What Are Cannabis Terpenes and How Do They Work?

Have you ever wondered what makes Durban Poison smell so pungent or why OJ Kush smells so skunky? It’s all about terpenes, the marvelous aromatic and essential oils that give cannabis not only its unique smell but also its tremendous flavor and bodily effects. These fragrant oils, which are abundant within marijuana, are thought to boost the therapeutic effects created by both THC and CBD whether that be pain relief or helping with a better night’s sleep.

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What’s a Terpene?

Unlike cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, terpenes are found in fruits, herbs and even some insects. Why does a lemon smell lemon-ey, with its “lemon fresh” scent? It’s the terpene limonene. And why does lavender not only have its unique smell but induce a blissful sleepy state? It’s the terpene linalool.

Recent research indicates that terpenes are responsible for the biggest chemical differentiation between cannabis strains providing the flavor profile and unique aromas. While each plant, including cannabis, has a varied terpene profile, there is usually a dominant characteristic that comes to the fore, as with lemons and lavender. Terpenes are extracted from plants for both their smell and their therapeutic effect, as we have seen with aromatherapy oils for hundreds of years.

How Cannabis Terpenes Work

Terpenes are present in the resin that collects on glandular trichomes, those beautiful orb-like glands that collect on cannabis flower buds. Terpenes in recent years have challenged the assumption that "indica" and "sativa" are what give strains their sedating or energizing effects. New research indicates that it may be specific terpenes that enhance your ability to clean your home with renewed energy or allow you to fall into a "couch-lock" state while you watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

It’s now somewhat common to see terpene profiles when a strain is sent to a cannabis lab for analysis. Knowing your terpene profile will help you to better understand the possible therapeutic effects.

As terpenes work in concert with both the cannabinoid profile as well as with other terpenes, there are endless potential synergistic effects. We have only just begun to understand how terpenes work, but we do know that they help to create the entourage effect.

The entourage effect, is a relatively new theory, concludes that compounds in cannabis and in other plants, affect the human body only when combined with other chemical components. Thus THC may be more potent or effective when combines with a specific terpene, such as myrcene.

How terpenes actually work within the body is the result of both psychological and pharmacological mechanisms within our bodies. From the limited data collected, it seems that both contribute to the effects we feel from terpenes.

Terpenes also affect psychological phenomena, meaning that a distinct smell will determine an emotional and psychological reaction. In some instances, this reaction or intuition may even keep us safe from danger. When it comes to cannabis, listen to your sense of smell, if you don’t like the way a strain smells, you may not like the body effect it creates.

Below we list some of the common terpenes found within the cannabis plant.

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Limonene

Limonene is a common uplifting and citrusy terpene is what gives the zest to lemon and the tang to your tastebuds. It’s also found in orange rind and within juniper. It’s known to elevate mood, provide stress relief, and have antifungal and antibacterial properties. In some instance,s it may even help with heartburn. Scientific studies indicate that inhaling limonene vapor increases serotonin and dopamine levels which may help alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety.

Strains that have high amounts of limonene terpene are Strawberry Banana and White Fire OG.

Pinene

Walk into a pine forest on any day and you’ll smell the aromatic pinene)terpene from the abundance of pine needles – pinene. It’s also one of the most abundant terpenes in the world and can be found within pine needles, rosemary, and even basil. Pinene is said to be an excellent anti-inflammatory, help with pain relief, and combat feelings of anxiety.

Strains that have high amounts of pinene terpene are Blue Dream and Cannatonic.

Humulene

When you enter a brewery, you’ll know that distinct hoppy smell that permeates the air. Add a little bit of woodsy and earthy contrast and you have the terpene humulene. Humulene has also long been in the homeopath’s medicine cabinet and is found within black pepper, hops, and ginseng. Humulene is known to be an appetite suppressant, help to ease anxiety and decrease inflammation.

Strains that have high amounts of humulene terpene are Gelato and Death Star.

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