The word “terpenes” is tossed around frequently when discussing dry herbs and various strains of your favorite stash. This technical-sounding term may seem a bit mysterious, but it actually refers to the essential oils found in various types of plants. It’s also responsible for the distinctive smell associated with cannabis.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes give plant materials their distinctive smell and flavor. If your dry-leaf material has a pine, citrus, or minty flavor, it’s because of the terpenes in the material. Plants and flowers use terpenes to attract pollinators (such as bees) and discourage predators. Terpene development is influenced by outside factors, including the soil the plant grows in, the climate, the fertilizer used, and the age of the plant.
What Do Terpenes Do?
Terpenes have been explored more recently by cannabis growers that seek to develop plant strains that are high in these aromatic oils for both recreational and medicinal purposes (where legal). Terpenes act to improve the flavor profile, making herbs better tasting and more appealing. Besides influencing flavor, terpenes also interact with other compounds in plants in various ways. Depending on the terpene, it can increase or decrease the biological effect of these compounds when consumed. This interaction is sometimes referred to as the “entourage effect.”
The entourage effect has been well-researched and may be why people using medicinal herbs may benefit more from one type of herb than another, even if the chemical makeup of both strains is the same.
Growers can develop strains higher in terpenes to enhance the medicinal benefits of herbs, in addition to improving flavor. Growers can also develop strains that specifically target symptoms from two angles. A strain for anxiety, for example, may contain both chemical compounds known for their relaxing effects and terpenes that help combat anxiety.
There are more than a hundred terpenes, and each one has a distinct smell as well as potential medical benefits. Some of the most common terpenes include:
Limonene—This terpene has a strong citrus scent. It may improve your mood and relieve stress, and it’s sometimes used to treat anxiety, depression, cancer, pain, and inflammation. It also has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Pinene—As the name indicates, this terpene has a strong pine flavor. It is sometimes used as a bronchodilator and expectorant and may improve alertness and memory recall. Since it’s a bronchodilator, it is sometimes used to help treat asthma as well as pain and inflammation.
Myrcene—This terpene has an earthy scent with hints of cardamom and cloves. It’s also found in ylang-ylang, bay, thyme, and hops. It’s particularly well known for its sedative effects and is used to treat insomnia, inflammation, and pain. It also has antioxidant properties.
Linalool—This terpene has a floral flavor with hints of citrus. It’s often used for improving mood and for relaxation, and it’s used to treat several medical issues such as anxiety, depression, inflammation, insomnia, and pain. It may also help with treating patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
Caryophyllene—Caryophyllene is a terpene with a spicy, peppery aroma. It also has woody undertones. Many patients use medicinal herbs high in caryophyllene to help treat pain, ulcers, anxiety, and depression.
Humulene—This terpene has a hoppy smell. It’s often used as an anti-inflammatory, and it can also be found in hops, coriander, basil, and cloves.
Ocimene—Ocimene has a sweet, woody scent. It has a wide variety of potential medicinal properties, including acting as an antiviral, an antibacterial, a decongestant, and as an antiseptic.
Terpinolene—This terpene has a scent profile that’s harder to nail down. It’s been described as herbal, floral, and piney. It’s known for its relaxing effects and may also have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Myrcene is the most common terpene found in medicinal herbs. Some research indicates the amount of myrcene in a herb indicates whether the herb will have sedative effects or more of an energizing effect.
More research needs to be done on the impact of individual terpenes on different types of plant materials. Some users prefer herbs with a wide range of terpenes rather than a high concentration of just one type of terpene, and this is backed by research as well.
Also, keep in mind that oil concentrates and other plant materials with more than forty percent terpenes may not taste or smell appealing, especially if you vaporize.
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