What Are Terpenes (and Their Role in the Entourage Effect)?
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What Are Terpenes (and Their Role in the Entourage Effect)?

Anyone somewhat familiar with CBD oil or cannabis has likely come across the term “terpenes” and may be wondering what they have to do with their cannabis products. Terpenes are a large group of organic compounds found in plants. They exist in all cannabis plants and they play an important role in the scent, flavor, and effects of each different strain.

Terpenes have strong odors and in nature, they often act to repel predators and attract pollinators. They are often used in food production, cosmetics, perfumes, and pharmaceuticals due to their wide range of scents as well as their therapeutic effects. There are over 100 terpenes in cannabis and they can vary from strain to strain, which explains why every strain can have their own unique aroma profile.

The Entourage Effect

Terpenes have a strong scent but can all they do is affect the smell and flavor of cannabis? Definitely not. Like cannabinoids, every different terpene can interact with receptors and neurotransmitters and produce their own set of therapeutic benefits. They can also interact with different cannabinoids to either heighten or lessen their effects, depending on that specific terpene and cannabinoid profile. These different compounds working together is called the entourage effect and it can be achieved when using whole plant products and full spectrum CBD extracts.

Terpenes can be responsible for elevating or lowering the intensity and duration of any of the effects related to cannabis products or CBD oils, including the modulation of adverse effects.They can also help the various cannabinoids pass through the blood-to-brain barrier more easily and potentially increase the bioavailability of any given product.

This study discusses the bell-shaped dose-response of using a pure CBD isolate to treat inflammation and pain compared to a whole plant CBD extract. The isolate is only effective in a certain dose range but the whole plant extract can provide increased therapeutic effects when administered in higher amounts. It’s suggested that the other components in the whole plant extract synergize with the CBD to overcome the capped effects of the pure isolate.

Different Terpenes Found in Cannabis

There are over 100 terpenes that may be found in cannabis and some may be quite abundant while others are more rare or found only in very small amounts. There are a handful of common terpenes that are found more frequently, in larger quantities, and are more well known when it comes to discussing cannabis terpenes. These terpenes are not found in cannabis alone and as such, their flavor profiles may be reminiscent of other flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs you’re already familiar with.

Myrcene

Myrcene is one of the most common terpenes in cannabis. Its earthy, musky aroma can also be found in mangoes, hops, lemongrass, cardamom, and thyme. Myrcene can have anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, making it effective as a muscle relaxant or a mild sedative. It can help to deliver THC through the blood-brain barrier and may cause tired, lazy feelings when present in larger quantities.

Limonene

Limonene is known for its citrusy aroma and it’s no surprise that this terpene is present in the rinds of most citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit. Its mood elevating effects make it useful when treating stress, anxiety, and depression. This terpene can improve the absorption of other terpenes and compounds through the skin and mucous membranes which can be helpful when present in a topical CBD ointment or cream.

Terpinolene

Terpinolene has a piney, floral flavor and it can also be found in apples, conifers, sage, rosemary, allspice, and lilacs. Terpinolene has shown antioxidant, antibacterial, and antineoplastic properties. It can have a sedating effect on the central nervous system which can help to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and help with insomnia.

Beta-Caryophyllene

Beta-Caryophyllene, or β-caryophyllene, is a spicy, peppery terpene which is also present in black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. It can help with the treatment of anxiety, depression, ulcers, pain, and inflammation.

This scientific abstract discusses the reduced voluntary consumption of alcohol in mice when exposed to caryophyllene, which gives it the potential to be useful in the treatment of alcohol dependence.

Alpha-Pinene

Alpha-Pinene, or α-pinene, produces the aromas of pine. This terpene is present in turpentine, dill, rosemary, basil, parsley, and not surprisingly, pine needles. When present in strains of cannabis that has high levels of THC, it can help to counter the short-term memory loss associated with THC. It can also help to improve concentration, alertness, and focus, as well as reduce inflammation.

Humulene

Humulene, a woody, earthy scented terpene, is also found in hops and it’s responsible for giving beer their distinct hoppy flavors. It can also be found in cloves, coriander, and basil. Humulene exhibits anti-inflammatory and appetite suppressing properties. It may also be referred to as α-humulene or α-caryophyllene.

Linalool

Linalool features a floral scent that is also found in lavender and coriander. It can be used for treating anxiety, depression, psychosis, insomnia, inflammation, and pain. It can help to balance out the anxiety causing properties of THC and can promote feelings of relaxation.

Ocimene

Ocimene features herbal, woody aromas and is also present in mint, parsley, basil, and orchids. It can act as an antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic. This terpene is thought to have uplifting effects and can produce a sweet and herbaceous flavor.

Borneol

Borneol produces the flavors of menthol and pine and it can also be found in cinnamon and wormwood. Its sedative effects can be useful in treatment with stress and anxiety.

Cineole

Cineole, also known as eucalyptol, is the main compound of eucalyptus oil and it provides a spicy, minty aroma. It can reduce pain and inflammation when used topically or it can help to break down mucus and help to treat respiratory difficulties.

Delta 3 Carene

Delta 3 Carene features a sweet, pungent odor that can also be found in rosemary, pine, and cedar. It features anti-inflammatory properties that can be used to treat fibromyalgia, bursitis, and arthritis. This terpene can also be the culprit of the dry mouth and redness in the eyes that is sometimes associated with cannabis use.

This article from the British Journal of Pharmacology talks about the potential synergy of cannabinoids and terpenes known as the entourage effect and also discusses the benefits of the individual terpenoids. It refers to the complementary therapeutic effects created and suggests this increases the potential for broader clinical uses.

Terpenes are around us every day and can be found in a variety of food, beauty, and medicinal products. Understanding how they work within a full spectrum cannabis oil or a dried cannabis product will help to explain the synergy described when discussing the entourage effect of whole plant medicine.

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