From attracting pollinators to warding off fungal infections, terpenes play a number of roles in plant life and nature.
They also play a role in the medical cannabis community, where they’re believed to contribute to the unique therapeutic effects some patients experience.
But what are terpenes and why are they important? For a primer on terpenes, and the potential benefits these natural wonders may provide, read below.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a diverse group of aromatic compounds that can be found in a variety of plants, including fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
They are responsible for the fragrances and flavours we associate with certain plants. For example, the terpene limonene contributes to the aromas imparted by citrus fruit, and their taste.
Like other plants, cannabis also produces terpenes. Different cannabis strains have different combinations and concentrations of terpenes, which provide some of the distinguishing characteristics that make each cultivar unique.
To date, there have been hundreds of terpenes identified in nature. Likely, there are many more that have yet to be discovered.
The Entourage Effect
From antimicrobial to anti-cancer activities, terpenes have shown a range of effects on human cells in a number of preliminary studies.
This evidence, coupled with studies suggesting a patient’s response to medical cannabis may involve more than cannabinoids (the chemical compounds that are unique to cannabis), has led to a theory known as the “entourage effect.”
The entourage effect theory suggests that terpenes and cannabinoids, such as Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), may work synergistically to produce therapeutic benefits.
Based on this theory, it has been proposed that terpenes may complement cannabinoid therapy.1
More research, however, must be done to fully understand the therapeutic effects of terpenes in humans as well as the entourage effect.
Pinene: Among the most researched terpenes, pinene is found in coniferous trees and rosemary. Studies point to pinene as being anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and a bronchodilator (an agent that improves respiration and airflow to the lungs).1
Myrcene: A dominant terpene in many cannabis strains, myrcene can be found in mangoes, bay leaves, and lemongrass. Myrcene has been studied for blocking hepatic carcinogenesis (liver cancer development), and its sedative properties. Myrcene in combination with THC, for example, is thought to contribute to the “couch-lock” effect (physical sedation) some cannabis users experience. 1,2
Limonene: As mentioned above, limonene is found in citrus fruit such as lemons, oranges, and limes. Limonene is a common additive in foods, household cleaning products, and perfumes. Clinically, limonene has shown efficacy in treating cholesterol-containing gallstones, heartburn, and acid reflux. In rodents, limonene has also shown anti-cancer properties to slow down, or prevent, tumour growth. 3
Linalool: A fragrance in many personal-care products, linalool is found in lavender, jasmine, rosewood, and thyme. Linalool has been studied for its effects on a range of health conditions, from Alzheimer’s disease to lung damage.4,5
Humulene: Found in hops, sage, ginger, and cloves. Research suggests humulene may be helpful in managing inflammatory diseases, and that it may also have anti-cancer properties. 6
While a keen sense of smell can help determine a cannabis strain’s terpenes, referring to its Certificate of Analysis (CoA) provides the complete profile.
For Green Relief patients, these CoAs are issued by an independent, third-party laboratory, and are available for download through the patient portal.
As well as details about cannabinoids and terpenes,* CoAs inform patients of what’s not in a product, specifically contaminants such as microbes, moulds, heavy metals, and pesticides.
Not only do CoAs make choosing the right product easier, they also provide patients with the peace of mind their medical cannabis is safe to meet their health and wellness goals.
*Please note: For Green Relief’s botanical oils, terpene information can be found by referring to the corresponding dried flower product’s CoA. Concentrations may vary.
1. Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163: 1344-1364. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x
2. Ciftci O, Ozdemir I, Tanyildizi S, Yildiz S, Oguzturk H. (2011). Antioxidative effects of curcumin, β-myrcene and 1,8-cineole against 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin-induced oxidative stress in rats liver. Toxicol Ind Health, 27(5):447-53. doi: 10.1177/0748233710388452.
3. Sun, Jidong. (2007). D-limonene: Safety and clinical applications. Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic. 12. 259-64.
4. Sabogal Guaqueta, Angelica & Osorio, Edison & Cardona-Gómez, Gloria. (2015). Linalool reverses neuropathological and behavioral impairments in old triple transgenic Alzheimer´s mice. Neuropharmacology. 102. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2015.11.002.
5. Ma J, Xu H, Wu J, Qu C, Sun F, Xu S. Linalool inhibits cigarette smoke-induced lung inflammation by inhibiting NF-κB activation. Int Immunopharmacol. 2015;29:708–713. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2015.09.005.
6. Fernandes, Elizabeth S. & Passos, Giselle & Medeiros, Rodrigo & Da Cunha, Fernanda & Ferreira, Juliano & Campos, Maria & Pianowski, Luiz & Calixto, João. (2007). Anti-inflammatory effects of compounds alpha-humulene and (−)-trans-caryophyllene isolated from the essential oil of Cordia verbenacea. European journal of pharmacology. 569. 228-36. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2007.04.059.