Torrent of Terpenes – How Cannabis Can Change Your Health
Deep into the Colorado Rockies, the air is crisp, clean and cold. It’s the perfect environment to take a deep breath and really smell the conifers swaying under the weight of a thick blanket of fresh snow. That sharply distinct piney scent that you draw so deeply into your lungs and derive so much pleasure from is due to a chemical called alpha-pinene, one of the most common terpenes found in plants around the world.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are the chemicals in plants found to be responsible for their distinctive smell and taste. Every plant has a different terpene makeup, giving the plants different uses for humans. Some terpenes, like those found in mushrooms, give off a musky aroma: quite a different effect from plants with different terpenes, like those in raspberries that give off a tangy, sweet smell.
Some plants emit scents very similar to each other, such as lemon grass, lemons and Buddha’s fingers. That’s because they all contain heavy amounts of limonene, one of 50,000 different terpenes scientists have discovered thus far in the plant world.
What do terpenes do?
The medicinal uses of terpenes are nearly endless, though the science behind the medicine is still in its infancy. Terpenes can give human consumers a number of different side-effects. For medicinal purposes, terpenes may be implemented to kill pain, induce relaxation and euphoria, stabilize moods, promote sleep, increase or reduce hunger, calm nausea and gastrointestinal pain, calm spasms, fight tumors, reduce epileptic seizures and more.
In the case of the terpene alpha-pinene, it is a natural bronchodilator that smells piney. Those same terpenes also promote mental acuity, memory retention and alertness by breaking down acetylcholinesterase in the brain. Used topically, alpha-pinene is an excellent natural antiseptic.
The aromatherapy effects of alpha-pinene are intense: putting nearly anyone into a good mood with plenty of energy, yet a calm demeanor. This is part of why, during a busy or difficult day, getting outside, exercising and breathing in fresh air is so beneficial. That’s why it feels so good to stand in the middle of a pine forest in the Colorado Rockies, deeply breathing in the cool, terpene-filled air. Even smelling pine essential oil will evoke this feeling and, for those who have experienced the calm of a forest, evoke memories of this experience.
A breath of fresh air for medicine
Speaking of breathing in terpene-filled air in the forest, the cannabis plant, which was recently legalized for recreational use in Colorado, Alaska, Washington and Oregon, contains one of the widest varieties of terpene profiles in the plant world. Terpene profiles are largely dependent upon strain and phenotype of the cannabis strain.
So far, scientists have discovered about 200 diverse terpenes found in different strains of marijuana. Because each terpene reacts differently with receptors within our brains, each cannabis strain can incite a different chemical reaction and side-effect. Consumers of marijuana may feel energetic and calm, happy and talkative, or sleepy and quiet depending upon the strain they’ve chosen.
As research into marijuana commences, scientists are better able to predict which strains are best for certain purposes. The recreational market will in turn mature and offer safer and more reliable products to consumers.
Common cannabis terpenes and their side-effects
There are about 16 terpenes that show up most commonly across all marijuana strains that have been tested so far. Very few are well-known, well-understood and oft-cited by “cannaisseurs” for their effects:
The most plentiful terpene found in cannabis is myrcene. This is one of the oldest and most fundamental terpenes across all plant life. When combined with other cannabis terpenes and cannabinoids, this chemical acts as an enhancer. For this reason, consuming cannabis is more effective than taking THC pills alone.
Myrcene is in all cannabis strains, as it is a building block of other terpenes. This terpene has a musky, earthy aroma and causes a “couch-lock” type of high. It’s recognized for its ability to kill pain, fight depression, reduce inflammation and kill viruses and bacteria. Myrcene is also known to make cell membranes more permeable in order to allow more THC to be absorbed.
Limonene is another popular terpene that gives cannabis users a relaxed effect. This terpene is found in any strain that smells or tastes of citrus. Known as an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-depressant and anti-carcinogenic terpene, limonene has immense medical potential. In fact, some scientists theorize that this terpene may protect marijuana smokers from the carcinogens released in the cannabis smoke.
Found in citrus fruits as well as cannabis, limonene is used medically to dissolve gallstones, relieve heartburn and gastrointestinal reflux, kill breast cancer cells in lab experiments, destroy pathogenic bacteria like MRSA and improve the mood of patients.
An anxiolytic compound, linalool counters hormone reactions involved with anxiety and stress. Also acting as an anticonvulsant, this chemical helps with those who suffer from epilepsy and muscle spasms. This terpene can enhance the transmission of serotonin-receptors in the brain, meaning it helps fight depression. When linalool is applied topically to skin abrasions, burns and infections, it accelerates and aids healing.
This terpene is responsible for activating CB2 receptors, and is proven to kill inflammation without the psychoactive effects of THC. When combined with CBD and THC, it can offer powerful medical benefits to patients suffering a wide range of diseases.
This terpene is considered a cannabinoid because it binds with cannabinoid receptors. There are many cannabinoids in nature, and can be found in herbs and spices like black pepper and basil. It can help heal and balance the intestinal tract and is especially beneficial to those who suffer from ulcers, chronic inflammation and autoimmune disorders. This chemical is predominant in high CBD strains.
How terpenes can work for you
There are literally dozens of other terpenes commonly found within all, or nearly all, strains of cannabis. When combined with the psychoactive effects of THC, cannabis users can experience a wide range of side effects.
Though their use is ancient, the science of these powerful terpenes is young. As researching cannabis becomes legal in the United States, scientists will learn more about the positive and negative effects of the nearly 200 terpenes found in different cannabis strains. As a result, a better, safer and more reliable product can be offered to medical patients and recreational users alike. We welcome the change!