By this point, most people have heard about Cannabidiol (CBD), the phytocannabinoid derived from the Cannabis plant we commonly call hemp. What has been too often left out of the CBD discussion is the role that terpenes (terpenoids) play in the Endocannabinoid System. There are 20,000 cataloged terpenes in the plant world, making them easily the most dominant subset of chemicals in plants. The Cannabis plant has over one hundred different terpenes. So what exactly are terpenes and what is their purpose?
Terpenes are Aromatic, Hydrocarbon Compounds
Terpenes are fragrant, oily, hydrocarbon compounds secreted from the resin glands of the Cannabis plant. These are the very same glands that produce the phytocannabinoids such as CBD and THC. Terpenes are not the sole property of the Cannabis plant, however, as they can be found in every plant on earth and even in a few insects! If you’ve ever driven past a hemp farm or stopped inside a local cannabis dispensary, the smell in the air is the result of fragrant terpenes. The same is true when you’ve wandered through a field of lilacs or lavender and were hit with the relaxing fragrance they produce. It is easy to realize how terpenes affect our moods, but what is there
Terpenes are Safe and Beneficial for our Health
Terpenes are considered safe to consume by FDA (check out this pdf of the Generally Safe to Eat (GRAS) list). In fact, they are already abundant in our food supply. Most essential oils such as peppermint, lavender, and lemon all contain terpenes that correspond to their strong flavors.
Terpenes have been a hit in the aromatherapy market. Aromatherapy has proven effective in multiple studies that show how different terpenes can affect the body and mind through aromatic stimulation. Even the acclaimed Mayo Clinic attests to the potential benefits of this fascinating therapy. These benefits include but are not limited to:
- Suppression of feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Sense of well being for people who experience chronic pain
- Improvement in quality of life for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s
- A sense of upliftment, calmness, or focus
Terpenes and the Entourage Effect
Terpenes can be added to CBD oils and products from other plants or by enhancing the natural terpenes associated with the Cannabis plant itself. Terpenes, like CBD, are not psychoactive and have a cumulative effect on the endocannabinoid system as part of the ‘entourage effect’ that occurs when cannabinoids and terpenes work together in the body. In essence, terpenes stimulate the CB2 receptors in the ECS. As these receptors are generally not located in the brain or the nervous system, terpenes do not produce the same mental and body buzzing that THC, which plugs into the nervous system’s localized CB1 receptors, is famous for.
Stimulating CB2 Receptors has a Far-Reaching Impact
Stimulation of the CB2 receptors in the ECS has a tremendous upside for our health and overall well being. These CB2 receptors can be found everywhere else in the body and manipulate the liver, heart, blood vessels, endocrine glands, the gut, the spleen, and even our bones. As you can probably guess, stimulating these receptors can have a profound impact on the way our body transmits important information across many systems at once. This is the main reason that cannabinoids and terpenes are currently being extensively researched in the healthcare field today and may yet prove an excellent adjunct therapy to existing medicines with minimal to no negative side effects.
Even though there are over 100 terpenes in cannabis, some of them exist only in small amounts. Terpenes are often manufactured separately and added to CBD oils to enhance the efficacy of the CBD itself. This is what the ‘entourage effect’ is all about. In fact, in studies and conducted research into the impact that terpenes can have on people who ingest marijuana and it’s abundant THC, terpenes have been shown to greatly enhance the THC’s effect on mood, the body, and the mind.
In one fascinating study, people who smoked marijuana with 50% less THC and more of certain terpenes experienced an increased effect from the high when compared to a group who ingested marijuana with 100% THC. The impact, therefore, of terpenes was established and the CBD industry has been actively seeking out the best formulas for their products by adding certain terpenes to the oil itself.
Some Common Terpenes Found in CBD Oil Today
Here’s a list of some often utilized terpenes and their therapeutic effects. You have most likely already ingested or encountered many of these in your life so far.
Myrcene – This common terpene is best known for its anti-inflammatory and painkilling properties. In cannabis smokers, it can increase the ‘high’ and sedative effects of marijuana as seen in this study conducted by Ethan Russo.
Linalool – We know this terpene from the fragrant lavender plant though it also exists in certain cannabis varietals. Has shown promise in countering mental stress, helps the body transmit more serotonin, and can be used topically to treat burns and acne.
Alpha-pinene – This is the uplifting scent of pine. The soft rush and focus you experience when you walk into a forest is the result of this terpene. It helps the mind stay alert.
Beta-caryophyllene – Unlike the other terpenes on this list, Beta-caryophyllene is able to actually bind itself to the CB2 receptor. It is being researched to treat auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory illnesses. Many vegetables as well as oregano and black pepper contain high concentrations of this terpene.
Limonene – As the name implies, this is a citrus-based terpene. Also found in cannabis, this terpene shows great promise as an antimicrobial, anticonvulsant, and has been clinically used to break up gallstones and even eliminate cancerous cells in breast cancer patients.
Eucalyptol – Abundant in Eucalyptus trees, eucalyptol is also naturally occurring in cannabis. An excellent anti-fungal agent, eucalyptol can aid in preventing bacterial growth in the body. A minty and refreshing aroma!