While THC and CBD cannabinoids are often the centers of most marijuana enthusiast attention, a major compound responsible for the taste, aroma, and effects of the popular drug is often overlooked. We’re talking, of course, about terpenes cannabinoids. These little molecules are a huge contributing factor to what makes cannabis so enjoyable. Given the general lack of attention terpenes receive, we have put together a comprehensive, yet easy-to-digest guide to everything you need to know about these essential chemicals. Let’s begin by addressing a common terpene misconception.
Terpenes vs Terpenoids
Common practice is to use the terms terpene and terpenoid interchangeably. However, it is important to note that the two compounds are very different in terms of their molecular structure. While terpenes are hydrocarbons, meaning that they are only made up of hydrogen and carbon, terpenoids are more complex and are developed through a process of drying or curing cannabis plants or through chemical modification. While terpenes are simple, terpenoids are complex and contain additional functional groups that aid in the aromatic characteristics of plants. Terpenes are found in young female cannabis plant oils, while terpenoids are found in dried plants. An easy way to distinguish the two compounds is to think of terpenoids are “dry” and terpenes as “wet.” In order to avoid confusion, we will focus on terpenes specifically.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are molecules that are commonly found in a variety of different conifers from electric daisies to cacao plants. For the purpose of this article, we will be looking particularly at terpenes weed and its characteristics.
According to SCLabs, terpenes are molecules that are made up of repeating units of a compound called isoprene. As stated earlier, terpenes are derived from the sticky resin glands of young female cannabis plants.
When in combination with other cannabinoids, terpenes create distinct strain aromas and flavors. Moreover, terpenes also protect marijuana plants from insect predation, environmental stress, and act as building blocks for more complex molecules. An interesting thing to note is that marijuana plants tend to be more pungent in the morning due to the high quantity of terpenes that are evaporated at dawn.
Simply put, terpenes help either develop other compounds or stop them from forming within the plant. Research into terpenes helps scientists manipulate cannabinoids to desired ratios, thus creating different marijuana strains.
Aside from their function as protectors and building blocks, terpenes are also therapeutic. Essential oils that contain terpenes have been shown to be effective in relieving stress and are the pharmacological base of aromatherapy. Furthermore, due to its non-toxic nature, terpene oil is often used as flavoring in the food industry. When combined with other cannabinoids, terpenes create what is commonly referred to as the Entourage Effect.
What is the Entourage Effect?
While over 100 different types of Terpenes have been identified so far, each with its own distinct smell and characteristics, the most impressive aspect of terpenes is their ability to work synergistically with other cannabinoids. The co-mingling of terpenes with other compounds is referred to as the entourage effect. While the differences between strains may seem subtle, by playing with the ratios of terpenes, scientists can not only alter the taste of cannabis but its effects on the body as well. For example, a high concentration of Linalool in cannabis oil will lead to relaxation, while a high ratio of Limonene will elevate the user’s mood. For a good overview of terpene effects, check out Leafly’s cannabis 101 video on Terpenes.
What are the types of Terpenes?
The most abundant terpenes in cannabis oil are:
Monoterpenes myrcene, Pinene, Limonene, Linalool, Eucalyptol, and Sesquiterpene caryophyllene.
Each of these terpenes has a distinct effect on the body. The terpenes chart below presents a concise image of some of the different terpene functions as well as their flavors, aromas, and medical benefits. It is important to note that the listed effects and their potential magnitudes do contain a margin of error due to plant breeding conditions and boiling points. The standard boiling point of most terpenes is 157°C, but some are more volatile than others, therefore, results may vary.
The variation in ratios of these Terpenes in cannabis plants is what differentiates strands and gives them distinct flavors and effects. For more information, we recommend visiting Fundacion Canna.
Are Terpenes safe?
According to Medical Jane, The FDA and other regulatory agencies have generally recognized terpenes as being safe. Terpenes act as receptors, neurotransmitters, and function similarly to SSRIs, in that they inhibit the reuptake of serotonin. They also enhance norepinephrine activity, increase dopamine, and augment -or enhance GABA, the “downer” neurotransmitter. While much of terpene makeup is apparently similar to that of an antidepressant, more research is needed before terpenes can be used effectively as prescribed medication. At its current state, marijuana should not be used as a substitute for counseling or prescription medication for the treatment of anxiety, depression or any other serious mental illness regardless of terpene concentration or type (unless recommended by a certified mental health professional).
Though often overlooked and misunderstood, terpenes play a vital role in both protecting cannabis plants from predation and in determining the flavors, smells, and effects of cannabis on users. Not to be confused with terpenoids, terpenes are contained purely in oil extracts, as well as cured marijuana plants.
Derived from the glands of female marijuana plants, terpenes are an essential molecular compound that combines with other cannabinoids to provide you with a unique and pleasurable experience with every puff of the vapor pen. While some terpenes are known for enhancing the relaxation and mindfulness of users, more research is needed to better understand these hydrocarbons before scientists can fully harness -or harvest their potential.
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