As the human population continues to grow and learn, we are making huge advances in medicine and utilizing natural plants we have available for various ailments.
As new research comes to the surface about cannabis, we are finding that cannabis has more than just an intoxicating appeal.
Cannabis plants have over 100 cannabinoids that each affect our body in different ways.
Along with those cannabinoids, cannabis plants have terpenes.
In fact, many flowering plants have terpenes not just cannabis plants.
So, what are terpenes?
What are Terpenes?
A terpene is an aromatic organic hydrocarbon molecule. This means that it consists primarily of hydrogen and carbon atoms.
Terpenes are formed by plants, and occasionally insects. They are the primary components of a plants resin and essential oils.
Terpenes function is to protect the plants from environmental stresses, ward off fungus and bacteria, and deter insects and predators with their aroma.
They also serve as foundational building blocks to more complex molecules such as cannabinoids, hormones, vitamins, and other organic materials.
Terpenes are the fragrant oils that give flowering plants their aromatic diversity. Terpenes give blueberries their signature berry smell.
They give sour diesel its funky flavor, and they give lavender a sweet floral aroma. Terpenes can be found in herbs, fruits, and other plants.
Terpenes are secreted in the flower’s sticky resin glands, but they are by no means unique to cannabis.
So, what are cannabis terpenes?
What are Cannabis Terpenes?
Terpenes found in cannabis are secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids such as THC and CBD.
The most notable attribute of a terpene is its aroma. Terpenes emit very strong spells. For instance the “skunky” smell of cannabis is primarily due to the terpenes.
Any cannabis doctor or researcher will tell you that a wide range of aromas can be detected from any cannabis plant depending on the strain.
These aromatic oils color cannabis varieties with distinctive flavors such as citrus, mint, pine, and berry.
Like other strong smelling flowers and plants, terpenes developed in cannabis as an adaptive technique to repel predators and lure pollinators.
There are various factors that influence what terpenes a plant will develop, These factors include climate, weather, age, maturation, fertilizers, soil type, and even the time of day.
There are over 100 different types of terpenes that have been identified just in the cannabis plant. However, only a few of them have been studied in depth.
However, what we do know is that terpenes help us to distinguish between different strains of marijuana and offer different medicinal benefits.
How do Terpenes Affect the Body
Each individual terpene that is found in the cannabis plant has its own unique effects. Some terpenes promote relaxation whereas others promote acuity and focus.
The effect of a terpene, however, can be changed by the presence of other compounds such as THC and CBD. This is called the entourage effect.
What is the Entourage Effect?
Terpenes and other substances are associated with the cannabis plant whole health benefits. Some terpenes provide health benefits of their own.
However, many terpenes assist the health benefits of cannabinoids. Because of this, terpenes participate in the entourage effect.
The entourage effect is the sum of the cannabis plant’s component parts working together is greater than the individual parts working in isolation.
The entourage effect is one of the reasons that full-spectrum CBD oil is becoming more popular in the market.
Terpenes in conjunction with cannabinoids have been shown to be more effective in treating ailments than when cannabinoids are isolated and working alone.
In the article, Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects, Dr. Ethan Russo said,
“They display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts.”
More research is needed to understand how each terpene is with other terpenes. Their differences can be subtle, but even subtle differences can have huge effects on our bodies.
What we know about terpenes is that they compound or lighten the effects of the cannabinoids THC and CBD specifically.
Terpenes do this by binding to the endocannabinoid receptors and neurotransmitters and imitating other compounds that are body naturally produces.
Currently, scientists are using terpenes to balance the negative effects of cannabinoids such as the short term memory loss from high concentrations of THC.
Terpenes can have various other effects apart from their relationship with cannabinoids which include the following:
- Inhibiting serotonin uptake (acts as antidepressant)
- Enhancing norepinephrine activity (acts as antidepressant)
- Increasing dopamine (regulates emotions and pleasure experiences)
- Augmenting Gaba (promotes relaxation)
With as much as we know about the effects of terpenes on our body, more research still needs to be done to determine the therapeutic effects of terpenes with cannabinoids.
