To most people, cannabis is a plant that has relatively straightforward properties that produce a variety of different effects in the user. The chemical compounds in cannabis known as cannabinoids are the active chemical compound ingredients in cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that give the user beneficial medical effects or an intoxicating feeling. THC has been fairly widely studied by scholars and although CBD less so, a fair amount is still known about its properties and more is being learned each day. A lesser known class of chemical compounds found abundantly in cannabis are terpenes. It is known that terpenes give cannabis its smell and taste, but recent studies have indicated that they may have even more health benefits. Preliminary research has shown different terpenes present in cannabis and hemp products may have a plethora of health benefits, which is encouraging when one considers the growing trend in the United States toward the legalization of medical cannabis. As more is learned about specific terpenes, it is possible that these compounds can be utilized in such wide ranging medical treatments as the alleviation of Alzheimer’s disease to the prevention of asthma attacks.
What Are Terpenes?
Since terpenes play such an important role in how medical cannabis works, it is important to understand some of their basic aspects, including how they work and what they do, generally speaking. As mentioned in the introduction, terpenes are the chemicals that give cannabis its distinct aroma, but there is so much more to them, especially when one considers the wide range of different terpenes. Terpenes comprise the largest category of plant chemicals, with over 20,000 known, 140 of which are found in cannabis (Dorm 2013a). Although terpenes cannot be seen, they can be smelled and as more research has been completed, it has been revealed that the aromas vary based on a number of different factors.
Terpenes, like THC, are found primarily in female cannabis plants and recent studies have shown that their aromas vary as much as their different names (Medical Jane 2018). THC enthusiasts have long known that different strains of THC have different aromas, but with the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in a number of states more studies have been conducted into the chemical properties of THC, which includes terpenes. One of the more interesting discoveries is that not only are terpenes responsible for the smell of cannabis in general, but that different terpenes give specific cannabis strains their unique scents. For example, popular strains such as O.G. Kush, Blueberry, and others are for the most part determined by the terpenes present (Medical Jane 2018). Recent research has also ascertained that terpenes account for up to 10% of the trichome content in cannabis, which is what gives certain strains its “stickiness.” Other studies have indicated the terpene content in cannabis is not constant, or does not necessarily need to be, as it increases proportionally to light exposure (Russo 2011).
When considered apart from THC, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems terpenes as safe for human consumption, which may have long-ranging legal impacts on how it is administered with cannabis, particularly CBD oils. In terms of human physiology, terpenes affect the serotonin and dopamine that exist naturally in the human body, regulating those chemicals in a beneficial manner (Medical Jane 2018). It is important to understand that terpenes are as diverse in their effects as they are numerous, with some, such as myrcene, saturating the CB1 receptors in the central nervous system, giving the user the “on the couch effect” sometimes found when high amounts of THC are ingested. Other terpenes have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties that are found in many CBD oils (Medical Jane 2018). Still other terpenes have been shown to dilate the capillaries in the lungs, which can work well with smoked or vaped medical THC (Dorm 2013a). Now that some of the biological basics of terpenes have been explored, an examination of how terpenes work specifically with CBD oils and medical marijuana and the benefits they give the user is warranted.
Terpenes, CBD Oils, and Medical Marijuana
Research into how terpenes interact with CBDs and THC has shown that it can reduce some of the negative side effects of those cannabinoids, while simultaneously increasing the positive effects, depending on the specific terpene in question. As recreational marijuana has been legalized in several states, many are finding out that THC has several medicinal properties along with the more commonly known intoxicating effects, but some people are hesitant to use it because legal marijuana tends to be quite potent. Preliminary research indicates that certain terpenes may inhibit some of the intoxicating effects of THC, especially the anxiety or paranoia, but increase the therapeutic effects, such as those that benefit digestion (Medical Jane 2018). The terpene linalool in particular has been shown to reduce anxiety in THC users (Dorm 2013a), which may have long-range implications for legalized marijuana use.
Much more is known about the potential health benefits of terpenes when utilized properly with CBD or THC. Initial studies indicate that a CBD regimen with high amounts of terpenes may be beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients (Dorm 2013a). Although more research still needs to be conducted before any conclusions can be drawn, the preliminary findings are certainly positive. Even more positive are the potential aid that terpenes can give to those fighting various addictions.
The terpenes myrcene, pinene, and caryophyllene may be conducive to a nicotine cessation program and even more interesting is the connection between terpenes and opiate withdrawal. When used with CBD oils, the terpene caryophyllene has been shown to help those going through opiate withdrawal (Dorm 2013a), which is extremely important when one considers the opioid epidemic that has grasped America and shows no signs of going away anytime soon.
CBD oils and THC with high amounts of certain terpenes have also been shown to alleviate a host of other health maladies. The terpene pinene is a bronchodilator, which can be beneficial to those with asthma (Dorm 2013a), while limonene is a terpene that can reduce acid reflux (Russo 2011). Finally, myrcene has been used for several years in Germany as a natural sleep aid (Russo 2011). As more research is conducted on terpenes, there is little doubt that the chemical compounds will be found to have many more health benefits and as that happens cannabis growers will be forced to find new ways to extract the useful compounds from their crops.
As mentioned earlier, terpene levels increase in cannabis with light exposure, which will no doubt lead growers to experiment in this respect. Some growers are ahead of the curve in this area, while others have begun to experiment with new processes which reintroduce terpenes lost in the growing and manufacturing process back into the plant (Dorm 2013b). The increasing trend toward cannabis legalization in the United States will no doubt lead to even more experiments by industrious growers to increase beneficial terpenes in CBD oils and THC products..
Cannabis and hemp are plants with a plethora of health benefits that due to its formerly illegal status, only recently have scholars, growers, and consumers begun to completely understand. One of the least understood, but highly beneficial chemical compounds, in cannabis are known as terpenes. Terpenes are the chemicals that give cannabis its distinct aroma, but research has shown that they also have a variety of health benefits for the consumer. When carefully regulated, terpenes can mitigate some of the negative effects of cannabinoids, while further enhancing their many positive health benefits. With medical cannabis becoming legal in more and more states, the benefits of terpenes will continue to reveal themselves as research is conducted.
Dorm, Drake. 2013a. “Terpenes May Improve Effectiveness of Medical Marijuana.” medicaljane.com. Accessed December 24, 2018. https://www.medicaljane.com/2013/09/23/terpenes-may-improve-effectiveness-of medical-marijuana/.
Russo, Ethan B. 2011. “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid terpenoid Entourage Effects.” British Journal of Pharmacology 163. August. Accessed December 26, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/.
———. 2013b. “There Is an Increasing Interest in Isolated Terpenes.” medicaljane.com. Accessed December 27. 2018. https://www.medicaljane.com/2013/10/30/terpene isolation-could-be-the-future-of-cannabis/.
Medical Jane. 2018. “Terpenes: Learn How Terpenes Work Synergistically with Cannabinoids.” medicaljane.com. Accessed December 22, 2018. https://www.medicaljane.com/category/cannabis-classroom/terpenes/undefined.
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