Since the legalization of cannabis in most nations, many people and researchers now focus on the THC and CBD compounds of cannabis. Cannabis is also very rich in terpenes, compounds that give plants their smell, offer protection from predators, and provide health benefits.
The magic of terpenes
Cannabis is a varied family of plants, with many different strains, all of which have their own distinctive terpene profile. Terpenes are compounds that occur naturally in plants, giving them flavour and scent. For example, if asked to smell an orange or a strawberry with your eyes closed, it should be a no brainer, thanks to terpenes.
Different oils, such as olive and canola oil, have their unique values. Similarly, the terpene profile of a cannabis strain will also determine how the variety will affect you. It means that the smell of the strain says a lot about the quality of the strain and the potential effects.
According to the entourage effect, combining cannabis compounds can be more beneficial than only consuming single compounds. Terpenes and CBD have a symbiotic relationship, helping the body absorb CBD better. In this way, they improve the health benefits of both CBD and terpenes. Together with CBD, terpenes decrease the psychoactive effects of THC (the “high”), as well as potential long term memory loss.
Here are some of the main types of terpenes found in cannabis:
- Limonene: Limonene is responsible for the citrus smell that is found in cannabis. Some of its benefits include the potential to help with anxiety, stress, and depression. It can also boost the body's absorption of the other types of terpenes. This terpene is also found in lemons.
- Myrcene: Myrcene is one of the most commonly found terpenes in cannabis. It has a strong earthy or musky aroma reminiscent of cloves and can help towards reducing pain and inflammation. It’s present in mangoes, thyme and lemongrass.
- Pinene (alpha & beta): Pinene is most commonly linked to pine trees as it adds to their distinctive aroma. It is thought to help reduce inflammation and have a distinctly positive effect on the respiratory system by increasing airflow to the lungs. This being said, if you are smoking your cannabis, then the effect will be mostly negated. It’s also in basil and rosemary.
- Caryophyllene: Caryophyllene has a peppery and woody aroma and it’s the only terpene known to bind to cannabinoid receptors and activate the endocannabinoid system. It has the potential to provide anti-inflammatory properties. This terpene is also found in black pepper, cloves and cinnamon.
- Linalool: Linalool has a strong floral aroma and it’s commonly associated with the typical cannabis smell. It has the potential to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia due to its strong sedative and relaxing effects. It’s also found in lavender.
Terpenes provide heightened effects, and this makes them a crucial consideration when selecting the right type of cannabis for you. According to research from 2011, terpenes work together with CBD to enhance each other’s effects in the human body. THC is psychoactive, which means that it alters your thinking and perception - it’s what makes you ‘high’ and can bring unpleasant side-effects.
That study also revealed that interaction between CBD and terpenes can either decrease or increase the impact of THC when interacting with the endocannabinoid system. For example, myrcene increases the effects of THC, resulting in pain relief, sleepiness, and reduced inflammation. On the other hand, limonene has the potential to decrease depression. If you understand these differences, you will know the right type of cannabis for you.
Flavour and Taste
Each person loves different tastes and flavours, which this is why some prefer the smell of lavender to roses, and it’s the same with cannabis strains. Each strain has a unique terpene profile which suits different people. As terpenes have various effects, smell and flavour are also associated with different effects.
One researcher undertook a study to assess the views of consumers concerning the different smells of cannabis strains. The researcher used sensory evaluations mechanisms on untrained consumers to determine their perceptions. The results showed that consumers know the differences among strains of weed and relate them with smoking interest, price, and potency.
If you’re in a place where it is legal to buy cannabis (like Canada), then ensure that you get it from reputable vendors who will be able to help you. If it’s illegal where you live, try to ask your dealer about the strain and where it’s from. You can look up strains on Leafly (link).
We use cannabis for various reasons. If you’re looking for a variety that will address an underlying health condition, getting information about the terpenes is essential. A 2018 study investigated the health benefits of terpenes in cannabis. The researcher assessed three essential oils obtained from three different strains of cannabis. The varieties showed a distinct terpene profiles and the findings show that the terpenes had anti-inflammatory properties.
Here’s some common conditions and the terpenes that might be best to address them:
- Management of neurodegeneration: linalool
- Management of insomnia: myrcene and linalool
- Reduce swelling: humulene, limonene, linalool and myrcene
- Reduce anxiety: limonene and linalool
- Manage pain: myrcene, limonene, and linalool
Cannabinoids possess many untapped properties. Terpenes are important in the therapeutic properties of cannabis and we are waking up to it. More research is needed to determine the full nature and extent of this but the future of cannabis is certainly set to be exciting. For now, try to research the terpene profile of the strains that you are buying and see if it fits with the effects that you are looking for.
This post was created for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you plan on using cannabis check out our cannabis harm reduction guide to learn about the experience, dosage, legality and more.
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This post was written by Jess, a guest contributor.
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