Dive into the science behind terpenes and how these valuable compounds interact with the world through articles on research, products, and uses as they relate to terpenes both on the Terpenes and Testing blog and in our bi-monthly magazine editions.
Terpenes are a very large and diverse class of organic compounds, found in plants and even some insects. Terpenes can have strong aromas meant to deter the plants or insects from herbivores. They can also attract the predators of the herbivores that eat the plant.
Terpenoid is another word used for these types of molecules. While a terpene is a hydrocarbon, based off of the molecule isoprene, a terpenoid contains additional functional groups, like those containing oxygen. Terpenoids are also sometimes referred to as isoprenoids. Terpenes are not only end products, they can be essential building blocks in other organisms. They are also the major constituent in most essential oils. The term essential oil is a shortened version of quintessential oil. Aristotle believed that matter was made of four elements: air, earth, fire, and water. There was thought to be a fifth (quintus is Latin for five) element, called the life force or spirit of the matter, and it was also believed that this spirit could be extracted through means like distillation. Interestingly, this is where we get the term “spirits” for distilled alcohols.
Given the trademark organoleptic (fancy term for sensory) properties that terpenes are known for, it’s easy to see why they are so commonly used in perfumery, aromatherapy, and even in holistic medicine. These days, however, the word terpene is seemingly on everyone’s lips, as the cannabis industry storms across the globe.
Each cannabis variety has its own profile of terpenes that give the flower its flavor and aroma. These terpenes distinguish between different varieties. For example, cheesy, diesel, floral, herbal, earthy, woodsy, funky, or skunky aromas and flavors all stem from the terpenes native to that plant. The entourage effect, discussed by Raphael Mechoulam, and then popularized through Ethan Russo’s well-known and cited paper, refers to the fact that the cannabinoids have been shown to work better when other phytomolecules from cannabis are present. Because of this, the involvement of the terpene in the medical properties of cannabis cannot be understated.
These are some of the most prominent terpenes in cannabis.
Primary Terpenes Found in Cannabis
α-pinene is one of the two isomers of Pinene. It emits an aroma of turpentine or pine trees. Since it is a four-membered ring α-pinene is prone to skeletal rearrangements. It is one of the most commonly occurring terpenes in nature.
Linalool has been studied for its anti-anxiety and sedative properties. It commonly found in lavender, whose essential oil is commonly used to soothe the aforementioned ailments. The aroma associated with linalool is highly floral with the smallest hint of spice.
The concentration of the monoterpene myrcene in a cannabis plant or product could provide insight on whether that product will have a sedative effect. Myrcene is also present in many common plants including hops and mangos. It emits a fruity, clove-like aroma.
Any one familiar with natural, orange or citrus based cleaners is already familiar with limonene’s essence. Found in the rinds of all common citrus fruits, limonene has been found to have significant medical properties. This terpene actually assists the skin and mucous membranes in absorption. It is continually researched for its antidepressant effects.
Most commonly used in perfumes, Ocimene helps the plant build defenses and works as an antifungal. There are three forms of Ocimenes: α-Ocimene, cis-β-Ocimene, and trans-β-ocimene. The aroma of Ocimene is herbaceous and sweet.
Studies have shown Terpinolene to exhibit antioxidant and anticancer effects, making it a highly interesting terpene. When inhaled, studied suggest this terpene is a sedative. It is often called Terpinene and is known for its woody, smokey scent.
Born from a combination of iso caryophyllene and α-humulene, β-Caryophyllene is what gives black pepper its spiciness. It has shown to be a combatant to epilepsy, chronic pain, and anxiety. This is because it is an agonist to the CB2 receptors.
Geraniol is a monoterpenoid and alcohol commonly found in rose. It is insoluble in water and appears in a clear yellow color. This terpene has been shown to be an effective plant-based mosquito repellent. Bees even create it to mark nectar-bearing flowers.
Terpineol combines four monoterpene alcohol isomers. It is most commonly found in cannabis plants that have high levels of pinene. Subsequently, it can be hard to smell because the strength of pinene can overwhelm the terpineol.
Obtained rather inexpensively from Valencia oranges, Valencene is a sesquiterpene. It is often used as a flavoring ingredient and aromatic additive. Some studies show that this terpene could have anti-inflammatory properties.
The “hoppy” aroma of cannabis is generally due to the presence of α-humulene. Multiple epoxides of humulene are used in brewing beer as it commonly occurs in the flowering hops plant. A study used GCMS to find that α-humulene is responsible for the “hoppy” aroma in beer.
Secondary Terpenes Found in Cannabis:
Phellandrene is commonly found in the essential oil of plants in the eucalyptus genus. Its smell is reminiscent of peppermint, with a slight citrus tone. Recent research shows that phellandrene possesses antidepressive effects.
Carene has a sweet, pungent odor and is a main constituent of pine and cedar resin. It is used to dry out excess body fluids, such as tears, mucus, and sweat.
Terpinene is used as a fragrant additive in both the cosmetic and food industries. It is also considered to be a well-tolerated additive in the pharmaceutical industry. It has very strong antioxidant properties.
Fenchol is found in basil and is used extensively in perfumery. It is known to exhibit antibacterial properties.
Borneol has a menthol aroma and is used as a calming sedative. It is also beneficial for combating fatigue and recovering from stress or illness. Borneol exhibits both anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects.
Bisabolol is the primary constituent of German chamomile essential oil and has recently been shown to induce apoptosis in models of leukemia.
Found in green tea, phytol is a diterpene that results from the degradation of chlorophyll. Phytol inhibits the enzyme that degrades the neurotransmitter GABA, which may partially account for its relaxing effect.
Camphene is found in essential oils extracted from certain trees. It has recently shown promise for pain relief and antioxidant effects.
Sabinene is known for its spicy, oak, and black pepper accents. It has been shown to benefit liver function and digestion, relieve arthritis, and can soothe skin conditions.
Principally derived from the camphor tree, camphor is readily absorbed through the skin. When applied topically, it produces a cooling sensation similar to that of menthol. Camphor also acts as a slight local anesthetic and an antimicrobial substance.
Isoborneol is found in mugwort that exhibits antiviral properties. It is a potent inhibitor of herpes simplex virus type 1.
Menthol exhibits analgesic properties and is used topically to treat inflammatory pain.
Cedrene is present in the essential oil of cedar.
Nerolidol is found in oranges. It acts as a sedative and exhibits potent antifungal and antimalarial activity.
Guaiol is an alcohol found in the oil of guaiacum and cypress pine. It possesses antimicrobial properties.
Isopulegol is a chemical precursor to menthol, and has a variety of promising routes for therapeutic research. Studies have shown that isopulegol possess gastroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects, and reduces the severity of seizures in animal models.
Geranyl Acetate is found in a variety of natural oils, derived from citronella, lemongrass, sassafras, roses, and many others. It has a strong floral aroma with a fruity twist, and exhibits strong antimicrobial effects.
Commonly found in the essential oils of cumin and thyme, cymene has documented anti-inflammatory effects. Research also shows potential protective effects against acute lung injury.
Derived from eucalyptus oil, eucalyptol has a minty, earthy aroma. It has been shown to possess potent antifungal effects.
Pulegone has a pleasant peppermint aroma and is a strong insecticide.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Always check with your physician before starting a new dietary supplement program.