Taking A Look At Terpenes

Written by BlackbirdGo April 6, 2018
The Plant

Thanks to years of inadequate research and social stigmatism, cannabinoids have become the most well-known compound in cannabis. Cannabinoids, of course, include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the two compounds that most cannabis buyers look at. But as research continues, it’s becoming increasingly clear that THC and CBD aren’t the only major compounds at play. One type of compound that’s starting to get more attention is called a terpene.

Never heard of them? You aren’t alone.

Terpenes, also sometimes call terpenoids, make up a lot of the what you find in cannabis. Any given strand of cannabis can have somewhere around 100 different terpene compounds. They’re the source of the cannabis aroma – and the aroma of numerous other plants.

Even if you don’t know what terpenes are (or don’t use cannabis products) you’ve likely used terpene-based products before. Terpenoids are a main ingredient in many essential oils, the base for different perfumes and fragrances.

If you don't use fragrances, you’ve probably used terpenes for their medicinal uses. Vitamin A is a terpenoid, and that’s a major factor in everyday health.
While cannabis isn’t your source of Vitamin A, you can still reap plenty of the benefits offered by terpenes. We can trace many of the medicinal properties of cannabis by looking at the terpenes at work, both individually and together.

History of Terpenoids

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Terpenes are naturally occurring, and they’re found in much more than just cannabis. They’re primarily produced by plants, and humans have been using terpenes for thousands of years. Obtaining essential oils – which is more or less obtaining terpenes – can be traced back to the Medieval era. Use of these oils continued, and it wasn’t until the 18th century that research on terpenes began. The first analysis of terpenes occurred in 1818, and the term “terpene,” derived from turpentine, was coined in 1866.

Early observations of terpenes weren’t for their medical benefits. It was immediately obvious that terpenes were the source of aromas in plant essential oils, and early scientists noted how volatile the liquid terpene substance was. It hasn’t been until the past few decades that terpenoids have been analyzed for their medicinal value.

Since their initial discovery, over 50,000 terpenoids identified. Obviously, evaluating the full effects of each one has been pretty much impossible.

While there is still plenty of research to be done on the terpenes found in cannabis and the overall effects they have, we know enough about some of the major terpenes and their relation to different strains of cannabis.

What strains have specific terpenes?

While you’re bound to find most of the same terpenes in any given strain of cannabis, one thing to note is that different strains have different levels of terpenes, especially when you’re comparing indica and sativa. Terpene levels can also have large fluctuations from one sativa strain to another – and the same goes for indica.

Unfortunately, experts do not always agree on terpenes and their relation to indica or sativa strains. For example, a prevailing belief right now is that any strain with more than 0.5% myrcene is an indica. The assumption is that myrcene plays a role in the psychoactive effects relative to indica.

However, some sativa strains have myrcene contents of over 1.5%.

The reality is that while some terpenes are more prominent in sativa strains or indica strains, they can change from strain to strain.

The good news is that you can be secure knowing you’re getting specific terpenes in either type of strain. This is particularly helpful if you’re looking for medical benefits.

Who can benefit from terpenes?

The truth is that everyone not only benefits from terpenoids, but they need some to stay healthy.

The main terpenoids in cannabis, such as linalool, myrcene and limonene, aren’t necessary day-to-day, but they can help with a variety of medical issues.

Most terpenoids in marijuana are proven to have anti-inflammatory properties, making them ideal for people with breathing problems. Some of these terps are also anti-bacterial, so they can help keep you from becoming ill. Other terpenoids help with mental and physical relaxation, leading some scientists to believe that the psychoactive effects of cannabis aren’t solely derived from cannabinoids.

Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be breaking down the main terpenoids found in cannabis. Check back to learn about more about the terpenoids in your cannabis!

Photograph: Christine Hume

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