What are terpenes?
The term “terpene” is derived from the word “terpentine”, an obsolete spelling of the word “turpentine” and was first coined by a German chemist August Kekulé in 1866. Terpenes represent a huge, diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, foods and insects. Terpenes are the primary components and building blocks of essential oils, resins and balms and they’re the ones responsible for different smells and aromas. Anything that is plant-derived and smells aromatic contains some combination of terpenes.
Words terpenes and terpenoids are becoming increasingly interchangeable, although they do have different meanings and represent different chemical compounds. Terpenes are hydrocarbons — meaning they are composed only of hydrogen and carbon atoms, while terpenoids represent oxidized terpene atoms – a process naturally occuring by drying and curing of the plants.
What do terpenes do?
Terpenes do more than just provide flavor and aroma. They have many desirable properties and are used in food, cosmetics, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Plants produce terpenes in order to protect themselves against pests, disease and other environmental dangers. They’re also responsible for regeneration, immunity defense, oxygenation and many other uses.
Terpenes act on neurotransmitters and receptors and they are prone to combine with or dissolve in fats or lipids. They act as serotonin uptake inhibitors, enhance norepinephrine activity, increase dopamine activity and they augment GABA. The whole aromatherapy is based on various
What are different types of terpenes?
Broadly speaking, all terpenes can be broken down in four main categories – sweet, sour, spicy and bitter and each category can be further broken down into more specific smells.
Scientifically speaking, terpenes are classified by the number of isoprene units in the molecule, indicating the number of terpene units needed to assemble the molecule and they are: hemiterpenes, monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, diterpenes, sesterterpenes, triterpenes, sesquiterpenes, tetraterpenes, polyterpenes and norisoprenoids.
Terpenes in cannabis
The development of terpenes in cannabis began for adaptive purposes – to attract pollinators and to repel insects and pests, guarding the plants from various predators or bacteria and viruses. Many factors play an important role in producing terpenes, such as climate, soil type, intensity or spectrum of the light, maturation, age, weather and even the time of day – plants tend to produce more of them during sunny and warm periods.
Soon after discovering the first cannabinoids, in the 1950s, terpenes were also found abundant in the cannabis plants. Many studies and research show that terpenes interact with cannabinoids and some even with cannabis receptors themselves. They can increase, trigger or block some of the effects produced by various cannabinoids and play a huge and important role in the entourage effect, which describes the synergy of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and other 400+ plant compounds found in cannabis.
There are more than 200 different terpenes found in cannabis, some are more common and more abundant than others. Each cannabis strain has its own terpene profile but they do tend to vary because of the different climates and environmental factors. Most common terpene found in cannabis is myrcene, especially abundant in Indica-dominant plants, while Sativa-dominant plants usually tend to have more diverse and complex terpene profiles.
Along with cannabinoids, terpenes are responsible for the effects users get when consuming cannabis. They affect the type of “high” one might get but they’re also responsible for the various medical properties and effects cannabis provides.
Some terpenes are more volatile than others, so properly storing your cannabis is key to keeping it smelling nice and fragrant. When exposed to higher temperatures, sunlight or even with time, terpenes tend to deteriorate, affecting the overall potency and medicinal effects of cannabis.
And while terpenes are an essential part of the cannabis plant, many extracts and concentrates, especially isolates, are either lacking in them or have them re-introduced back into those products. Many of those products use terpenes isolated from other plants or even the ones synthetically made and you can find various isolated terpenes on their own. Although there’s no considerable difference between terpenes isolated from cannabis plants and those isolated from other plants, the “whole-plant” or “full-spectrum” products offer the ratios and levels of terpenes as they are in the plants themselves and various other products tend to change or add more of them in order to have a better market appeal.
Here is the list of the most commonly found terpenes in cannabis and their properties:
Myrcene has a musky, earthy and herbal aroma – akin to cloves. It can also be found in mango, eucalyptus, hops, wild thyme, citrus fruits, bay leaves, lemongrass and many other plants. It is a potent analgesic and acts as a sedative, muscle relaxant, pain relief, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antimutagenic. It’s the most abundant terpene in modern day cannabis strains.
