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The Underappreciated Impact of Terpenes

Jars on a shelf in front of a window with terpene names written on them

By Paolo Amenta, PharmD, General Manager & Pharmacist, and John-Paul DeVeglia, PharmD, Pharmacist

Cannabis often brings to mind THC and CBD. It's also profoundly influenced by a lesser-known, but equally significant group of compounds called terpenes. Understanding the role terpenes play can transform your cannabis experience, offering a more nuanced appreciation of its effects and benefits.

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants, including herbs, fruits, and, notably, cannabis. These compounds are the building blocks of essential oils and are responsible for the distinct scents and flavors of different plants. For example, the fresh scent of pine, the sweet smell of flowers, and the pungent aroma of herbs can all be attributed to terpenes.

In cannabis, terpenes play a crucial role, contributing to the unique aroma and flavor profile of each strain, ranging from earthy and woody to citrusy and fruity. But terpenes do more than just please the senses. They influence the therapeutic and psychological effects of cannabis, creating what is often referred to as the "entourage effect." This concept suggests that cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) and terpenes work together synergistically, enhancing the overall impact of the plant.

Key Cannabis Terpenes and Their Effects

Limonene, as its name suggests, is a citrus-scented terpene commonly found in lemons, oranges, and certain cannabis strains. It's known for its uplifting and stress-relieving properties, making it popular among those seeking a mood boost. Limonene is also believed to have antifungal and antibacterial properties, contributing to the therapeutic potential of cannabis.

Limonene has also been shown to increase dopamine and serotonin in areas of the brain related to both mood and anxiety.

Myrcene is among the most prevalent terpenes in cannabis. It carries an earthy, musky scent reminiscent of cloves and has a hint of fruity notes like mango and lemongrass. Myrcene is known for its sedative and relaxing effects, often contributing to the "couch-lock" phenomenon associated with some indica strains. This terpene may also have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, enhancing the pain-relieving aspects of cannabis.

Pinene, existing in two forms—alpha and beta (or ɑ- and ꞵ-pinene)—is characterized by its refreshing pine scent. It's the most common terpene in the plant world and can be found in pine trees, rosemary, and basil, in addition to cannabis. Pinene is known for its ability to improve focus and memory retention, counteracting some of the short-term memory loss associated with THC. It also has potential anti-inflammatory benefits, contributing to the healing effects of cannabis.

Both ɑ- and ꞵ-pinene have displayed the ability to increase mental alertness and overall cognitive function by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that may inhibit short-term memory function.

Linalool, with its floral, slightly spicy aroma, is reminiscent of lavender and is found in over 200 types of plants. In cannabis, linalool is sought after for its calming and relaxing effects, making it beneficial for those with anxiety or sleep disorders. It's also believed to have analgesic and anti-epileptic properties, further expanding the medicinal applications of cannabis.

Caryophyllene stands out among terpenes because it can also interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, similar to cannabinoids. With its spicy, peppery aroma, caryophyllene is found in black pepper, cloves, and hops as well as cannabis. It's known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is being studied for its potential to treat pain, anxiety, and depression.

Caryophyllene strongly interacts with CB2 receptors, revealing a potent anti-inflammatory response. Caryophyllene’s analgesic activity and its effect on the immune system make it a great option for pain relief. A product high in ꞵ-caryophyllene may offer a nice alternative for patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis, or overall pain, looking to reduce the use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDs) or other pain medications.

The Importance of Terpenes in Cannabis

The terpenes in cannabis do more than create a pleasant aromatic experience; they play a significant role in the plant's therapeutic effects. By understanding the various terpenes and their properties, users can choose cannabis strains more effectively, tailoring their experience to their desired outcomes, whether that's relaxation, pain relief, or a mood lift.

As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, the focus on terpenes is increasing, with many producers now highlighting the terpene profiles of their products. This shift is empowering consumers with more information to make informed decisions about their cannabis use, leading to a more personalized and satisfying experience.

In conclusion, terpenes are a fascinating and essential component of cannabis, contributing to the plant's complexity and the diverse experiences it can provide. As research continues, we'll likely discover even more about how these aromatic compounds influence the effects of cannabis, paving the way for new strains and products tailored to specific therapeutic needs.

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