Cannabidiol (CBD) is the secondary compound found in cannabis and has risen to prominence in recent years in the form of CBD oil due to its amazing health benefits and the fact that it contains none of the psychoactivity of THC. This makes it an attractive alternative health choice for people who would never contemplate using cannabis otherwise.
There are other compounds, however, that are still unfamiliar to most but are beginning to be better understood as the benefits of cannabis are further explored by science. These compounds are called terpenes.
Simply put, terpenes are fragrant oils that are secreted in a flower’s sticky resin glands, the same place that THC and CBD are secreted. Unlike THC and CBD, however, terpenes are not exclusive to cannabis and are present in lots of plants and fruits, such as peppermint, coriander, lavender, mango, and pine. They are what give these and other plants their signature smell and are what essential oils are derived from.
In scientific terms, terpenes are organic compounds, a large group of volatile hydrocarbons found in many plants (and even some insects). In terms of their purpose, the strong odor is thought to act as protection for the plant from herbivores by deterring them and attracting predators of herbivores.
In cannabis, terpenes are probably most noticeable in the smell (or the flavor) and explain why different strains can have such different odors, ranging from citrusy to sweet to spicy. This makes it very easy (after a little practice) to identify which terpenes a strain contains just by smelling it.
As they do in essential oils, terpenes in cannabis have different properties that are thought to be therapeutic for different needs. Just like THC and CBD, terpenes attach to receptors in the brain and as a result, have various effects on the mind and body.
So, wondering which terpenes your cannabis contains, what they do, and where else you can find them? There are at least 120 identified terpene compounds in cannabis plants, so it would take a long time to look at all of them.
Below are six of the most common cannabis terpenes to get you started. The boiling point of the terpene is important to keep in mind if you are cooking with cannabis, as heating it beyond this point will see you lose the terpenes benefit as it burns off.
(You can find more on terpenes with Using Terpenes and Scent to Choose Cannabis Strains)
Pinene helps alleviate inflammation and asthma, as well as increases memory retention and alertness. Its aroma is a sharp, sweet pine smell, and it is also found in conifers, pine, and sage. It has a boiling point of 155°C (311°F)
Linalool is believed to combat insomnia, stress, depression, anxiety, pain, and convulsions. Its effects are thought to be sedating and calming. It has a floral, citrus, and spicy aroma and is also found in lavender, citrus fruits, laurel, birch, and rosewood. It has a boiling point of 198°C (388°F).
Caryophyllene is thought to work as an antioxidant as well as helping with inflammation, muscle spasms, pain, and insomnia. It has no known physical effects. It has a pepper, wood, and spice aroma and is also found in pepper, cloves, hops, basil, and oregano. The boiling point is 160°C (320°F).
Myrcene works as an antiseptic, an anti-bacterial, and an anti-fungal, as well as helping with reducing inflammation. It is sedating and relaxing, probably a result of its ability to enhance the effects of the THC in cannabis. Myrcene’s aroma has notes of musk, clove, herbal, and citrus. It is also found in mango, thyme, citrus, lemongrass, and bay leaf. The boiling point is 168°C (334°F).
Limonene is supposed to be good for gastric reflux. It also works as an anti-fungal while helping to reduce depression and anxiety. The effects of limonene are elevated mood and stress relief. It smells heavily of citrus, of lemon and orange. No surprise then that it is found in citrus rind as well as juniper and peppermint. The boiling point is 176°C (349°F).
Humulene is thought to assist with pain relief, and it works as an anti-inflammatory and an anti-bacterial. Its physical effect is that it suppresses appetite. It has a woody, earthy aroma and is also found in hops and coriander. Its boiling point is 198°C (388°F).
At first glance, some of these benefits can be associated with the effects of THC or CBD by themselves, such as relaxation or pain relief. It is worth looking a little deeper into which strains you are ingesting, however, as the particular terpene associated with it could only heighten these effects or add to them.
Labs that create medical marijuana are starting to map out the terpene profile of different strains and manipulate them by increasing the content of one type of terpene or crossing strains to add another terpene. This is interesting because it means we could reach a time when cannabis strains could be tailor-made to focus their active ingredients on a specific effect.
Learning to identify terpenes is a great skill to have in terms of widening your knowledge of cannabis. Think of it in the same way how wine tasters identify the region or type of the wine they are drinking and what food it compliments best.
With terpenes, you are identifying which strain of cannabis complements your needs best at that time. Learning how to do this can only serve to make you appreciate cannabis more and make you a true connoisseur.
(Find out about terpenes and medical marijuana with Prescribing Cannabinoids: The Terpene Connection).