THC and CBD are two of the most well-known chemical compounds that make up cannabis and can provide medical benefits. But there’s also another therapeutic compound to know about: Terpenes.
In this post, we’ll go over what terpenes are and why they matter in your treatment.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are the oils that give cannabis its smell and flavor, but they can also have medicinal benefits.
Cannabis plants can contain multiple terpenes—and the combination helps make each strain (or type) unique. This means plant breeders have many possible combinations and can grow a plant with specific characteristics in mind. This is part of the reason why cannabis can be a personalized medication and can work for various conditions.
There are about 200 different terpenes found in the cannabis plant.
You may have heard cannabis experts commenting on the smell of certain strains. For example, terpenes make the marijuana strain “Blueberry” smell like berries.
Similarly, terpenes are also found in many other plants, not just the cannabis plant. They’re responsible for the citrus scent of lemons and the refreshing fragrance of peppermint leaves.
Potential Medicinal Benefits of Terpenes
Like cannabinoids, terpenes can also play a role in the physiological and psychological effects of a certain strain.
As a 2011 study concluded, breeding cannabis for their terpene content can strengthen and broaden clinical applications.
For example, sedation is a common effect of terpenes. A 1993 study showed that over 40 terpenes have sedative effects when inhaled by mice. Linalool was the most sedating and reduced mouse motility by 73%. Knowing this, licensed producers may choose to grow cannabis specifically to have high amounts of linalool to help patients with anxiety or insomnia.
Fortunately, since many of the terpenes in cannabis are present in other plants, researchers have already studied many of their specific benefits, which we detail later on in this post.
Terpenes and the Entourage Effect
Terpenes not only have their own set of potential therapeutic benefits, but they can make the benefits of cannabinoids stronger.
Terpenes also act in a similar way to cannabinoids (marijuana’s chemicals) in the endocannabinoid system.
They contribute to what’s known as the “entourage effect.” This means that when terpenes interact with cannabinoids, they increase each other’s therapeutic benefits substantially. Put simply, they’re more effective when they’re present together than alone.
However, since there are so many different terpenes and cannabinoids, more research needs to be done to fully understand the benefits of the effect.
What Role Can Terpenes Play in Your Treatment with Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana doctors can match a condition to a strain that has certain terpenes present. For example:
- A patient looking for painkilling effects may be prescribed a strain high in the terpene linalool, which is known to relieve pain.
- Strains high in the terpene limonene may be recommended for a patient suffering from depression.
- A patient with arthritis may benefit from a strain that has caryophyllene, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
If you’re eligible, a doctor will authorize you a prescription for medical marijuana, which allows you to purchase your medicine from a licensed producer (LP). Unlike illegal dispensaries, LPs must test their products to ensure they’re accurately labelling them. One of the things that analysis labs can test for is terpene content. This means that when you get a prescription, the amount of therapeutic terpenes you’re getting is accurately reported.
Some family physicians may recommend marijuana-based pharmaceutical drugs. However, some drugs, such as Marinol, only contain the cannabinoid THC. Unfortunately, THC alone does not contain terpenes, lessening the drug’s potential therapeutic effects. Interestingly, this could be one reason why 98% of people like natural cannabis more than Marinol, according to a 2011 survey.
Below are some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis.
A 1997 study found that myrcene was one of the most abundant terpenes in cannabis. It has sedative effects and multiple therapeutic properties. It can be potentially used as an effective muscle relaxant, painkiller and anti-inflammatory. Myrcene has an earthy aroma and can also be found in mangos and lemongrass.
Pinene has an aroma similar to a pine tree and can also be found in herbs like rosemary and basil. It can help with alertness and asthma and may be used as an anti-inflammatory. THC is sometimes associated with short-term memory loss, but pinene helps counteract this side effect.
As you probably guessed, limonene has a citrus aroma. It has reported antifungal and anti-bacterial properties and may improve mood. Limonene can also make it easier for your body to absorb other terpenes and chemicals.
Linalool has a floral aroma that’s also found in lavender. In studies, linalool has been found to have anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant and antidepressant properties.
Spices such as oregano and basil also have high amounts of this terpene. Caryophyllene has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies also suggest that this terpene could be helpful in treating anxiety and depression. Interestingly, some people recommend taking a whiff of black pepper to calm cannabis-induced anxiety (a possible side effect of high-THC medication). One reason why some people report that this works may be that black pepper also contains caryophyllene, which may have mood-altering properties.
If you know what eucalyptus oil smells like, then you’re familiar with the scent of this terpene. Some research has shown that eucalyptol can help asthma. It may also have anti-inflammatory, anti-leukemia and immunosuppressive properties. One study found that eucalyptol is almost exclusively found in sativa strains.
Strains with high amounts of humulene may smell similar to coriander. In studies, the terpene has demonstrated possible antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
Ocimene is also found in other plants such as mint and parsley. It may have antiviral and antifungal properties and may also help with decongestion. One study found that sativa-dominant strains had the highest concentration of ocimene.
Since cannabis has so many compounds, it’s often ineffective to self-medicate. Medical marijuana doctors can help you personalize your treatment.