Updated: Aug 5, 2019
I’m sure at this point your head is buzzing with all these new words and their descriptions that make up the plant that we love, Cannabis (cannabinoids, remediation, cannabidiol, endocannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol…whew those are a mouthful!). But I can see that you’re still hungry to learn more since you’re still reading on. So, buckle up and enjoy the ride of knowledge on the Terpene express!
Have you ever wondered why there are so many different strains that have all these wonderful smells? Have you pondered why each strain can provide different aspects of relief and homeostasis? Even though cannabinoids like THC and CBD are a large portion of the chemical makeup of the plant, terpenes are the molecules that hit you with those sweet, floral, piney, diesel, and sometimes very unique aromas; but also are the molecules that help make all the medicinal benefits happen!
The Science Behind Terpenes
Terpenes, also known and sold as essential oils, are the oils that cover over 10,000 plants and foods around the world. Mainly utilized as a pest deterrent and as a protective coat against disease for plants, humans have harvested those plants for centuries to create powerful elixirs to remedy other’s aliments.
Most of the eastern medicine practices combine a plethora of herbs, spices, and plants to treat their patients. With the advent of sophisticated technology, scientists took a deep dive into these medicines to figure out why it all worked, and they found that terpenes are a major factor in providing those medicinal applications.
Scientists have pinpointed that terpenes alone have these types of properties:
And much more!
Most of these plants and foods are very easy to find and might already be in your house! Here are some examples of the plants and foods that have the most prominent terpenes in cannabis
Lavender has a high content of Linalool, which helps with stress relief and sleep. I have a dried bouquet of Lavender in my room and it’s helped me SO much with my sleep patterns!
Black Pepper has a high content of Beta-Caryophyllene, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Switch out that salt for black pepper to make your life better! And it’ll save you from the bloating salt gives you 😉.
Lemons have high doses of Limonene, which provide Anti-Depressant, Anti-Anxiety, Anti-Stress, and Anti-Bacterial benefits. One glass of lemon water a day keeps the doctor away!
Certain varieties of mangos are very high in Myrcene content, which is also the most abundant terpene in Cannabis. Myrcene is excellent for reducing inflammation and chronic pain, but also a great way to open your receptors up to accept cannabinoids.
If you love nature like I do, nothing refreshes your mind and body more than the smell of pine during a hike through the forest. Pine has an abundance of Pinene, which has shown to improve airflow and respiratory functions, along with having Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Inflammatory properties. It literally helps you breath better! The best part is that it works synergistically with CBD to help negate the memory loss that THC has the potential to do. “Sativa” Strains usually have a heavy load of Pinene.
Raise your hand if you like beer! That’s right, hops, what you use to make beer, has a ton of the terpene Humulene in it. This terpene has shown to work great for inflammation, pain, and appetite suppression.
Fun Fact: The Hops Genus is actually a distant relative of Cannabis! That’s something to cheers to. HERE, HERE!
How Do Terpenes Work With Cannabis?
Now that we’ve talked about terpene’s background, lets dive into how it works inside our favorite herb. To start, almost all cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids rest in the milky lollypop shaped glands, called trichomes, that cover the flowering portion and leaves of the cannabis plant. A properly grown cannabis plant will exude the aroma of the concoction of terpenes produced by the herb on its own. However, these trichomes are very delicate and can rupture easily, thereby releasing the full potency of its powerful fragrance.
Fun Fact: If you want to smell the full aroma of the flower, “crack” it by holding both end of the flower and bending it until you hear a cracking noise. Put your nose up to the middle of the flower and inhale deeply. You will be able to truly smell the different terpenes associated with the plant (pepper, pine, floral, gas, etc).
Aside from their amazing aroma, researchers have also found that these terpenes provide the same medicinal benefits as the ones found in other species of plants! Better yet, they discovered that these terpenes help immensely with the penetration and medicinal power of cannabinoids like CBD and THC. They even came up with a theory behind it, the “Entourage Effect”.
The Entourage Effect states that the molecules in the Cannabis plant work better and more effectively when they work together than when working alone. We all know that it’s always a better time going out with the besties!
With this new found knowledge on terpenes, scientists are starting to understand why every strain smells, tastes, and affects you differently. THC, CBD, and the other cannabinoids all have their specific medicinal applications, but two strains with the same THC and CBD levels can provide completely different effects on the body. Adding to that, another fascinating aspect of high amounts of terpenes have shown that you can get higher with less THC!
Yeah, you read that right.
How is that you say? Let’s geek out more on the science and go a bit deeper.
Terpenes Are Carrier Agents
Terpenes are very small molecules, which makes them very agile. They can pass through our skin and internal barriers with ease. Cannabinoids though cannot do this so easily. They have are larger molecules than terpenes and take a lot longer to pass through the barriers.
Think about it like going to the club. Terpenes are the group of girls that can skip the line and head right on in without a cover charge and the Cannabinoids are the group of guys that wait an hour and pay $20.
But, something really cool has been discovered. If there are at least a reasonable number of terpenes in the entourage of molecules being applied or consumed, the terpenes will pass through and bring the cannabinoids with them! This is why terpenes are called the driver of Cannabis, with cannabinoids being the engine.
So, take that last example. If those group of guys found a group of girls to go in with them, they’d get let right on in. But who wants to do that, its girls night remember!
So How is it That You Can Get Higher with More Terpenes?
THC, the cannabinoid that produces the euphoric “high” you get during consumption, attaches to the CB1 receptors that are apart of the endocannabinoid system. CB1 receptors are primarily housed in your brain, so when you activate enough of those receptors you get high. But, before THC can reach those areas of the brain, it has to go through the Blood-Brain Barrier.
This membranous layer protects the brain from foreign particles coming in all at once. Think of it like a chain linked fence around the brain. THC has to squeeze through those holes to get inside and not all of the molecules will make it through. However, terpenes can pass through with ease. When THC is piggybacking on terpenes though, not only is it able to slip in with them, it also allows more THC to come through than normal.
Periodic Edibles in Oregon did a study to prove that concept. They tested over 100 people on a strain that had 30% THC with no Terpenes and a 15% THC strain loaded with terpenes to see who got higher. The result? Unanimously the 15% THC got people higher.
How Terpenes Help Cannabinoids Be More Effective
Like I stated above, terpenes help cannabinoids with the entourage effect, but how?
Your endocannabinoid system has quite a few receptors that activate different areas of your body. Depending on what terpene is involved, they can attach or activate CB2 receptors and other minor receptors to enhance effects, along with providing the medicinal qualities it already has. Here are some examples:
When pinene is working with CBD, it increases the efficacy of neuroprotection against THC’s ability to cause memory loss. It also provides a clear-headed, energetic high.
When Limonene is added to an edible product, it protects the cannabinoids from breaking apart in stomach acid. This retains the potency of the cannabinoids when it gets absorbed through the intestines.
Myrcene is the main molecule that helps to cause the “stoney” and “couch lock” feeling, but in micro amounts it can give you more energy.
Terpenes Are Just Amazing!
For as small as they are in size and percentage inside cannabis, they truly drive what each strain will do for you. Through more science and research, we have found that these molecules do more than just provide the amazing aromas we smell. They pack a powerful punch of medicinal effects, provide a back door for cannabinoids to work better, helps us get higher, and chooses what that strain will do to you. They are small, but mighty!