As a species, we’ve been harvesting the flavors of plants — for wines, tinctures, medicines, and therapeutics — for thousands of years. Yet, for some reason, all the good smells released by a skunky-citrus-pine nugget of cannabis fails to register to many as the exact same thing.
That’s right: when you buy essential oils, aromatherapeutic (candles, y’all), or even your favorite shampoo or body wash, you’ll find (not guaranteed) some of the very same terpenes that are to be listed later in this article. Before we can get to that — the listing definitions, the effects of terpenes — it is of significance to know just what a terpene is and how they interact with animal biology.
The Effect of Terpenes in Plant Development
Thousands of years of horticulture has compounded into a precise and quantifiable shifting scale of region-specific environmental data on what species of plant thrive there and why. As varied and cumbersome as a study like that can be, one of the many macro lenses it has provided is the identification of approximately 25,000 terpenes thus far. Isn’t combined learning cool?
Unfortunately, the abundance of terpenes in nature hasn’t popped the top on a breadth of research regarding the substances. Often, rather than looking at the possible effect of terpenes on animal and human populations, research is done to understand what the terpene composition is and why that may be favorable to pollinators and not herbivores. And this is largely what the function of terpenes is seen as: defensive or magnetic.
In an evolutionary sense, this does make sense; symbiosis is an integral part of the biology on earth and we see it all around us in the animal and plant world. We domesticated animals; suckerfish as cleaning appendages on larger sea life; or even mushrooms giving Co2 to trees while exchanging sugars and oxygen. Yet, what if there is something else to it?
The Synergistic Trajectory
In regards to cannabis, there have been over 100 terpene compounds identified within the plant, yet these substances go largely understudied. During one of the limited studies that have been done on the effect that terpenes have on animal physiology and psychology, a fundamentally exciting concept — a point indeed requiring more research — crossed the threshold of human purview: The entourage effect.
Entourage, implying the accompanying factors that aid in facilitating the whole, specify that terpenes ride shotgun to the main event of cannabis: the cannabinoids. Apparently, the idea that a whole is only equal to its parts works in both team dynamics and marijuana flowers. While it has been shown that individually, terpenes produce a variety of effects, the interaction between terpenes and cannabinoids modulate — nay — elevate one another’s effect.
Of terpenes in general, studies are small scale and have often been limited to animals thus far. To the delight of the cannabis-centric social sphere (where I find myself), researchers have identified both the individual effects of several of the more common terpenes found in cannabis, but also how they can abet the experience of cannabinoids. Here’s what we know about some of the most common terpenes in marijuana:
Flavor & Aroma: Found in black peppercorns, clove, hops, rosemary, basil, and cannabis, a peppery, spicy floral aroma and taste.
Effect of this Terpene: Individually, b-caryophyllene has promise as an anxiety-fighting, depression alleving agent. It has been shown to relieve pain and has possible cancer-fighting applications. Researchers have shown that b-caryophyllene can bind to receptor sites of the endocannabinoid system, which can help inhibit inflammatory signaling, making it an ideal companion for infused topicals and pain salves. When combined with cannabinoids, the increased interaction within the endocannabinoid system allows for the pain relieving, anti-inflammatory messaging to be compounded.
Effect of this Terpene: By itself, humulene has been studied for antibacterial properties, cancer combat, and as an antiinflammatory. Much like THCV, humulene has appetite suppressing properties.
Flavor & Aroma: Sweet, tangy, bitter, yet the notes of citrus that inhabit your cannabis are among my favorite. Limonene is the genesis of these aromatic profiles, and is common in a variety of citrus fruits as well as cannabis.
Effect of this Terpene: A common additive to household cleaners, soaps, shampoos, and all manner of refreshing, limonene aids gastric distress, stress, pain, and inflammation therein. Are you sensing a common theme? In compound with cannabinoids, the increased signaling to the endocannabinoid system ends up disrupting the flow of excitatory inflammation or stress transmission in serotonergic receptor sites, causing gastric distress, nausea, and anxiety to be temporarily staved off.
Flavor & Aroma: Lavender and coriander contain plentiful yields of linalool (just looks fun to say, doesn’t it?). Linalool is a sweet, floral flavor with residual earthy notes.
Effect of this Terpene: Linalool is being investigated on several fronts: for cancer treatment, as a pain reliever, as an anti inflammatory. Most interestingly, just as CBD is helpful to those who experience seizures or PTSD, linalool is being studied as an anticonvulsant and as a sedative.
Flavor & Aroma: Sweet basil, mangoes, and cannabis — in fact, many highly aromatic plants boast myrcene with some availability. Fruity musk and tangy earth expound from this funky terpene.
Effect of this Terpene: Like THC, this terpene can be sedating, good for pain relief, and has potiential as an aid in cancer treatments. Unlike many of the other terpenes in cannabis, however, myrcene is both one of the most present in cannabis and one of the most sedating, even going as far as alleviating muscle spasms.
As you can tell, there are similarities among terpenes as well as differences. As recreational cannabis markets pick up, research will likely be increased ancillary to the fact. As study (hopefully) will soon be able to further dictate the bio-mechanisms of terpenes and the interaction with cannabinoids, I look to the future: Terpene tonics, anyone?