The two most well-known components of cannabis are THC and CBD, but there are many more important compounds in this valuable plant. So far, 480 chemical components of cannabis have been identified. One important group of chemicals found in cannabis are terpenes. These chemicals could make vital contributions to the beneficial properties of medical marijuana.
Terpenes are the chemicals that give marijuana its flavor and aroma; in fact, variations in the amounts of various types of terpenes are what make different strains of cannabis smell earthy, fruity or herbal. Different terpenes also have different effects on the body, ranging from calming down inflammation and relieving pain to enhancing mood and increasing cognitive function.
The following five terpenes are some of the most important for giving cannabis its healing properties.
Also found in hops, bay leaves, lemongrass and eucalyptus, beta-myrcene is the most common terpene in marijuana. It has a spicy, herbal aroma that users of medical marijuana may recognize as characteristic of some strains.
[Beta-myrcene](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myrcene# Pharmacological_effects) has an incredible ability to help the body heal. It relaxes muscles, and studies have shown that it acts as a general sedative in mice. It also reduces inflammation, which could help the body recover from illness or injury. Importantly, beta-myrcene has a pain-relieving effects, which could help explain why some people use lemongrass tea for medicinal purposes.
The second-most common terpene in cannabis is limonene. It has that lemony-fresh scent that many people associate with insect repellent and lemon-flavored cleaning products. In fact, manufacturers often use limonene to make their products smell that way. Limonene occurs naturally in both citrus fruits and marijuana.
The healing action of limonene are well-documented. Studies have shown that limonene promotes healing of the mucous cells in the digestive tract, without any toxic effects. This could explain why it is used as a treatment for gastric reflux and ulcers. It may also fight bacterial infections, stimulate the immune system, and suppress the growth of tumors.
Alpha-pinene -- a compound most commonly associated with pine trees and other conifers -- is another important chemical in cannabis. Like other terpenes, it has anti-inflammatory effects that augment the inflammation-fighting ability of cannabidol (CBD). Alpha-pinene dilates the bronchial tubes, allowing users to draw cannabis smoke or vapor deep into the lungs. Some even claim that it increases cognitive function.
Despite its complicated name, beta-caryophyllene is actually a very common chemical. It's found in cloves and black pepper, and helps to give those foods their characteristic flavors. Beta-caryophyllene (known more concisely as BCP) binds to the cannabinoid receptor CB2. This receptor is involved in inflammation and pain. Studies suggest that BCP could be useful for treating long-term pain.
Often used in perfumes due to its lovely floral scent, linalool is found in a range of nice-smelling plants, including mint, lavender, citrus, and cinnamon. It's a commonly used remedy for stress and anxiety, which can be particularly effective in combination with SSRIs. Linalool even reduces seizures in conditions such as epilepsy.
The various terpenes in cannabis work together to increase the overall potency of the plant. This is known as the entourage effect, and it could explain why whole cannabis has more beneficial medicinal effects than individual chemicals that are extracted from the plant. For example, the FDA-approved drug Marinol can be useful for treating nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and anorexia caused by AIDS, but there is some evidence that whole marijuana could be more helpful and could cause fewer side effects.
The synergy between the various terpenes found in cannabis would likely be difficult or impossible to replicate in an artificially created drug. Extracting a single compound from cannabis changes the effects of the chemical, which can lead to undesirable side effects or a treatment that is less effective than pure marijuana.
Often, patients who could benefit from medical marijuana need more than one of the effects. Cannabis includes compounds that can relieve pain, nausea, loss of appetite and inflammation - a common combination of symptoms for patients suffering from a variety of serious medical conditions.
By choosing a strain of cannabis that contains the right combination of terpenes and other compounds, patients may be able to access specific benefits, while still harnessing the power of the entourage effect to increase the potency of the drug. The terpenes listed above occur in varying amounts in the different strains of cannabis, making it possible to select a strain based on the needs of the patient and the symptoms they are experiencing.
Cannabis has the ability to reduce pain, tackle nausea, and fight inflammation. As a result, it has incredible potential to help people suffering from a range of disease symptoms and medication side effects. By using medical marijuana, rather than a chemically synthesized drug, patients gain access to all the benefits of cannabis. These not only include the effects of the more than 400 compounds found naturally in cannabis, but also the interactions between them.