Types of Terpenes in Cannabis
As mentioned above, there are over 100 different kinds of terpenes found in just cannabis plants. However, research has only researched a handful of them.
Here are the different types of terpenes and what we know about them:
Pinene (pine) is one of the most common terpenes in the world not just in cannabis plants. It is also found in orange peels, pine needles, basil, and parsley.
This terpene has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to counteract the short term memory loss of THC as well as improve airflow to your lungs. It also promotes alertness.
The terpene Myrcene gives an earthy, musky, or fruity aroma. Other than cannabis, it can be found in mangoes, hops, thyme, lemongrass, and basil.
This is one of the most common terpene found in cannabis plants. In fact, it can compose up to 50% of the cannabis plants terpenes.
Myrcene has been proven to be useful as an anti-inflammatory, a sedative, and a muscle relaxer. In fact, strains with more than .5% myrcene create a tired or stoned feeling in users.
Like the name suggests, Limonene has a citrus aroma. You can find it in lemons, oranges, mandarins, limes, and grapefruits. It is also found in many cleaning products and perfumes.
Citrus smells tend to elevate the mood, and the terpene limonene is no different. It relieves stress, elevates the mood, and has antibacterial and antifungal properties as well.
The great thing about limonene is that it also improves the absorption of other terpenes and chemicals through your skin. This makes it great for ointments and topicals.
With a hoppy or earthy aroma, humulene is found in hops, coriander, cloves, and basil. It works best as an anti inflammatory. However, it can also suppress the appetite.
Linalool has a floral or spicy aroma. You can find it in flowers and spices like lavender and coriander.
Linalool is known for its calming effect. It relieves stress, inflammation, and acts as an antidepressant.
When linalool is found in cannabis, it balances out the anxiousness side effects of the THC. Therefore, strains with linalool offer a natural treatment for anxiety and psychosis.
Some studies even suggest that linalool can boost the immune system and reduce lung inflammation.
Caryophyllene has a peppery or spicy aroma. It is found in thai basil, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper.
Some studies have shown that caryophyllene helps in treating anxiety, depression, and also acts as an anti inflammatory.
Another terpene with a smoky or woodsy aroma is terpinolene. Terpinolene is found in sage and rosemary.
Research has found that terpinolene is slightly sedative, an antioxidant, and antibacterial. It also depresses your central nervous system thus reducing excitement or anxiety and inducing sleep.
What Does the FDA Say About Terpenes
Are There Terpenes in CBD?
Most of what has been found about terpenes has been found in cannabis plants. When we think of cannabis, we think of marijuana or THC.
However, we have recently discovered some great benefits of a cannabinoid called CBD. In fact, you can find CBD all over the U.S.
But, what happens when we extract CBD from the cannabis plants? Do the terpenes come with it, or do they stay in the plant?
Well, this actually depends on how the CBD is being extracted. Different methods of extraction are better if you wish to keep the terpenes in tact.
Types of Extraction Methods
CO2 Extraction Method
This method of extraction is actually divided into different categories. These categories are supercritical and subcritical.
In simple terms, CO2 extraction uses pressurized carbon dioxide. The CO2 acts like a solvent at certain temperatures and the pressure has no dangers.
Most ways of using the CO2 method consist of the category supercritical. This is because the CO2 liquids pressure and temperature is past the point where liquid becomes supercritical.
Supercritical means the liquid CO2 is capable of adopting properties halfway between gas and liquid simultaneously.
Some scientists have used the subcritical way of extracting CBD using CO2. This method involves low temperature and low pressure instead of high temps and high pressure.
Subcritical extractions take longer than supercritical extractions and produce smaller amounts.Therefore, this method can be difficult for bigger companies.
However, this method is the best method to retain terpenes, essential oils, and other sensitive materials. It is less likely to damage the terpenes.
Some companies will combine the supercritical and subcritical methods and this is how you get a full-spectrum CO2 cannabis extract.
These companies use subcritical extraction to separate and draw out the oil and then they draw out of the very same plant material using supercritical extraction.
The oils from each process are then homogenized into an unanimated oil. This is called the total CO2 extraction process.
