A recent study is shining a light on yet another component of the cannabis plant: terpenes. Simply described, they’re essential oils in the plant’s resin glands.
Until recently, it was thought that the healing properties of cannabis were located primarily in cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). But this study out of Israel found that terpenes appear to play a significant part in reducing inflammation, which is a key factor in many health conditions.
For centuries, medical marijuana has been a part of the world’s herbal apothecary. In Mexico, cannabis has been used to make linamenta for generations. Linamenta is cannabis flower soaked in alcohol to create a cooling, bracing body rub to soothe sore muscles.
As the plant gained in popularity throughout the U.S., family farmers and herbalists began experimenting with their own homegrown medicines. Though largely anecdotal, medical cannabis consumers lauded the plant’s place in reducing pain, particularly for those suffering from inflammatory illnesses and conditions.
As time went on, our understanding of the cannabis plant has expanded exponentially. Researchers started identifying scores of cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
At first, marijuana breeders focused on increasing a strain’s THC profile to maximize the high associated with cannabis. But soon, a range of medical properties were found in the lesser-known cannabinoids such as:
Each of these cannabinoids are associated with unique, healing profiles we’re only beginning to understand.
When you take a whiff of your cannabis flower, you’re not smelling cannabinoids; you’re smelling terpenes: the aromatic, chemical expressions of cannabis responsible for the plant’s flavor and smell.
Terpenes aren’t unique to cannabis; they’re responsible for the scents of plants throughout the botanical kingdom. When you sample the scents at your natural food store’s essential oil counter, you’re smelling terpenes. When you breathe in the woody scent of a pine forest, you’re smelling pinene, a terpene found in stately pine trees and cannabis plants.
Scientists have identified more than 100 terpenes in the cannabis plant, and we’re just beginning to understand their importance as enhancers of the plant’s healing and medicinal properties.
The 2018 Israeli study set out to study whether terpenoids, essential oils processed from terpenes, had a beneficial effect on pain reduction and inflammation.
The goal of the study was to compare the analgesic effects of three types of terpenoids to CBD. What the researchers found was that the three terpenoid essential oils—each of which contained up to four dozen different terpenes—were effective in addressing acute inflammatory conditions.
In contrast, CBD appeared to relieve chronic inflammatory conditions more effectively. The researchers tested animal subjects as well as performed cellular studies in vitro. Though more testing is needed, it’s clear that terpenes play an important role in cannabis medicine.
In the same way that the cannabis industry has exploded with products containing CBD, terpenes are becoming a standalone product, sometimes added to foods at cannabis eateries, and often added to flavorless cannabis distillates, giving the final product a distinct flavor and aroma.
Terpenes themselves aren’t psychoactive, and they exist in many other plants. This is why some manufacturers use terpenes from other plants to augment their cannabis distillates.
The best way to figure out which terpenes are beneficial for you is to study terpene profiles. In legal cannabis states like California, cannabis products that advertise terpenes must be tested to confirm the type and percentage of terpenes. Call your product manufacturer, and ask if they can tell you the terpene profile present in the products you buy.
That said, the nose knows. If you consume cannabis flowers, do a blind scent test. See which flowers you gravitate towards, and then check the strain. Chances are you’ll be attracted to the terpenes your body needs most.
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