Terpenes

Dr Lisa Beckett

October 2022

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are the fragrant oils found in fruits and plants (including cannabis) that give each strain its individual scent and flavour - they’re what you notice when you smell a lemon for example. They also comprise the main ingredient in essential oils. Terpenes are thought to provide a range of benefits seperate to those produced by cannabinoids.

The cannabis plant has more than 100 terpenes and each strain has its own profile. This is why if you use a different strain of cannabis - even if it has the same concentration of CBD and THC - you may notice different scents, flavours and effects. You can think of it a bit like wine - each variety has different flavours and scents that make each brand unique. In fact there’s even an equivalent cannabis sommelier - a ganjier!

What do they do?

In plants terpenes help protect the plant from harsh weather and predators. In humans it’s thought that terpenes have the ability to work with the cannabinoids in cannabis to enhance their effects and interact in what we call the entourage effect.

The entourage effect is the theory that when full spectrum cannabis (the whole plant) is used (as opposed to isolates like pure CBD) the compounds all interact with each other to produce enhanced sensations and effects.

Or in other words, a little of everything can be better than a lot of one.

An example of the entourage effect is the use of combination THC and CBD treatments. CBD modifies how THC works. This can mean that psychoactive effects like agitation and anxiety caused by THC are minimised by the presence of CBD, allowing treatment to be tolerated better.

Common terpenes and their reported effects

Beta-caryophyllene

Found in: cloves, rosemary, black pepper

Potential effects: anti-anxiety, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, relaxant

Aromas: pepper, wood, spice

Beta-pinene

Found in: pine

Potential effects: antidepressant, anti-neoplastic, memory enhancement

Aromas: piney, sharp

Alpha Bisabolol

Found in: chamomile

Potential effects: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, pain relief, stress relief

Aromas: sweet, fruity, nutty

Limonene

Found in: lemons, citrus, ginger

Potential effects: anti-anxiety, immunity, anti-inflammatory

Aromas: lemon, orange

Humulene

Found in: hops, sage, ginseng

Potential effects: Anticancer, anti-inflammatory, analgesic

Aromas: wood, earthy

Myrcene

Found in: mangoes, hops, lemongrass

Potential effects: anti fungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, sedating

Aromas: floral, earthy, citrus

Linalool

Found in: lavender

Potential effects: analgesic, anti-anxiety, sedating

Aromas: floral

As noted, cannabis has over 100 terpenes and each strain has different terpenes present. Information on which terpenes are in each strain can be found with the product information. If you find you’re not getting the benefit you would like from your treatment, changing to a different strain with more suitable terpenes may be helpful.

It’s important to remember research into terpenes is still being conducted and further studies are needed to have a full understanding of how the compounds work.

References

Sommano SR, Chittasupho C, Ruksiriwanich W, Jantrawut P. The Cannabis Terpenes. Molecules. 2020 Dec 8;25(24):5792. doi: 10.3390/molecules25245792. PMID: 33302574; PMCID: PMC7763918.

Cox-Georgian D, Ramadoss N, Dona C, Basu C. Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes. Medicinal Plants. 2019;333-359. Published 2019 Nov 12. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-31269-5_15