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Cannabis is known for having terpene profiles in much higher concentrations than a lot of other plant species, which is why we think of the pungent aromas when considering the precautions to take before growing cannabis indoors.

These lovely organic compounds are found in all plants, particularly coniferous varieties, and are responsible for more than just the characteristic smells and tastes you associate with oranges, pine trees, or lavender bushes – they also help shape the effect you get from cannabis!

What Are Terpenes

Terpenes are pretty cool in the plant world; they’re essentially filling the role as front line defence for plants. They are extremely aromatic secondary metabolites that all plants produce in natural oils.

With cannabis, this occurs primarily in the shiny crystal-like trichomes that cover the flowers, and trichomes are also where cannabinoids like CBD and THC are made. While we enjoy terpenes for an assortment of medical benefits, both psychological and physiological, plants produce them to be used in similar ways, increasing their chances of surviving in their natural habitats.

All the different scents and tastes terpenes have can repel predatory insects to assist in avoiding infestation, or draw beneficial insects to a plant to encourage pollination. Some plants increase production of certain terpenes to boost their immunity from disease or mould, even helping with recovery from damage.

Benefits Of Terpenes

Lots of terpenes are indeed bio active, meaning they will interact with our bodies influencing mood energy levels. Terpenes have been reported to have lots of amazing medical and recreational benefits as well. Chances are if you’ve got something going on you want to address, there’s a terpene that would do well lending a hand.

This isn’t to say that you should fill your medicine cabinet with terpenes instead of actual medicine, but the term “entourage effect”, which we’ll talk about in a little bit, helps elevate the benefits of other medicines as well.

If you’re suffering with a sports injury, laid up on the couch with a swollen ankle, hurting pretty bad – there’s terpenes that have anti inflammatory properties, and analgesic properties, which can work well when paired with traditional medicine. Or in some cases on their own, the effects from terpenes could be enough to do all the work.

Here’s a short list of some of the major benefits terpenes have to offer:

  • Antipsychotic
  • Analgesic
  • Increased cognitive function
  • Expectorant
  • Bronchodilator
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiseptic
  • Antibacterial
  • Antioxidant
  • Sedative

Do terpenes change the high you get from cannabis?

Absolutely they do! In the hundreds of documented terpenes, of which approximately 140 are known to be present in cannabis, the wide variety of experiences that are associated with each of them are extremely diverse. Now is a great time to explain the “entourage effect” – the phrase was coined to describe a theory that the organic compounds found in cannabis work in synergy to create a broad spectrum of sensations, resulting in different highs you get when consuming cannabis.

These differences show up not only when comparing strain to strain, but even batch to batch comparing the same strain against itself. THC will always get you stoned, it’s just what it does, but terpenes (and other cannabinoids) set the stage for the high.

Terpenes Vs. Cannabinoids

Besides the minor differences in their chemical structure, these compounds are processed by our bodies in different ways, and that’s mainly what sets one apart from the other. We react to the smell and taste of terpenes. Aroma therapy is a great example of how powerful isolated terpenes can be when used medicinally, like using lavender oil (linalool) to calm down, or using pine oil (beta-pinene) to reduce short term memory loss. This happens in our olfactory nerves going straight to the brain, and through our airways, to be absorbed through the lungs and into our bloodstream.

There’s a very interesting part of our bodies called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), that is not yet fully understood by medical experts. Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout our body, attaching to endogenous cannabinoids we produce naturally which keep bodily functions regulated. Research is ongoing to better navigate the ECS and how it works in tandem with the rest of our bodies, but we do know that it’s a big part of regulating things like mood, and sleep cycles among other internal functions. Now you understand how getting stoned can you give you those major couch-lock vibes! This mysterious part of us is not magically activated by using cannabis, it’s always on and keeping you copacetic. However when non endogenous cannabinoids enter your body (from smoking the devil’s lettuce) the ECS receptors attach to those in very similar ways.

Monoterpenes Vs. Sesquiterpenes

Monoterpenes have a lower weight than sesquiterpenes, giving them a lower boiling point, and that’s why they convert from liquid to gas quicker than sesquiterpenes. The boiling point is different for each terpene under their respective classification, and can even happen at normal room temperatures. In these cases room temperature is enough for a terpene to be converted to a gas, making monoterpenes the more aromatic of the two that your nose would be familiar with! Given that monoterpenes are so susceptible to deterioration, some cannabis producers are now flash freezing their harvests to preserve terpene profiles for hash or concentrates.

