Terpenes and Terpenoids
More than 700 chemical constituents are produced within the cannabis plant, of which the phytocannabinoids and terpenoids are the principal active ingredients. Did you know the cannabis plant produces more than 200 terpenes?
Terpenes are the most common plant chemicals in nature. Terpenes and terpenoids are the compounds in cannabis that give the plants and their flowers their aromatic diversity and distinct flavors. They exist throughout the botanical world and are found in many other plants, herbs, and fruits. They are essential oils that are secreted in cannabis flowers' resin glands (trichomes), where cannabinoids are also produced. They are pharmacologically active and synergistic with cannabinoids. Cannabis consumers take note of terpenes and terpenoids primarily because of their pungent, aromatic distinctions. Terpenes have a wide-ranging therapeutic attributes and whether consumers realize it or not, "the nose knows"!
For a very long time, a small handful of cannabinoids were thought to be the only active pharmacological constituents of cannabis. Over the last decade, researchers have tried to understand why users claim that different varieties of herbal cannabis appear to produce differing medicinal or psychoactive effects. One explanation for the variation is a synergy between cannabinoids and each other, plus the interactions of cannabinoids and terpenoids/terpenes.
It is now believed that cannabinoids and terpenes, acting in synergy, are responsible for the differences in both medicinal and psychoactive effects produced by cannabis varieties, which is called the “entourage effect”.
The words terpene and terpenoid are increasingly used interchangeably, although these terms do have different meanings. The main difference between is the chemical composition: terpenes are hydrocarbons (meaning the only element present are carbon and hydrogen); whereas, terpenoids have been chemically modified by oxidation.
The relationship between strains and their terpenes has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. A recent statistical analysis of cannabis varieties showed that terpenoid alcohols (distinguished by names ending in the suffix “-ol”), such as linalool, bisabool, and guaiol, were nearly all found in indica varieties. The terpenes associated with sativa-type effects were terpinolene and beta-caryophyllene.
Terpenes are pharmacologically active, even in trace amounts. Cannabinoids may increase the ability of terpenes to cross the blood/brain barrier, by increasing membrane permeability.
Alpha-pinene and beta-pinene are monoterpenes found in many conifers. Pinene is responsible for much of the aroma of Christmas trees. It is also the primary ingredient in turpentine.
Pinene inhibits enzyme activity in the brain and this inhibition aids short-term memory, which could explain why high-pinene cannabis varieties don’t cause the memory issues associated with other high-THC varieties.
Limonene is a common monoterpene in citrus fruits, especially their peels. Limonene and terpinolene are the terpenes responsible for the citrusy scent found in cannabis varieties. In cannabis, limonene is associated with euphoric effects. Clinical studies with limonene and citrus oil have also demonstrated a significant antidepressive effect.
Myrcene is typically associated with an indica-type or “couchlock” effect in cannabis and is the distinguishing characteristics of cultivar ACDC. Myrcene relaxes muscles in animal models and also increases the effects of sedative drugs. Myrcene also exhibits a range of pharmacological effects including anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity. Myrcene content is strongly linked to cultivars considered to be indica.
Beta-caryophyllene is the most common cannabis sesquiterpene , and is linked to stimulating effects in some varieties. It is dominant in the Cookies family of cultivars and is expressed in some groups of cultivars that are low in myrcene. Beta-caryophyllene strongly interacts with the CB2 receptor and is also produced by black pepper, cloves, and hops. CB2 activity makes beta-caryophyllene a true cannabinoid. It is a potent anti-inflammatory compound and exhibits analgesic activity-- making it a promising anti-arthritis compound.
Linalool is found in lavender and is mildly psychoactive. This naturally occurring chemical is associated with calming, anti anxiety effects. It can be found in varieties, especially purple indica strains. Medicinally, linalool is potently sedative, analgesic, and anesthetic.
A citrusy terpene, associated with highly stimulating cannabis varieties such as Jack Herer, Trainwreck, etc. While sometimes claimed to be sedative, terpinolene is strongly associated with cognitive clarity and sativa strains.
Monoterpenes are light molecules that evaporate quickly and are called "top notes" by the perfume industry. They are the main component of plant essential oils and are the primary contributors to the organoleptic (acting on the use of the sense organs i.e.. Smelling, tasting) properties associated with various herbs, spices, citrus, conifers, and most flowers and fruits. "Live" concentrates typically contain a higher amount of monoterpenes that "cured" products, or ones that are made from dried materials.
As monoterpenes are exposed to heat and/or oxygen, they go through the process of thermal degradation (heat exposure) and oxidation (oxygen exposure). This changes the smell and taste as well as the effect, usually giving it a more complex aroma. Products are more likely to be high in sesquiterpenes if they are made from dried and cured plant material as opposed to fresh frozen plant material.