Terpenes are organic compounds common to the plant kingdom and some species of insects, 200 of which have been identified in the cannabis plant. These molecules are responsible for strong aromas, have been used in medicine since ancient China, and play a critical role in creating the unique therapeutic effects attributed to cannabis. Some of the more prominent terpenes found in cannabis are
Linalool, Caryophyllene, Terpineol, Myrcene, Limonene, and Humulene.
Benefits & Effects
Terpenes are highly bioactive and demonstrate a wide variety of therapeutic effects, ranging from relaxation to stimulation, to pain relief. When it comes to pain relief, terpenes can exert beneficial effects in many ways; for example, by interacting with the endogenous opioid system, by influencing neurotransmitters, and by modulating inflammatory compounds. Terpenes also demonstrate nootropic benefits for cognition, helping to improve memory and focus. Inhalation of terpenes in lemon oil has been shown to increase dopamine and serotonin, leading to antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. Many terpenes are also antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Fortunately, most terpenes are also generally recognized as safe, since they occur naturally in foods and tend to be non-sensitizing to the skin.
Another terpenoid found in cannabis with noteworthy effects is myrcene, which exhibits both anti-inflammatory and opioid-type analgesic effects. In contrast to the stimulating properties of Pinene, terpene Myrcene has relaxing and sedative effects. Myrcene has a musky, fruity, clove-like scent and it occurs in cannabis, as well as in hops, eucalyptus, lemongrass, basil, thyme, and mango. Myrcene has been shown to enhance the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and to increase the maximum saturation level of CB1 receptors. This property helps to synergistically enhance the effects of cannabinoids and other compounds that are taken along with myrcene. According to anecdotal evidence, consumption of mango before cannabis use can accelerate the onset and intensify the effects of cannabis, possibly because of the synergistic effects of myrcene. Myrcene is anti-inflammatory and analgesic, helping to relieve pain and muscle tension, and its sedative effects help with insomnia. Myrcene may mediate the body’s natural endogenous opioid system to help relieve pain.
A study that compared myrcene to morphine for pain relief showed that in contrast to morphine, myrcene did not show any tolerance after 5 days of consecutive treatment. Myrcene also acts as a muscle relaxant and can be used in the treatment of muscle spasms. Indica strains of cannabis, known for the relaxing “couch-lock” effect often have greater than 0.5% Myrcene, while Sativa strains normally contain less than 0.5% Myrcene and tend to be less sedating.
Medical Benefits: Antiseptic, Antibacterial, Antifungal, Anti-Inflammatory
Effects: Sedating, Relaxing, Enhances THC’s Psychoactive
Also Found In Mango, Thyme, Hops, Lemongrass, Basil
Limonene is one of the main terpenes formed from Pinene, and it has a distinct citrus odor. In addition to cannabis, limonene is also found in peppermint, orange, rosemary, and juniper. Limonene is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and it’s shown promise as a pain reliever. Limonene is readily bioavailable, with rates of absorption up to 70% via inhalation, and it also aids in the uptake of other compounds applied topically or absorbed via mucous membranes or the digestive tract. Limonene may help alleviate gastrointestinal complaints such as reflux or heartburn, and it is antidepressant and anxiolytic, helping to elevate mood and alleviate stress and anxiety. Limonene, like many terpenes, is also antibacterial and antifungal.
Medical Benefits: Antidepressant, Anti-Anxiety, Anti-Reflux, Antifungal
Effects: Elevated Mood, Stress Relief
Also Found In Orange, Juniper, Peppermint
Linalool is a terpene distinguishable by its floral aroma, and in addition to cannabis, it occurs in lavender, citrus, coriander, black pepper, birch, and rosewood. It helps reduce anxiety and improves sleep. Research has shown it can help reduce pain and inflammation, and it also can act as a local anesthetic. Linalool is sometimes used as an anticonvulsant or anti-epileptic, as well as an antidepressant.
Medical Benefits: Improved Sleep, Antidepressant, Anti-Anxiety, Pain Relief, Anticonvulsant
Effects: Sedating, Calming, Stress Relief
Also Found In LaCitrus, CItrus, Coriander, Birch, Rosewood
Caryophyllene acts at CB2 receptors, with demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects, as well as efficacy in the treatment of neuropathic pain. The terpene Caryophyllene has a spicy, woodsy aroma and occurs in plants such as black pepper, Thai basil, cinnamon, and cloves. Caryophyllene is often the predominant terpene found in cannabis extracts or cannabis products that have been heating processed. Drying, storage, and heat decarboxylation cause other compounds in cannabis to convert to Caryophyllene. Caryophyllene is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antifungal. Its action at CB2 receptors mimics the effects of cannabinoids, and when combined with CBD, Caryophyllene has a synergistic entourage effect to help relieve inflammation and neuropathic pain. A clinical trial that evaluated the analgesic effects of inhalation of black pepper oil showed that black pepper essential oil resulted in a significant reduction in pain intensity compared to placebo. Black pepper essential oil has also been shown to reduce nicotine cravings and help to retreat addictions. Caryophyllene may also be helpful for gastrointestinal complaints such as ulcers. It’s FDA-recognized as a food additive and is generally recognized as safe.
Medical Benefits: Antioxidant, Anti-Inflammatory, Antispasmodic, Pain Relief, Improved Sleep
Effects: No known physical effects
Also Found In Black Pepper, Cloves Hops, Basil, Oregano
Humulene is very closely related to Caryophyllene, with the same chemical formula and a slightly different structure. Humulene is found most notably in hops and cannabis, but also in basil, coriander, and clove. It has a spicy, woodsy, or earthy smell, also associated with the “hoppy” aroma of beers. In contrast to the common reputation cannabis has for increasing appetite, Humulene on its own seems to suppress appetite. Humulene is also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.
Medical Benefits: Anti-Inflammatory, Antibacterial, Pain Relief
Effects: Suppresses Appetite
Also Found In Hops, Coriander, Basil, Clove
Terpineol has been shown to induce relaxation and pain relief in animal studies. It has also been shown to attenuate the withdrawal effects of morphine dependency and to reduce the development of tolerance to the analgesic effects of morphine. Terpineol may offer synergistic therapeutic effects with CBD and Caryophyllene in treating addiction.
Medical Benefits: Antioxidant, Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Proliferative
Effects: Sedating, Calming
Also Found In Lilac, Pine Trees, Lime Blossoms