Have you ever wondered why lavender helps with sleep, where vitamin A comes from, or why lime can decongest your nose and lungs? It’s terpenes! These medicinal, often ignored natural compounds are responsible for some of the most interesting medicinal effects found in fruits, veggies and different plants!
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are natural compounds that are produced by different plants and even some insects, like some caterpillars, and termites. They are responsible for the aroma and taste of aromatic plants and have been found to have a wide variety of health benefits for humans and other animals, depending on the type you consume and how you consume it.
The essential oils extracted from some plants, like lavender, for example, which are used for aromatherapy, owe their aroma to different terpenes. They all have different smells, properties and health uses, which are so varied that we still don’t know what all of them can do.
A similar, though technically different type of compound is a Terpenoid. Terpenoids are often referred to as terpenes, but they are actually modified terpenes that usually contain oxygen or another element within their chemical composition. Provitamin A, for example, is a terpenoid, and has very important nutritional benefits for humans.
In warmer weather, trees, flowers, and different plants, produce more terpenes than they do in colder weather. They are what gives fruits their, sweet or citrusy smell, for example, which is usually a lot stronger when the fruit grew in warmer weather.
Uses of Terpenes
These compounds are naturally found in some of the fresh produce we eat every day, but they can also be purposefully added to different foods, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, medicine and even biotechnology. Turpentine, used as a solvent, (named after the word terpene), for example, is produced from processed pine resin filled with therpenes, though other trees can be used as well.
Terpenes are also active ingredients in natural pesticides, since they have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Terpenes in Cannabis
Cannabis plants contain an amazingly high amount of terpenes, around 200! Which is thought to be the reason why these plants are so medicinal and are capable of having so many different scents and flavors. Some of these terpenes can be found in other plants, while others are exclusively found in cannabis strains.
But terpenes don’t just affect scent and cause their own, individual benefits. They also interact with cannabinoids, improving their medicinal action, aiding in the absorption process, and even altering the psychoactive effects THC has. This is the entourage effect in action!
The Entourage Effect
The entourage effect, a term popularized by Shimon Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam in 1998, is the holistic medicinal effect that is produced by a rich cannabinoid and terpene profile, which allows the different compounds to interact and complement each other, potentializing the medicinal benefits of the plant itself or its derivatives.
Health Benefits and Medicinal Uses of Cannabis Terpenes
Terpenes are often used for medicinal purposes in aromatherapy, different vitamin supplements; and they are the reason why doctors recommend you eat certain foods. Veggies and fruits are full of terpenes.
Vitamin A, for example, is very important for healthy vision, since it is a key part of a protein that absorbs light in retinal receptors, contributes to cornea health, and supports cell growth in the whole body, which is why it’s good for the skin. There are two types of vitamin A:
- Preformed Vitamin A, found in meat and dairy products.
- Provitamin A, found in plants (like carrots), which is turned into Vitamin A by our body.
Some Highly Medicinal Terpenes Found in Cannabis Plants
As I said before, there are around 200 different terpenes in cannabis plants. However, depending on genetics, strain, and general breeding; every single plant will have a different terpene profile: the amount and type of terpenes it has. Some will have more than others, some will have them in higher amounts, and so on. It’s almost like the cannabis version of a fingerprint.
Some of the many medicinal terpenes that are commonly present in cannabis are:
- Myrcene: this is the most common terpene in cannabis plants; it has powerful anti inflammatory properties that highly complement those of CBD. However, unlike CBD, myrcene does have a sedative effect, so plants with high levels of it are not recommended during the day. On the other hand, it should be amazing for a good night’s sleep.
- Limonene: this citrusy terpene aids in weight loss, helps relieve bronchial infections or other bronchial issues, and makes it easier for other compounds to be absorbed by the skin. All this makes it ideal for creams and topical products.
- Alpha Bisabolol: this terpene is found in cannabis as well as chamomile; it has antibacterial properties, promotes healing and reduces inflammation. Its medicinal benefits are perfect to complement CBD’s properties, which are very similar.
- Borneol: it has antiseptic and analgesic properties, is a bronchodilator, which makes it ideal for those who suffer from asthma and other lung conditions, and improves the quality of sleep.
- Linalool: this well known component is also found in lavender. It modulates gross motor movement, is anti inflammatory, improves sleep in people who suffer from insomnia (which is why lavender is also recommended for sleep), reduces anxiety, and aids in the management of depression.
- Eucalyptol: this one is not commonly found in cannabis, but it’s worth an honorable mention, since it has very interesting medicinal effects, and is commonly used in mouthwash, cough medicine, and has antibacterial, anti inflammatory, pain relieving, and decongestant properties. So it’s perfect for colds!
- Alpha- and Beta-Pinene: these two have anti inflammatory properties, which complement those of CBD, making the combination ideal when you seek to treat chronic inflammation or injury.
- Camphene: this is an antibiotic and anti inflammatory component, which aids in the treatment of bacterial infections both when applied topically, or consumed orally.
- Caryophyllene: this one’s perfect for emotional issues and stress, since it has been observed to reduce anxiety and aid in the treatment of depression.
- Terpineol: this is the ideal complement for skin treatments and general wellbeing and disease prevention, since it has antioxidant properties, which promote overall health, skin regeneration, and reduce the chances of abnormal cell growth.
What are Terpenes and their Health Benefits?
As we just saw above, terpenes have diverse health benefits that are still being discovered and explored.
A lot of cannabis growers are experimenting with the manipulation of terpene profiles in order to obtain different flavors, aromas and health benefits to better complement the plants they offer both for medicinal and recreational purposes.
Different cannabis plants, contain a wide variety of terpenes, which depend on diverse factors like:
- Other factors that are often unpredictable
Though each cannabis plant has a unique terpene profile, the most commonly found terpene in them is myrcene, which has relaxing, sedative and anti inflammatory effects.
However, hemp, due to its lack of genetic experimentation and modification, has generally lower levels of terpenes than new cannabis strains do. So it is generally only preferred for its high CBD content, rather than it’s terpene profile.
What all this has taught us is that every little component of medicinal plants has amazing potential for aiding in the search for wellness and health, we just need to dig deeper into the information that’s currently known, and listen to our body during the trial and error process that we go through when looking for the best option.