Terpenes: What You Need to Know
Even if you’re new to medical Cannabis you’ve likely heard of the main cannabinoids, THC and CBD. Hopefully, you and your healthcare professional have been able to choose a product with the right balance of these to manage your symptoms. In addition to THC and CBD, however, there are over 500 other natural compounds that have been isolated from Cannabis sativa, some of which might also offer therapeutic benefit. One large and diverse group of molecules that are thought to be important active compounds are the terpenes.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are produced by many plants, including Cannabis. Each terpene has a distinct scent that plays a role in defining a plant’s aroma and flavour, for example, lavender and pine. The mix of terpenes in a particular variety of Cannabis, and the resulting scent, is referred to as a terpene profile. Cannabis products can smell of anything from citrus scents to gasoline. Some varieties can be quite pungent, while others have more discreet aromas.
Terpenes are known as organic compounds, which means that they contain carbon atoms that are linked to other elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. In Cannabis, the highest concentration of terpenes is found in the resin produced by the flowers of the female plants, just like the cannabinoids. Evidence shows that some terpenes interact with the endocannabinoid system and can adjust the effect of Cannabis.
What is Terpography?
Terpography is a visual mapping tool that informs you about the terpenes associated with the product you’re using. The terpography map represents the profile of terpenes that give Cannabis varieties and products distinct smells and tastes.
Just as with food, certain terpene profiles will smell different to different people. Medical Cannabis is not a one-size-fits-all medicine, and you may be drawn to one terpene profile while another customer prefers another.
Common Terpenes Found in Medical Cannabis
There are more than 200 terpenes in Cannabis.
Pinene is found in the oils of coniferous trees and is what gives pine needles their distinct scent. It is also found in sage and rosemary.
β-caryophyllene is found in a variety of herbs and spices, such as black pepper and cinnamon. This terpene interacts with the receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system.
Limonene is commonly found in the rinds of citrus fruits, particularly oranges, which gives it its citrusy aroma.
Terpineol is found in pine oil, and petitgrain oil, this terpene smells similar to lilac.
Myrcene is found in bay leaves and lemongrass, and emits an herbal, rooty, and spicy scent.
Terpinolene is found in many essential oils such as citrus and juniper as well as allspice. It has a sweet and piney aroma.
The Entourage Effect
There is a widespread belief that terpenes, cannabinoids, and other compounds in Cannabis interact with each other to produce the effects Cannabis has on our bodies. This is known as the “entourage effect”. This is currently hypothetical, with limited scientific evidence to support it.*
Therapeutic Effects of Terpenes
Terpenes may have direct physiologic effects, and may also interact with cannabinoids to create the unique effects of individual medical Cannabis varieties. There are many sources online that boast the health benefits of specific terpenes, including the ability to improve sleep, reduce stress, and relieve anxiety. While there is experimental evidence that some terpenes have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and antibacterial properties, this research comes from animal studies rather than clinical trials in humans.*
This information has not been evaluated by Health Canada. It is not meant as guidance for disease treatment. You should always consult your healthcare professional before using medical Cannabis.