What are Terpenes?
Cannabis Derived Terpenes are a subset of Terpenes, the largest and most diverse naturally occurring organic compounds. We identify them by their smell, and it may be helpful to think of Terpenes as the ‘essential oils of a plant.
Technically, Terpenes are organic compounds built from hydrocarbon building blocks called isoprenes. They develop in the plant as a signaling mechanism. Terpenes are a form of defense against predators (“…please don’t eat me”), and later in the growth cycle, an attractor of pollinators (“…yes, love me”).
“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, fills us up, imbues us. There is no remedy for it.”
― Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
One of the most recognizable Terpenes is Limonene. It occurs in the peel of citrus fruit, and after Myrcene, is the most abundant terpene in Cannabis.
How do Cannabis Terpenes Interact with the Human Body?
Many of the chemical compounds in Cannabis, including Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids, combine to interact with the human body’s EndoCannabinoid System.
Insects and mammals can produce Terpenes biosynthetically (within the body). These are used as signaling mechanisms for many bodily functions and processes.
These signals within the endocannabinoid system can be affected through molecules in the Cannabis plant. They signal the receptor and either enhance (agonize) or diminish (antagonize) the reaction.
As a result, Terpenes can be antimicrobial antiviral and assist in maintaining homeostasis within the body. This occurs through the combined effect of Terpenes and Cannabinoids, wherein the whole creates a more significant impact than the sum of its parts. This accelerated process has become commonly known as the Entourage effect.
The Entourage Effect
While a great deal of work is going into isolating particular cannabinoids and Terpenes for their medical use, the founding father of THC (Raphael Mechoulam – Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel) is a firm believer in and advocate of the entourage effect. The Entourage Effect postulates, along with the Herbalist tradition, that the ‘whole plant’ is necessary for ensuring maximum effectiveness.
The scientific discovery is ongoing and increasingly points towards the fact that specific chemical properties (in cannabinoids and Terpenes) may trigger activity in related compounds. Anecdotal evidence has shown vastly superior efficacies in products containing ‘whole herb’ preparations versus those containing isolates.
Cannabis Derived Terpenes vs. Non-Cannabis Derived Terpenes
There are three ways in which Terpenes are derived.
Cannabis Derived Terpenes are extracted directly from the Cannabis plant.
Other plant-derived Terpenes have similar (in some cases identical) properties to Cannabis Derived Terpenes but are extracted from plants other than Cannabis.
The third category is synthetic Terpenes. These tend to have a much more pungent and intense smell and flavor. They are manufactured through a process of dilution, re-distilling, and reconstruction.
Deciding which Terpenes are preferable will depend on your view of GMO products. There seems to be a consensus in the Cannabis community that being closer to nature is always better. The corollary to this is that plant-derived products can be inconsistent, while laboratory-developed substances are more stable and thus easier to get through regulatory processes.
How are Terpenes Extracted?
Terpenes are very fragile and highly prone to degradation. Heat and pressure can quickly degrade the molecules, and extraction is delicate, technical, and precise.
Terpene Steam Extraction
Steam distillation is the oldest method. However, the volume of plant material required relative to the product extracted renders steam distillation generally unsuitable for Cannabis.
Terpene Butane or Propane Extraction
Many processes include using a light hydrocarbon solvent such as Butane or Propane. This solvent is mixed with the Cannabis at low temperatures and then removed through low heating (hot enough to remove the solvent but not degrade the molecules. The Cannabinoids and Terpenes are then separated in a centrifuge. The resultant compound can then be further purified (separated) through chromatography.
Terpene CO2 and Freon (R-134a) Extraction
Alternatives also include CO2 and Freon (R-134a) extraction. Each method affects the integrity of the final product, and subtle changes in pressure and temperature can change the extraction quality. Different methodologies are corporate secrets, and these closely guarded ‘secrets’ form the backbone of the IP in the extraction industry.
The Legality of Cannabis Derived Terpenes
Like many new laws governing Cannabis, double standards concerning Terpenes abound. If the Terpenes are extracted from a plant containing less than 0.3% THC, they are federally legal in the USA. However, if extracted from a plant containing more than 0.3% THC, they are only permitted in certain states. Many state laws also prohibit non-Cannabis Derived Terpenes in producing Cannabis products.
The Most Prominent Terpenes in Cannabis
Myrcene (or β-myrcene) is a monoterpene that underpins the structure of many more complex Terpenes. It occurs in more than 50% of all Cannabis strains, making it the most prominent terpene.
Also found in: hops, mangoes, verbena
Useful for: anti-inflammatory, sedative, antioxidant, and anti-tumor
Strains high in Myrcene:
Girl Scout Cookies
Thin Mint Cookies
Also found in: lemons, limes, orange, grapefruit, mint, pine, and rosemary.
Useful for: anti-anxiety, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-cancer
Strains high in Limonene:
Black Cherry Soda.
Purple Hindu Kush.
Also found in: pine trees, conifers
Useful for: anti-anxiety, pain relief, anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator
Strains high in Pinene:
Also found in: parsley, mint, mangoes
Useful for: antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, decongestant
Strains high in Ocimene:
Lemon Sour Diesel
Also found in: apple, fir, pine
Useful for: antibacterial, antioxidant, antimicrobial, sedative
Strains high in Terpinolene:
Ghost Train Haze
Some studies have shown that when a person inhales a terpene like Myrcene, they will experience an increase in alpha-wave activity, which will cause them to fall asleep faster.
The Terpene Myrcene is found in Cannabis and Hops and helps people fall asleep faster. This is because it binds with receptors in the brain that relax the body.
The best Terpenes for Sleep are;
Terpenes for Anxiety
Terpenes found in Cannabis have been shown to help with anxiety by interacting with the endocannabinoid system. Terpenes work synergistically with other cannabinoids like THC to provide relief from anxiety.
The best Terpenes for Anxiety are;
Terpenes for Pain
Terpenes can also be used medicinally to help relieve pain.
Some Terpenes have analgesic properties and will have pain-relieving effects when applied topically.
The Best Terpenes for Pain are;