Pinene’s aroma is piney and firy, slightly woody, reminding users of fresh mountain air. It can also be found in balsamic resin, pine wood and some citrus fruits. It is anti-inflammatory, expectorant, and lessens the bronchodilator and local antiseptic effects of THC. It boosts energy and improves memory and focus.
Limonene has a strong citrusy smell like oranges, lemons and limes. It is abundant in rosemary, juniper and peppermint, citrus fruit rinds, as well as in several pine needle oils. It’s known to suppress the growth of many species of bacteria, improves mood, relieves nausea and acts as an antidepressant and anti-anxiety compound.
Caryophyllene’s aromas are spicy, woody and peppery. It’s found in black pepper, cotton, cloves, hops, basil and oregano. It’s gastroprotective, anti-oxidant, has anti-inflammatory properties and is used to treat pain, insomnia and muscle spasms.
Linalool has a sweet floral and lavender aroma. It’s found in mints, lavender, laurel, birch and rosewood. It’s used to treat insomnia, stress, psychosis, depression, anxiety, reduce lung inflammation, pain and convulsions and boost the immune system.
Terpinolene has a piney aroma with slight herbal and floral undertones. It’s found in sage, rosemary, nutmeg, cumin and Monterey cypress. It’s used to induce drowsiness and sleep or to reduce psychological excitement or anxiety.
Camphene smells like damp woodland and fir needles. It’s found in essential oils such as turpentine, camphor oil, citronella oil, neroli, valerian and ginger oil. It’s effect may play a crucial role in treating various cardiovascular diseases.
Terpineol smells of lilacs and flower blossoms. It’s often found in cannabis strains with high pinene levels as well as in cajuput oil, pine oil, and petitgrain oil. It’s effects are calming and relaxing and it works as an antibiotic, ache inhibitor and also has antioxidant and antimalarial properties.
Phellandrene’s aroma is pepperminty with slight hints of citrus. It’s found in a number of herbs and spices including cinnamon, garlic, dill, ginger and parsley. It helps with digestive disorders and prevents and treats systemic fungal infections.
Carene has a pungent sweet and earthy odor with piney undertones. It’s also found in rosemary, basil, bell pepper, cedar, turpentine, cypress oil, juniper berry oil and fir needle oil. It acts as a central nervous system depressant and dries out excess body fluids as well as combats fibromyalgia, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
Humulene smells woody, earthy, herbal and spicy. It’s found in coriander and hops and it’s what gives beer its distinctive ‘hoppy’ aroma. It has anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anorectic properties and is also used as an appetite suppressant .
Pulegone has a pleasant peppermint or camphor aroma. It’s usually found in catnip, pennyroyal and rosemary. Its effects are sedative and fever-reducing and it also helps in alleviating the side-effects of short-term memory loss.
Sabinene’s aromas are a mixture of pines, oranges and spices. It’s also found in Norway spruce, holm oak, black pepper, carrot seed oil, basil and Myristica fragrans. It’s used as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.
Geraniol has a sweet and pleasant rose-like aroma. It’s found in rose, palmarosa and citronella oil and also occurs in smaller quantities in lemon and geranium. It’s an effective insect, especially mosquito repellent and shows promise in treatment of neuropathy. Geraniol is also produced by honeybees in order to locate the entrances to their hives and mark nectar-bearing flowers.
Ocimene has a sweet, woody and herbal aroma, often with citrusy and earthy undertones. It’s also found in plants such as mint, mangoes, hops, mangoes, orchids, parsley, basil, pepper, and kumquats and is often used in the perfume industry. It has potential antiviral, antiseptic, decongestant, anti-fungal and antibacterial therapeutic properties.
Nerolidol, or alternatively called peruviol and penetrol, has a woody or floral aroma reminding you of fresh tree bark. Aside from cannabis, it’s also found in essential oils of many flowers and plants, such as jasmine, orchids and jasmine. Nerolidol has sedative, antifungal, antibacterial, anticancer and anti-anxiety properties and works as a sleep aid and pest repellent.
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