the one and the same species of marijuana – cannabis indica.
What are terpenes without the entourage effect? It’s hard to say, as it is this synergistic effect that makes terpenes from cannabis so praise-worthy. This effect refers to the joined reaction of all cannabis compounds: cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes, and fatty acids. Even though this may seem like a reaction between just four components, it is much, much more than that.
First of all, we are talking about hundreds of cannabis ingredients that interact together. Scientists have discovered about 111 cannabinoids and believe there are even more to be unveiled. Furthermore, the cannabis plant may contain between 145-150 CBD terpenes but bear in mind that extra terpenes from other sources (natural or synthetic) can be added to a cannabis product.
The number of agents reacting isn’t the only reason why this effect is so potent. Terpenes also interact well with one another. For example, limonene and pinene are very good at fighting viral infections, while beta-pinene encourages myrcene production and in this way diminishes the resistance in the blood-brain barrier. In addition, terpene substances are said to defy THC’s intoxicating impact.
Therefore, it can be deduced that the entourage effect is a very complex chemical reaction whose outcomes are irreplaceable and using the whole plant has benefits that can’t be achieved if we use its components in isolation.
List of Terpenes
Let’s mention some of the most common ones along with their benefits for our health. What are terpenes used for? Plenty of conditions and illnesses. You can opt for some of them depending on what you are looking for – just a new aroma, or a solution for a health issue.
Here are seven of the most important terpenes out there.
Very similar to cloves in its aroma, myrcene is one of the most common terpenes in cannabis (e.g., a strain can have more than 50% of the essential oil). Apart from cannabis, this terpene can be located in citrus fruits, eucalyptus, lemongrass, etc.
Myrcene is known to aid the quicker absorption of other terpenes into our body and can induce the highest saturation level of the CB1 receptor, thus making it one of the best terpenes for achieving a strong psychoactive effect. It’s excellent in treating peptic ulcer disease, insomnia, and pain.
Fun fact: since myrcene is an ingredient of citruses, it’s advisable to eat a ripe mango before smoking marijuana to intensify its psychoactive effects!
Next, pinene is there to help us lower the effect of THC on our body and mind. As the name suggests, it is found in pine woods and has the corresponding aroma.
It is very reactive with other terpenes and it is an excellent antiseptic. Therefore, it can prove to be useful in preventing infections. Traditional Chinese medicine even recognizes it as an anti-cancer agent.
Blue Dream, Bubba Kush, and Trainwreck are different types of weed which will help you relish the pinene effects.
Lemons, limes, and oranges abound in limonene – that’s where they get their citrusy smell from and where it gets its name from.
Limonene is absorbed very quickly in our bloodstream. Some of its most important traits are antifungal and antibacterial functions, useful against many infectious diseases. At the moment, limonene is also being researched as a treatment for breast cancer. Also, terpenes oil and similar products made with this variety seem to help weight loss as they reduce appetite. The limonene aroma makes us feel more active and energetic, but it should be mentioned that it is widely used in citrus cleaning products as well.
If you are keen on limonene, Sour Diesel and OG Kush strains are the right choices for you.
Doesn’t the name remind you of something? That’s right, lavender is its aroma, so linalool can make us unwind and cool down. However, there are even more reasons why this is one of the best marijuana terpenes out there.
Heavy tobacco smokers could reduce lung inflammation by using linalool, which also indicates the terpene reduces negative effects of smoking marijuana, too. Furthermore, linalool restores cognitive and emotional functions (very interesting for Alzheimer’s patients), boosts our immune system and is crucial for vitamin E formation. As for supermarket products, it’s very much used in insecticides and various scent products.
Sour Diesel and Bubble Gum are marijuana strains that are recommended for the calming effect of linalool.
You must have smelled it in turpentine, ginger, or camphor oil. An ingredient of many fragrances, it has the smell of damp woodlands and fir. If it reminds you of another terpene, that’s because camphene is industrially produced from alpha-pinene.
