If you’ve ever enjoyed the smell of pine, the zest of an orange, or the scent of newly cut wood, you’ve been exposed to terpenes. Terpenes are an essential component to many of the plants that exist in our world. They are responsible for both aromatic quality and flavor. While the term “terpenes” may sound ominous, it isn’t.
Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds found in a variety of the foods derived from plant matter that we enjoy. It may surprise you that many of the cleaning products we see on store shelves utilize terpenes to give our homes a deep, clean scent. They have been deemed safe to consume and use by authorized U.S. federal agencies and we encounter them daily.
Terpenes are also found in cannabis. They craft the delightful aromas you may find irresistible in many of the strains you enjoy. Terpenes account for a portion of the total dry weight of the cannabis plant—up to 5%. While CBD and THC have had the spotlight in recent years, terpenes have been lesser-known.
Terpenes are often overlooked though they provide tons of potential benefits. They may also help to enhance many of the purported effects of other compounds in cannabis, such as THC and CBD as well. However, a big question on your mind may include whether terpenes can get you high. To uncover the truth, we’ve looked up some of the science behind what terpenes are and how they affect the body to give you the answer you’re looking for.
Terpenes and Cannabis: An Analysis
Terpenes describe a group of chemical compounds that give both flavor and aroma to a variety of plants. This includes conifers, pines and the plants within the Cannabaceae family, or cannabis. In cannabis alone, there are hundreds of such components, although only a few feature prominently in most strains.
Terpenes serve an important purpose in plants. They are the first line of defense against predation. Although the smell of lavender, rose and other scents may smell great to humans, for many organisms, they function as a repellent.
Terpenes are defined by most researchers as unsaturated hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons are typically found in the resin that coats female cannabis plants, known as trichomes. Terpenes make up the essential oils of the cannabis plant.
Hydrocarbons are a class of molecular compounds that contain both hydrogen and carbon. Many thousands of terpenes occur naturally. The main types of terpenes found in cannabis include the following:
- α-pinene ( and also β-pinene)
- Delta-III Carene
Many of these major terpenes can’t get you “high” on their own. Instead, that’s a distinction given to a more psychoactive ingredient in cannabis: THC. Although these components don’t get you high, they have an impact on how cannabis functions. They not only provide the flavors and aromas, but they work alongside THC, CBD and a host of other phytochemicals and cannabinoids. This is known as the “entourage effect.”
The term was first coined by researchers S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam in 1998 during their research on the body’s endocannabinoid system or ECS. They noticed that certain substances amplified the effects of some others in the body.
The ECS is the body’s regulatory system. It is responsible for ensuring that basic functions stay within an acceptable range. The ECS includes much of the nervous system, some immune cells, and the brain. The brain uses signals from chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters.
Think of ECS as a delivery system. The nerve cells are intricate transport systems, the neurotransmitters function as delivery operators and the brain is the central processing hub. These components work together to interpret and translate signals associated with pain, memory, temperature, and movement.
Cannabis mimics many of the body’s chemicals. These chemicals are known as endocannabinoids. Due to this similarity, cannabinoids, including terpenes, assist the body with residual side effects. Terpenes can be useful in a variety of ways.
They don’t simply provide smell and flavor. They may have therapeutic effects of their own. They have been historically used to treat a host of afflictions and maladies and each major terpene has its own set of chemical attributes that may support many bodily processes.
Terpenes and Their Functions
Myrcene is one of the most prevalent terpenes found in cannabis. It has been utilized in history as an alternative medicine for myriad ailments, including dysentery and hypertension. It has been said to have a variety of calming attributes, including anti-inflammatory properties. It may also allow for easier transport of substances across the blood-brain barrier.
Limonene is derived from the essential oils of citrus plants, such as lemons, limes, and oranges, hence its name. It is very popular in the household cleaner, food and perfume industries. Its tangy smell lends it well to a host of products, and it may possess beneficial antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Pinene, as you may have guessed is what gives pine its fresh, clean scent. If you’ve ever taken a whiff of a kitchen cleaned with a “pure pine” disinfectant and loved the smell, pinene was the power behind it. Pinene comes in two different forms: Alpha and beta. It’s the alpha version that is most commonly found in cannabis.
Pinene has been indicated in recent studies as a bronchodilator, meaning it may help in opening up the lungs. This is important to those suffering from disorders that block passages in the lungs such as asthma and bronchitis. Pinene may also be able to balance out some of the cognitive effects of THC.
Linalool has a strong aromatic profile. It is found in plants like lavender, which is a popular scent in many products on the market. Linalool is said to have anti-convulsant effects as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
Humulene is a terpene that many people use to manage their weight. While some other terpenes support appetite increase, this terpene may help to decrease appetite. It can be found in plants like basil and clove. It is also often taken as a pain reliever and can be consumed orally, topically and even via aerosol.
Delta III Carene is found in several plants, like rosemary, basil, bell peppers, and pine. It has a sweet and woody aroma while boasting a beneficial medical benefit: it may be able to heal broken bones. Patients suffering from fragile bone syndromes, including osteoporosis may be able to utilize this terpene.
It may also spur memory retention as well as point to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Eucalyptol is an aromatic that has a minty, cool profile. It is often used in mouthwashes and cough suppressants. It is also known as cineole and can be found in plants such as the eucalyptus tree.
It has some tremendous medicinal benefits but doesn’t make up a huge portion of most strains. Some estimate that less than .06% of dry weight is made up of eucalyptol. It may not only stop the growth of dangerous bacteria and fungi, but it may also have some anti-inflammatory properties.
Terpenes and Cannabis
Terpenes have been indicated to have some great medicinal benefits all on their own. However, when combined with THC and CBD they create a major compound that may combat a litany of maladies as well as work alongside a host of cannabinoids, phytochemicals and the like to induce major sanative results.
This “entourage effect” is enhanced with terpenes at the forefront. Terpenes may work to help neurotransmitters react more readily to receptors, increasing the speed and efficiency at which signals are conducted within the body. Researcher Ethan B. Russo argues that cannabis is much more powerful due to the presence of terpenes.
He states that terpenes work together to decrease the cognitive effects that may be induced by THC while amplifying the medicinal benefits. He further contends that many of the cannabinoids, including terpenes, come together to reduce psychological side effects.
But Can Terpenes Get You High?
Terpenes are a dynamic group of compounds. However, the feeling of getting “high” that may include delusions, paranoia, drowsiness, and/or “couch-lock,” and other psychogenic effect isn’t what you’d get from these substances. Instead, they’ve been known for their therapeutic effects. Many terpenes have been used to mitigate conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and depression.
Although terpenes may have some potent uses, there aren’t any reported psychoactive effects. The USDA declares terpenes to be safe for consumption with no lasting or ill effects. In fact, the USDA states that they are safe for livestock, crops and can be dispersed into the environment.
Though terpenes exist in many strains of cannabis, the level and kinds differ. Terpenes add an incredible dimension to how cannabinoids function in the body. They may not get you “high,” but the therapeutic effects may have a positive impact on your overall health.
As the field of research grows, more information may become available about terpenes and how they can support physiological processes. Studies may also indicate the ways that terpenes can be incorporated more into our daily lives.