Terpenes are natural compounds found in all forms of hemp and cannabis that give the plant its bouquet of smells.
In addition, terpenes work in concert with the better known compounds found in the plant such as the cannabinoids THC and CBD to provide their own unique health benefits.
One reason we enjoy writing about hemp is the opportunity to learn new cannabinoid science and then get to share it with our readers. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, there really is so much more to the cannabis plant than just CBD and THC.
Of course, both of these two cannabinoids, along with the other hundred or so cannabinoids, are instrumental in the healing and feel better properties of the cannabis plant. But increasingly researchers believe other parts of the hemp plant work synergistically with the cannabinoids to maximize the healing properties, Today’s article focuses on one of those parts: terpenes. While all forms of hemp contain terpenes, some are especially prevalent in psychoactive cannabis (“marijuana”), which we’ve noted below.
Table of Contents
- Video: An introduction to terpenes in hemp
- What are terpenes?
- Learn about different common terpenes
- How to use terpenes for better health
What are terpenes?
Cannabis isn’t the only plant that produces terpenes. According to Wikipedia, terpenes “are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers.” Terpenes give these plants their unique scents and assist plants in a variety of ways.
Terpenes attract pollenating insects for plant reproduction. They also ward off or even kill predators. They slow plant maturation and regulate metabolism. Terpenes are a major component of plants’ essential oils. Aromatherapy treatments frequently use terpenes due to their medicinal properties. Some terpenes develop because of stress to a plant, like excessive heat.
The exact number of terpenes found in the cannabis plant ranges between 100-200 depending on different variations in scientific classification.
For example, the popular terpene limonene gives citrus fruits their unique smells. It is found in both lemons and oranges, but in different concentrations thus creating a different scent, or variations.
Here we discuss nine primary terpenes found in hemp and share the healing properties of each.
Types of terpenes explained
Below, we look at 9 of the most prominent terpenes: mycerne, limonene, carophyllene, pinene (Alpha/Beta), terpineol, borneol, linalool, eucalyptol, and nerolidol.
Mycerne is the most common terpene found in hemp. In some strains, over 60% of the essential oil is made up of mycerne. It smells very similar to cloves. Scientists consider myrcene a potent analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic.
Mycerne blocks cytochrome, aflatoxin B, and other pro-mutagenic carcinogens. It has a relaxing, calming, anti-spasmodic, and sedative effect. Myrcene works synergistically with THC and may also increase the psychoactive potential.
The essential oil of citrus fruits contains high levels of myrcene. Many claim that eating a mango 45 minutes before consuming psychoactive cannabis results in a faster onset and greater intensity.
Limonene is often the second, third or fourth terpene found in cannabis resin and produces the smell we find in citrus fruits. Like mycerne, limonene contains anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-carcinogenic properties. It is also said to protect against Aspergillus and other carcinogens found in smoke.
Even more, a cancer study from 2013 revealed that terpene reduces tumors in women with early-stage breast cancer. Limonene quickly and easily penetrates the blood barrier, which increases systolic pressure. What’s more, some experts say limonene increases attention, mental focus, well-being, and sex drive.
Citrus fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper, peppermint, and several pine needle oils all contain limonene.
Many herbs and spices contain caryophyllene. Black pepper contains high amounts, giving it that spicy flavor.
As with the previous two terpenes, caryophyllene has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-fungal properties. It has affinity for our bodies’ CB2 receptors making it a common ingredient for anti-inflammatory topicals and creams. Topical application of caryophyllene also relieves toothaches.
One interesting note about this terpene is its promising role in alcohol rehabilitation. In a study on mice, scientists found that caryophyllene reduces the voluntary intake of alcohol.
In addition to black pepper, Thai basils, cloves, and cinnamon leaves have caryophyllene. Lavender also produces caryophyllene in small quantities.
Pinene, as the name implies, creates the smell associated with pine and fir trees. Doctors use pinene in medicines as an expectorant, bronchodilator, anti-inflammatory and local antiseptic. Pinene also improves concentration, personal satisfaction, and energy. Patients suffering from arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, and cancer may benefit from pinene.
A unique fact about pinene: Smoking cannabis with high levels of Pinene may give the sensation of sucking more air, which can lead to coughing or hyperventilation.
Many conifers and non-coniferous plants, balsamic resin, pinewoods, and some citrus fruits produce pinene.
Terpineol smells of lilacs, crabapple, blossoms, and lime blossoms. Plants with high-levels of pinene often also produce terpineol. If you’ve ever enjoyed Lapsang souchong tea, part of the flavor came from the terpineol in the pine smoke used during processing.
Terpineol creates a sedative effect often connected to indica strains of psychoactive cannabis. During tests on mice, terpineol reduced mobility by 45 percent. Experts also believe terpineol has antibiotic and antioxidant properties.
Commercial producers of terpineol often derive this terpene from Monterey cypress trees.
Borneol smells like mint and camphor. Chinese herbalists use borneol in medicines against fatigue, stress, lingering illness.
Some researchers believe this terpene’s natural insect repellent properties and could be used against diseases caused by ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes such as West Nile Virus. One study published even show that borneol kills breast cancer cells.
Linalool has a floral smell similar to lavender and spring flowers. It is currently being used in the treatment of various cancers.
Linalool has a calming action, antianxiety, and produces sedative effects. Linalool is responsible for the sedative effects of certain psychoactive cannabis strains. In tests on mice their activity decreased by 75%. It also has analgesic and anti-epileptic properties.
Patients suffering from arthritis, depression, seizures, insomnia and cancer have all found relief with this terpene.
The Lamiaceae plant and herb family, which includes mints, laurels, cinnamon, rosewood, and Birch trees, all produce linalool. Linalool is a precursor in the formation of Vitamin E.
Eucalyptol is the main ingredient in eucalyptus essential oil. It has a minty smell and found in small amounts in psychoactive cannabis.
Eucalyptol relieves pain, improves concentration, and inner balance. Plants containing eucalyptol enhance meditation and concentration. It is showing promise as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, but it’s still in early stages of research.
The Eucalyptus plant, bay leaves, sage, sweet basil, and cardamom contain notable quantities of eucalyptol.
Nerolidol has a unique woody and fresh bark aroma. This terpene may have anti-fungal, anti-cancer, and anti-malarial properties. It could also prevent certain kinds of parasites.
Neroli, ginger, jasmine, lavender, and tea tree oil contain nerolidol.
Understanding and using terpenes
Again, these are just some of the most common terpenes found in hemp and cannabis. There are many more. These profiles were summarized from Alchimia and Greencamp, where you can read more on terpenes.
After reading this article, we hope you understand how the benefits of terpenes and pair so perfectly with the benefits of CBD, and all the other cannabinoids. We hope you start incorporating them into your daily CBD regimen.
More and more CBD supplement companies recognize the importance of terpenes and now add different terpenes to their products to supplement those already found in hemp. Some brands even sell terpene concentrates for customers to incorporate on their own.
However, if you’re unable to find the terpenes you want through your local CBD store or online, try looking to a non-cannabis plant type or spice and simply combine with your CBD. You might not achieve the same synergistic effect as when the terpenes are naturally present, but you should still receive the healing properties of the terpenes themselves and the healing properties of the CBD.
Jessica St. Cyr contributed to this article.