According to one study, camphene could prove invaluable in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Conventional drugs can cause liver damage and intestinal problems, so camphene terpenes in cannabis would be a safer option for reducing plasma cholesterol, for instance.
Cannabis strains containing camphene are ACDC, Banana Kush, and OG Kush.
You’ve tasted it in cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, and Thai basil. Famous for its original, spicy aroma, it’s often used in the chewing gum industry.
However, what makes caryophyllene even more recognizable is its powerful connection with the endocannabinoid system (CBD2). It has a lot of potential for fighting cancer, arthritis, chronic and neuropathic pain. For example, it is praised for preventing nephrotoxicity (toxic effects on kidneys), which is triggered by using some anti-cancer drugs such as cisplatin.
Top types of marijuana strains containing caryophyllene are Sour Diesel, Chemdawg, Super Silver Haze, and Wedding Cake.
If you like the smell of beer, then humulene will definitely appeal to you. Apart from cannabis, it’s found in hops, orange orchards, tobacco, and Vietnamese coriander.
Humulene features are said to be anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and tumor-suppressing. In addition, it’s used in weight loss treatments. Its combination with beta-caryophyllene works extremely well against inflammation processes.
Green Crack, Sage N Sour, Liberty Haze and Tangerine Dreams are among the best types of marijuana containing humulene.
You’ll know it’s beta-caryophyllene when you smell cloves. It’s got that woody, spicy, and sweet smell everybody loves.
As beta-caryophyllene stimulates the CB2 receptor, it doesn’t provide any psychoactive effects. The receptor in question is connected with arthritis and multiple sclerosis, so this terpene is said to have beneficial effects for these diseases, as well as in treating anxiety and depression.
If you wish to relish beta-caryophyllene, go for Royal Cookies, White Widow, or OG Kush.
Terpenes are substances found in the majority of plant species and they abound not only in nature but in everyday consumer products as well. What are terpenes to cannabis users? Much more than just a scent. As an intricate part of marijuana, they have a wide range of actions. Terpenes react with each other and the substances around them in great synergy known as the entourage effect. As a result, we can feel the benefits of cannabis to a larger extent. Research has shown that if most cannabis ingredients are retained in CBD oil and other products, our body reacts better to the treatment.
Can I buy terpenes separately?
Yes, you can. For example, companies such as True Terpenes offer terpenes for sale which are arranged according to their flavors. Nevertheless, always check that the company complies to the highest consumer safety standards.
How to use terpenes in the best way?
For starters, determine why you wish to use them. Would you simply like to enhance the experience with the aroma or flavor you prefer, or would you like to focus on the health benefits of terpenes? Either way, this guide can help you choose the best option for your needs.
Are terpenes legal or not?
Yes and no. If a terpene is derived from anything else but an illegal substance, it is considered to be legal. Unfortunately, cannabis indica aka marijuana/weed is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which makes its terpenes illegal under federal law. There is a multitude of other natural terpenes that are FDA approved, though.
How to increase terpene production?
There are several ways to do so. The general advice would be to stop feeding the cannabis plants two weeks before the harvest, but you should also be attentive to the soil quality, always flush the plants, mind the temperature, dry and store the products in the correct way. Terpenes can evaporate, which means they are high-maintenance and you have to be extra careful.
Do terpenes get you high or THC?
It is THC that gets you high. The misconception probably comes from the fact that certain terpenes (such as the ones we have mentioned) can intensify or decrease the THC potency through synergistic effects.
Does CBD get you high?
No. CBD never gets you “high” the same way THC in marijuana does. This is because CBD reacts differently with your endocannabinoid system than THC, resulting in different benefits that combat anxiety, depression, nausea, anti-inflammation, etc. THC, on the other hand, binds with receptors in your brain that produces the “high” effect. For this reason, the CBD industry is experiencing a real boom.