Terpenes Vs. Terpenoids

These terms are used more or less interchangeably these days, but there is a difference in what they mean. The two terms are almost just present-tense and past-tense words for the same organic compound – seems excessive, huh?

The only real dividing traits of the two are similar to comparing cannabinoids and terpenes, as we did above, in that the chemical structure for terpenes is only slightly different than terpenoids. Terpenes are naturally occurring hydrocarbons, while terpenoids have been denatured through oxidation which happens as the plants dry and cure.

The reason the two terms are interchangeable is that terpenes will eventually oxidize, making them terpenoids anyways. That’s a lot of jargon to essentially say terpenes are terpenes, and terpenoids are degrading terpenes.

Common terpenes

Common terpenes

Myrcene

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Spicy, earthy, skunk, with sweet undertones

Commonly found in: Mangos

Effects: Myrcene works to help THC pass the blood-brain barrier. Along with its own sedative properties, this terpene is the main player in the “couch-lock” feeling.

Alpha-pinene

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Pine needles, rosemary

Commonly found in: Pine trees

Effects: Alpha-pinene is a great terp for those that find themselves struggling with their memory when they smoke cannabis, as it may help to alleviate short term memory loss.

Beta-Pinene

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Dill, basil, hops

Commonly found in: Hops, nutmeg

Effects: The effects are very similar to Alpha-Pinene with potential to help with memory loss issues, counteracting effects of high THC doses.

Eucalyptol

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Eucalyptus, mint

Commonly found in: You guessed it! Eucalyptus

Effects: Commonly used in topicals, treating inflammation and even on gums for its antibacterial properties.

Geranial

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Geraniums, roses, citronella candles

Commonly found in: Geraniums

Effects: Geranial is a relaxant, best used to unwind at the end of the day. It’s also added as an isolate to lots of perfume, and a flavour additive to enhance citrus.

Fenchol

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: lemon-lime, slightly piney flavour, earthy aroma

Commonly found in: Basil

Effects: Its role in cannabis isn’t well researched, however it does have great properties that are used in cleaning products, and it is reported by some to help with pain as well.

Sabinene

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Spicy and citrusy

Commonly found in: Black pepper, Norway spruce and other trees

Effects: Sabinene is another fantastic additive for topicals, used to treat skin conditions, and is also said to assist with digestive functions.

Menthol

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Peppermint, spearmint

Commonly found in: Peppermint, spearmint

Effects: Think of a chest salve that relieves congestion, or icy patches for sore muscles. Menthol has a lot of benefits, and is believed to be a large factor in increasing benefits of other terpenes in the proposed entourage effect.

Limonene

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Citrus, lemon,

Commonly found in: Citrus fruit peels, spruce trees

Effects: This terp is considered to be a very effective anti-depressant and anti-anxiety treatment, comparable to some traditional medicine alternatives.

Terpinolene

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Woody, floral, citrus

Commonly found in: Coriander, cumin

Effects: Terpinolene helps you be healthier! It can increase total antioxidant capacity level in white blood cells, making all those blueberries you’re eating even more effective.

Linalool

Monoterpene

Flavor and aroma: Lavender, floral, botanic

Commonly found in: Lavender

Effects:  Psychologically, linalool is known to help with alleviating stress and anxiety, quickly bringing on a sense of calmness.

Cedrene

Sesquiterpene

Flavor and aroma: Woody, very fresh

Commonly found in: Cedar, cypress and juniper trees

Effects: Similar to its uses in aromatherapy, when smoked this is a relaxant and mood elevator. It also helps keeps bugs away, and makes deodorants smell great!

Farnesol

Sesquiterpene

Flavor and aroma: Sweet, floral, chamomile

Commonly found in: Peaches, chamomile, lemongrass

Effects: Farnesol is great for breathing, as silly as that sounds. It is known to help open the lungs, and has even been found to accelerate the restoration of lung health in former cigarette smokers.

Valencene

Sesquiterpene

Flavor and aroma: Citrus

Commonly found in: Oranges and other citrus fruits

Effects: This is another mood elevator, feeling very euphoric. It can also increase alertness and cognitive function.

Beta-Caryophyllene

Sesquiterpene

Flavor and aroma: Spicy, black pepper

Commonly found in: Clove, rosemary, hops

Effects: This sesquiterpene can be extremely useful with pain management, as well as chronic inflammation.

Final thoughts

Cannabis is a highly complex plant. There is still a lot to be discovered about it, but more and more information is coming out about the variety of compounds found in it – from terpenes and sesquiterpenes, to cannabinoids and flavonoids, there’s a lot to love, and a lot to benefit from, when it comes to well-grown, well-cured cannabis.