Terpenes are a class of volatile hydrocarbon compounds produced by the cannabis plant as well as most other plants. Terpenes readily evaporate at room temperature, and our noses are highly sensitive to them.
Terpenes are recognized as safe for human consumption by the Food and Drug Association and are used in a wide variety of food and cosmetic products.
In nature, terpenes act as both a repellent for pests and as attractants for pollinators and seed spreaders. In cannabis, terpenes are produced in highest concentrations in the plant’s female flowers.
Although terpene molecules are all very similar, each has its own unique scent and flavor. Various combinations of terpenes are responsible for the distinct aromas of cannabis strains.
Terpenes can also have powerful effects on our bodies. In fact, terpenes have been utilized by humans for millennia in a healing modality known as aromatherapy. For example, the scent of citrus is produced primarily by a combination of limonene and pinene, both of which are thought to elevate mood.
Below are some of the most common terpenes along with their reported benefits:
- Linalool has a floral scent and is prominent in lavender. It is used as a sleep aid as well as a pain reliever, and an anti-inflammatory. It has also been used for psychosis and anxiety.
- Terpinolene is produced by oregano, marjoram, cumin, lilac, citrus and conifers. It has been used to help insomnia for hundreds of years. It’s believed to be an anti-biological agent with antibacterial and antifungal properties.
- Myrcene is found in plants such as mango, hops, bay leaves, eucalyptus and lemongrass, among others. It is thought to be useful for spasms, insomnia and pain. It’s also believed to have anti-inflammatory effects.
- Citronellol is produced in geraniums, rose and citrus. You might recognize its odor from its use as a mosquito and moth repellent. It’s thought to have anti-biological, anti-inflammatory and immune-regulating effects.
- Caryophyllene is found in basils, cloves and black pepper. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-biological, and antioxidant properties.
- Pinene is found in pine trees and orange peels. It is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects and has been used for centuries to help asthma.
- Limonene has a strong citrus odor and bitter taste. It is commonly used for toenail fungus, gastric reflux, depression and anxiety. It’s also believed to have immunostimulant properties.
- Humulene is found in hops and has an odor reminiscent of beer. It has been used for centuries for anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and appetite suppressant effects.
- Camphene has an earthy, woodsy aroma. It is a component of camphor oil and ginger oil, which are both thought to provide therapeutic effects.
- Terpineol is found in lilacs and other flower blossoms and has a sweet scent. It is thought to produce calming, relaxing effects. It also exhibits antibiotic and antioxidant properties.
- Phellandrene is produced in a number of herbs and spices. It is responsible for the aroma of peppermint. It is often used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat digestive disorders and systemic fungal infections.
This is just a short list of terpenes. There are many more.
Some terpenes can act as neurotransmitters. They can also act as serotonin uptake inhibitors, enhance norepinephrine activity and increase dopamine activity, all of which are known to produce antidepressant effects.
More importantly, terpenes also act on cannabinoid receptors and are known to modify the effects of cannabinoids.