The two most well-known components of cannabis are the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), but there are many more important compounds that make up the cannabis plant. So far, 480 chemical components of cannabis have been identified. One important group of chemicals found in cannabis are terpenes. Terpenes are oils that have been shown to boost the positive effects of CBD and THC, making terpenes vital to the beneficial properties of medical marijuana.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are the chemicals that give marijuana—and many other plants—its flavor and aroma. It’s the terpenes that make different strains of cannabis smell earthy, fruity or herbal. Even if you’re not a regular cannabis consumer, you’ve probably come into contact with terpenes regularly, whether in aromatherapy oils or cleaning products.
Different terpenes also have different effects on the body including: relieving stress, decreasing inflammation, easing pain enhancing mood and increasing cognitive function.
Top 5 Terpenes You Should Know
This list of terpenes is a great place to begin if you want to start looking at what terpenes are in your marijuana. It’s also a handy list if you want to start asking for cannabis strains and products that contain specific terpenes to treat particular health concerns.
1. Beta-Myrcene Helps the Body Heal
Beta-myrcene is the most common terpene found in marijuana. But you can also find it in:
- Bay leaves
Beta-myrcene has a spicy, herbal aroma that cannabis consumers may recognize from strains such as White Widow and Jack Herer.
Beta-myrcene has an incredible ability to help the body heal. It’s been shown to:
- Relax muscles
- Act as a general sedative in mice
- Reduce inflammation
- Ease pain
2. Limonene May Stop Tumours From Growing
The next most-common terpene in cannabis is limonene, which can also be found in citrus fruits. It has that lemony-fresh scent that many people associate with insect repellent and cleaning products that smell like lemon.
The healing action of limonene is well-documented. Studies have shown that limonene promotes healing of the mucous cells in the digestive tract—without any toxic effects. This could explain why it’s used as a treatment for gastric reflux and ulcers. Limonene has also been shown to:
- Fight bacterial infections
- Stimulate the immune system
- Suppress the growth of tumours
If you’re interested in marijuana that’s rich in limonene, go for strains like Sour Diesel or Lemon Skunk. All you have to do to detect limonene in your cannabis is give it a sniff—if it smells like lemons you know it contains limonene.
3. Alpha-Pinene Works With CBD to Boost Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Alpha-pinene is the terpene that’s most abundant in nature and is most commonly associated with pine trees and other conifers. If you’ve ever smelled any perfumes, essential oils or other products with a pine-fresh scent, that’s due to the alpha-pinene. Alpha-pinene also:
- Dilates the bronchial tubes, improving airflow into the lungs
- Has anti-inflammatory effects and augments CBD’s own inflammation-fighting ability
- Increases cognitive function
- Raises alertness
4. Beta-Caryophyllene Helps Fight Inflammation & Pain
- Despite its complicated-sounding name, beta-caryophyllene is actually a very common chemical. It's found in cloves, cinnamon, basil and black pepper, among other places.
Beta-caryophyllene binds to the cannabinoid receptor CB2. This receptor is involved in inflammation and pain and so it’s no surprise that studies suggest that this terpene could be useful for treating long-term pain. Beta-caryophyllene has also been shown to help ease:
- Alcohol dependency
5. Linalool Can Ease Stress & Anxiety
Often used in perfumes due to its lovely floral scent, linalool is found in a range of fragrant plants including:
Linalool is commonly used to help remedy:
Linalool is only found in small amounts in the cannabis plant. But if you’re interested in this terpene, go for strains such as Amnesia Haze and Lavender. You could also add linalool extract to a favorite cannabis product to get the benefits of the terpene and to boost the effectiveness of the cannabinoids (just make sure not to heat it too high as terpenes break down when exposed to high temperatures).
Marijuana Terpenes, Cannabinoids & The Entourage Effect
The various terpenes in cannabis work together, as well as along with all of the cannabinoids to increase the overall potency of the plant. This is known as the entourage effect and it could explain why whole cannabis has more beneficial medicinal effects than when individual chemicals are extracted from the plant.
The synergy between the various cannabis terpenes would likely be difficult or impossible to replicate in an artificially created drug. Extracting a single compound from cannabis changes the effects of the chemical, which can lead to undesirable side effects. It also means these single-compound extracts end up being treatments that are less effective than natural marijuana or a cannabis product that’s a whole plant extract.
Often, patients who could benefit from medical marijuana need more than one of the effects. Cannabis includes compounds that can relieve pain, nausea, loss of appetite and inflammation—a common combination of symptoms for patients suffering from a variety of serious medical conditions.
By choosing a marijuana strain or product that contains the right combination of terpenes and other compounds, patients may be able to access specific benefits, while still harnessing the power of the entourage effect to increase the potency of the plant.