Although terpenes are a lesser-known hemp component, they play a vital role in making cannabis the effective medicine it is.
While most people believe them to be exclusively present in cannabis, terpenes are commonly found in many plants and impart aroma to the foliage.
What cannabinoids cure is less to do with their intrinsic properties and more to do with the external synergistic effect of terpenes, flavonoids, and phytocannabinoids? That’s why full-spectrum hemp products are generally considered the most potent and effective.
Without the presence of terpenes, we wouldn’t get the benefits of medical marijuana because these aromatic compounds make the medicinal components work better. We explain this phenomenon, commonly called the entourage effect, further in this guide.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic compounds present in most botanical herbs, including lavender and rosemary, that give a plant its characteristic smell.
Even before the cannabis industry took off, manufacturers had been extracting terpenes from different plants to make perfumes and skincare products.
To add, terpenes were also used for their aromatic properties in food.
In plants, terpenes are just as important as they are to humans. While some of them attract pollinators (bees, and birds) to facilitate the plant’s reproduction, others ward off infectious germs and pests.
Therefore, terpenes are essential regulators in a plant’s reproduction and immune response.
Before we discuss them in detail, it’s important to clear a misconception that terpenoids and terpenes are the same. Terpenes exist naturally in a plant. However, when the plant dries and undergoes curing, during cannabis production, the oxidation of terpenes forms terpenoids.
Difference Between Cannabinoids and Terpenes
Cannabinoids are the widely-known components of hemp since they’re responsible for the most visible effects of the plant. THC is a high-causing cannabinoid that interacts with the body’s receptors.
Its interaction results in altering one’s state of mind – what we call a ‘high.’
On the other hand, CBD is a cannabinoid that doesn’t cause a high. Interestingly, it has the same targets as THC in the body, but its mechanism is different than that of THC. Due to this, it shows its effects without altering the user’s alertness.
Although these two are the most well-studied cannabinoids in hemp, there are more than 100 other cannabinoids in the plant. Along with the cannabinoids, hemp also contains terpenes that are widely abundant in botanical species.
While cannabinoids are responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects, terpenes determine the plant’s aroma. Some terpenes may also affect the endocannabinoid system – much like cannabinoids – but their effects are different.
Types of Terpenes
Although there are many terpenes, scientists have only studied a few at the moment. Besides cannabis, these terpenes are also present in common household herbs.
Limonene has a fruity smell and is present in citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons. A study showed that it has the following effects: anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anticancer, antidiabetic, and antioxidant.
Some evidence also suggests that limonene might modulate the immune response, protecting the body from different diseases and disorders.
Myrcene is found in thyme, lemongrass, and hops. Along with being a powerful antioxidant, the terpene might also have protective functions in heart disease. A study showed that Myrcene might help in post-ischemic stroke treatment.
If you love the smell of lavender, you have linalool to thank for it. Besides offering a soothing scent, the terpene also has a calming effect that’s often used in aromatherapy.
According to a study, it’s also useful against cancer, anxiety, inflammation, bacteria, and depression.
Effect of Terpenes
Being bioactive, terpenes have the potential to affect the user’s body. The impact will depend on the concentration of terpenes used and the mode of usage – smoking or ingesting, for instance.
It’s a widely accepted theory that CBD and THC work best when combined with terpenes and other cannabinoids. A literature review of epilepsy studies reported that non-purified CBD is more effective against the ailment than purified CBD.
Therefore, the study suggests the inclusion of terpenes in a CBD blend to be beneficial for the compound’s effectiveness and performance.
But how do terpenes help CBD work better? Why are they an integral presence in medicinal cannabis? The answer lies in the entourage effect.
What Is The Entourage Effect?
Most benefits of marijuana can be attributed to the entourage effect since this phenomenon is at play when you see cannabis as a whole working better than its components do individually.
Many studies have shown that hemp’s components work better in sync than they do alone.
For instance, a 2010 study in cancer patients showed that study subjects who took a 50-50 combination of THC and CBD experienced more pain relief as compared to the groups that received pure CBD or THC.
At the moment, there aren’t many studies that investigate this synergy in human subjects. However, Dr. Ethan Russo, a pharmacologist, and neurologist, describes in his review that when common cannabis compounds work together, their synergy exhibits prominent results.
For instance, CBN, CBG, and CBD are three cannabinoids known to be effective at killing MRSA bacteria that cause staph infections.
In his review, Russo explains that they may become even more useful when combined with certain MRSA-fighting terpenes.
Alternatively, CBN and CBD’s effects could be improved by adding terpenes that enhance skin permeability, allowing these compounds to enter the dermis quickly for instant antibacterial effect. In the same review, Russo has also highlighted some other synergies:
- Pinene, a pine-scented terpene, might help counteract the memory impairment effects of THC. Therefore, its addition to medicinal cannabis could allow the patients to see relief without experiencing any negative effects of THC.
- Moreover, caryophyllene is a terpene that could enhance CBD’s effectiveness in treating addiction.
- Limonene is another terpene that might improve CBD’s anti-anxiety effect.
Right now, there’s considerable research to prove that terpenes facilitate the effect of CBD and THC in executing cannabis’ medical potential. Future research will likely dive deeper into this theory, finding ways to make cannabis a safer and more useful medicinal option.