CO2 extraction is actually one of the best ways to extract CBD from a plant. It is safe and effective, and it leaves many of the terpenes in tact.
Olive Oil Extraction Method
Another method that companies will use is the olive oil extraction method. In this method, you will need to heat the plant to a certain temperature for a length of time.
The plant material at this time should be decarboxylated to activate the plants chemicals. The temperature is usually 248 degrees fahrenheit for 60 minutes.
Once that process is done, the plant material is added to the olive oil and heated to 212 degrees for two hours. Ultimately the process results in CBD oil.
The problem with this method is the high temperatures. CBD as well as terpenes can be damaged when heated to such temperatures.
This means you won’t get as much of the good stuff.
Solvent Extraction Method
Using the same heating mechanisms as above, companies can also use ethanol or butane instead of olive oil.
Ethanol extracts the full range of cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant materials. However, it also extracts chlorophyll which can cause unwanted side effects.
The chlorophyll can be filtered, but then it reduces the potency of the oil. Butane is stronger than ethanol, but it usually has solvents that can irritate the lungs.
In either case, you will be getting chemicals in your body that you don’t necessarily want in there.
Which Method Should be Used for Terpenes
So, as you can tell the Subcritical CO2 method is the most effective method of extraction providing a safe and clean oil while keeping the terpenes intact.
The solvent method is able to keep the terpenes in tact as well, however, they may not be as strong, and the CBD will be less potent with this method.
If you want a CBD oil that has the benefits of the terpenes as well, you will want to find a company that does either the subcritical CO2 method, or a combination of both CO2 methods.
Are Terpenes Legal
Well, it kind of depends on where you get the terpenes from as to whether or not they are legal. Terpenes are abundant in the plant world.
As you can see, we eat various terpenes in our fruits, vegetables, and herbs. They are not scheduled in the CSA.
The Food and Drug Administration has rated them as safe. In fact, life would be quite different for us if they were illegal.
On the other hand, however, according to the Controlled Substance Act, marijuana refers to all parts of the plant Cannabis Sativa L. whether growing or not, seeds, and the resin.
Here is the actual definition of marijuana according to the CSA:
“The term “marihuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin. Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.”
With these two conflicting statements, there is no yes or no answer to this question. Terpenes are perfectly legal in food, but are not legal when pulled from a marijuana plant.
Thus, many companies have begun extracting CBD and terpenes from industrial hemp plants as hemp plants are legal and not considered marijuana.
However, there are still four states that have not legalized the use or sale of CBD from industrial hemp. You can see which states have legalized it, here.
Are Terpenes For Everyone
Terpenes are medicinal, and like any medication, some just aren’t for everyone. This is why different strains of marijuana and even CBD are typically called by their smell.
Terpenes are what produce the smell in flowering plants, and as anyone knows, smell can affect us both physically and emotionally.
For instance, if flowers give you a splitting headache, you will want to stay away from CBD and marijuana with the terpene linalool.
Likewise, if you are allergic to pine trees, grass, or other earthy things, you will want to stay away from substances that have the terpenes Myrcene, Pinene, or Humalene.
If you are looking for marijuana or CBD based on the type of terpenes they have in them, you can find a great list on leafly that shows you various strains that you can get for each terpene.
What other information do you know about terpenes? Share your information and experiences in the comments below!
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- Person. (2017, April 04). Terpenes. Retrieved from https://www.medicaljane.com/category/cannabis-classroom/terpenes/.
- Cannabis Terpenes For Sale | 100% Organic | Pure Food Grade Terpenes. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.globalcannabinoids.io/terpenes.
- Cannabis Terpenes: What They Are & How They Affect You. (2018, November 06). Retrieved from https://www.greenrelief.ca/blog/what-are-cannabis-terpenes/.
- Rahn, B. (2019, January 16). What Are Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do? Retrieved from https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/terpenes-the-flavors-of-cannabis-aromatherapy.
- Article, S. (2018, June 21). Infographic: How Do Cannabis Terpenes Affect the Body? Retrieved from https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/infographic-what-are-cannabis-terpenes-and-how-do-they-affect-you.