Marijuana consumers often say that eating a fresh mango before taking cannabis leads to a more potent high—and now science says that this bit of stoner lore is actually true. That’s because mangoes are high in myrcene, a potent cannabis terpene that boosts the effectiveness of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids. But along with “escorting” these cannabis compounds across the blood-brain barrier, myrcene also has powerful healing properties of its own.
The resin glands of many plants—and even some animals—produce oils called terpenes. These oils are responsible for the many fragrances and tastes of herbs, spices, fruits and flowers, as well as plants like pine trees and cannabis.
Because terpenes occur naturally in so many edible plants and products derived from them, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given them the classification generally recognized as safe (GRAS). That’s why you’ll find terpenes in cooking, cleaning and industrial products. Depending on their origin, they’re also used to add spicy, earthy or fruity flavor to foods of all kinds.
Terpenes are also responsible for the distinctive smell and taste of different cannabis strains. And they can be extracted and used on their own or along with the whole marijuana plant for added effects. Cannabis contains around 200 identified terpenes, and most of these exist in very small amounts, or don’t have recognized health benefits.
But science has identified 10 major cannabis terpenes that occur in large amounts and have documented healing properties—and myrcene tops that list.
Myrcene adds flavor and scent to many fragrant plants and herbs, including:
Myrcene is also a key ingredient in hops used to make beer. It’s perhaps the most abundant terpene found in the Cannabis sativa plant, making up nearly 50% of its overall terpene content. Research suggests that cannabis strains with very high concentrations of myrcene are of the indica variety, known for its relaxing, calming effects.
Along with cannabinoids like THC and cannabidiol (CBD), and other terpenes, myrcene affects activity in the endocannabinoid system, (ECS) the body’s extensive network of receptors. These receptors bind not only to endocannabinoids—cannabinoid chemicals produced by the body—but also to cannabinoids from cannabis and other external sources.
Myrcene has a strong affinity for the ECS receptor called CB1, which is found throughout the body and brain. This suggests that it works synergistically with other cannabinoids and terpenes to boost their effects on that receptor.
This synergy has been called the entourage effect, and it’s a key factor in myrcene’s powerful healing benefits. The brain is protected by the blood-brain barrier, which prevents potentially harmful elements in the bloodstream from entering brain tissues.
Not many things can cross this barrier, but myrcene can, which makes it possible for THC, CBD and other cannabinoids to reach the neural pathways of the brain at full strength. This is why eating a myrcene-rich mango about 45 minutes before taking marijuana can help intensify the effects of THC.
In addition to boosting the effects of cannabinoids and other terpenes, myrcene also has benefits of its own for a number of health conditions. Recent studies reveal that myrcene is such a potent terpene that its effects on the body and brain are very nearly as powerful as the effects of primary cannabinoids like THC and CBD. For this reason, myrcene is “anti” just about every process that can harm the human body.
Myrcene is anti-inflammatory. Inflammatory processes can cause cells to oxidize and die, weakening the immune system’s response to disease. Myrcene supports the anti-inflammatory action of CBD and other terpenes, and also has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect of its own.
Myrcene is an analgesic. Analgesics are pain relievers, and like other parts of the cannabis plant, myrcene can help ease pain from a variety of sources. It’s thought that myrcene helps with pain possibly by interfering with the pain-signaling system or by boosting the amount of pain-relieving chemicals the brain releases.
Myrcene promotes relaxation and sleep. With its relaxing, sedative effect, myrcene plays a major role in the well-known couch-lock syndrome—the feeling when someone is so relaxed after consuming an indica marijuana strain that they just want to fall asleep on the couch. That means myrcene, or cannabis strains high in myrcene, can be an effective and generally harmless sleep aid for many people.
Myrcene can also be an antidepressant. Along with its ability to calm and relax, myrcene may also boost the production of chemicals like dopamine, one of the “feel good” neurotransmitters, and GABA, a chemical that damps down excessive activity in the nervous system and helps regulate mood.
Myrcene may be an antiproliferative and antimutagenic compound. Some research suggests that myrcene can help prevent cell mutations that can lead to cancer. Not only that, but myrcene also appears to keep those mutated cells from reproducing and spreading.
Myrcene is available as an extract, which can be added to various ways of taking cannabis to intensify its effects. It’s also an ingredient in many essential oils and oil preparations for aromatherapy and skin care. Since it’s found in so many foods, it’s considered generally nontoxic unless consumed in very large quantities.
Indica cannabis strains that are high in myrcene include:
If you prefer hybrid marijuana strains, myrcene rich ones to try are:
It’s important to keep in mind that because myrcene increases the maximum saturation of your brain’s cannabinoid receptors, strains high in myrcene can also intensify the effects of other cannabinoids and terpenes, particularly THC. Or if you can’t get your hands on a marijuana strain high in myrcene or a myrcene extract, munch on a mango before you take your cannabis to get a similar effect.
Myrcene leads the list of influential cannabis terpenes that interact with other terpenes and cannabinoids to impart the benefits of whole plant medicine. Whether you smoke, vape or consume your cannabis another way, you can reap the benefits of this potent terpene.
Photo credit: Ella Olsson
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