What are Terpenes?

selective focus photography of cannabis sativa plant

If you’re any kind of cannabis connoisseur, you’ve probably heard the words “terpene” or “terps” by now. They’re one of the integral ingredients of our favorite plant. But for those who are unfamiliar with the term, terps are key contributors to the varying effects from different strain profiles.

shallow focus photography of green leaves

So, what exactly are they?

Terpenes — terps for short — are the aromatic compounds that produce fragrance in many plants. That means they are to blame for the notorious weed stench. Whether it’s a smell you love or hate, you know it from a mile away. 

The journal Chemico- Biological Interactions reported that while research on the effects of terps is still evolving, science suggests they have a range of health benefits. They may be responsible for the believed healing powers of aromatherapy through essential oils, as well, reported IntechOpen. 

There are different terpenes in each strain of cannabis, which is why each has its own aroma. The evolutionary function of terpenes is to protect the plant, either by repelling predators or attracting pollinators, reported Leafly

As science on the effects of terpenes advances, it starts to point to the theory that terpenes may contribute to the varying effects of different cannabis strains, too. Though, it is important to note that the research is still developing.

There are many different types of terpenes, and even more that scientists have yet to identify. Four of the most common terpenes found in cannabis are myrcene, limonene, pinene and caryophyllene. 

 

Myrcene

According to Leafly, myrcene is the most common type of terpene found in cannabis. Many users believe it to have calming effects to the mind and body. Studies show that myrcene also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics, Science Direct reported. 

Strains that contain high levels of myrcene include: OG Kush, Agent Orange, and Great Ape.

 

Limonene

Limonene is another common terpene, though it is more abundant in fruits like lime and orange – it’s what produces the citrus scent, according to Medical News Today. Some studies suggest that limonene may have immunity boosting benefits. In cannabis, many believe it has anti-anxiety and stress relieving benefits.

Strains that contain high levels of limonene: Strawberry Banana, Wedding Cake, White Fire OG. 

 

Pinene

Pinene is the most abundant terpene in nature. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory benefits as well as therapeutic benefits for the psyche, according to Medical News Today. 

It may also be responsible for the pseudoscientific notion of “getting some fresh air,” as it causes bronchodilation, or the relaxation of the respiratory airway of the lungs, allowing more air into the lungs, as reported by a study in Inhalation Toxicology.

Strains that contain high levels of pinene: Blue Dream, Cotton Candy Kush, Granddaddy Purple.

 

Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene is the only terpene in cannabis that also acts as a cannabinoid, which are the compounds that enter the body’s endocannabinoid system and affect functions of the brain, according to Leafly. It is considered to have anti-inflammatory and stress relieving benefits.

 

Strains that contain high levels of caryophyllene: Sour Diesel, Bubba Kush, Purple Punch.

green kush in clear plastic container

The emerging research on terpenes proposes that there are powerful benefits in the compounds. However, studies so far show that users need high concentrations to feel effects.

Because the research is rather limited, it will be interesting to see where the science on terps goes in the next few years. As cannabis legalization continues to be a topic of interest, it’s likely that we will see new research develop sooner rather than later. 

 

Emerald contributor since October 2020

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