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Terpenes

These aromatic compounds create the characteristic smell of many plants, such as cannabis, pine and lavender, as well as fresh orange peel. The fragrance of most plants is due to a combination of terpenes. In nature, these terpenes protect plants from grazing animals or infectious germs.

However, terpenes may also offer some health benefits to the human body. As regulations surrounding cannabis become less strict, scientists are conducting more research into these potential benefits.

Read on to learn more about terpenes in general, as well as more about their potential health benefits.

What are they?

The cannabis plant contains a high concentration of terpenes.
Terpenes are highly aromatic compounds that determine the smell of many plants and herbs, such as rosemary and lavender, as well as some animals.

Manufacturers use isolated terpenes to create the flavours and aromas of many everyday products, such as perfumes, body products and even foods.

Terpenes play a vital role in plants. In some plants, terpenes attract pollinators, while in others they provoke a strong reaction to repel predators, such as insects or foraging animals.

Some terpenes play a protective role in the plant, helping it to recover from damage; others act as part of the plant's immune system to keep out infectious germs.

Some people also use the term terpenoids. However, terpenes and terpenoids are not the same thing.

Terpenes are the natural form of these compounds when they are in the living plant. As a plant is dried and cured - in cannabis production, for example - terpenes are oxidised and converted into terpenoids.

How do they differ from cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds in cannabis.

Cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), activate receptors in the body's endocannabinoid system. This is what creates the 'high' that people experience when they use cannabis.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is another cannabinoid that is increasingly popular for its medicinal properties. Although CBD acts on some of the same receptors as THC, it influences them differently and does not create any euphoria.

THC and CBD may be the best known cannabinoids, but they are only two of more than 100 cannabinoids contained in the cannabis plant.

The cannabis plant also contains terpenes, which are among the most abundant compounds in the natural world.

Terpenes are primarily responsible for the odour of most plants and some animal compounds. However, some may also act on the body's endocannabinoid system in a similar way to cannabinoids.

The key difference is that the body absorbs and uses these compounds differently.

How do terpenes affect people?

Many terpenes are bioactive, which means that they can affect the body. This effect will vary depending on the concentration of the terpene itself and how a person uses it.

Because terpenes produce vibrant scents, they are the basis of many essential oils and are part of many alternative therapies, such as aromatherapy. Inhaling the aromas of some plants and essential oils can affect a person's mood and stress levels.

Some people believe that terpenes affect or enhance the effect a person gets from using cannabis. This is known as the entourage effect, and involves terpenes enhancing or altering the effects of THC and CBD in the body.

Some research supports these claims. For example, a review in Frontiers in Neurology found that people with epilepsy who took an extract rich in CBD and terpenes had better symptoms and fewer side effects than those who took purified CBD. This suggests that other components of cannabis, such as terpenes, may affect how the body uses CBD.

There is a lot of medical research on isolated terpenes themselves, and some of them could be used for medical purposes. A study published in Chemico-Biological Interactions notes that many terpenes have been shown to have beneficial effects on the body and could serve as alternative medicine or therapy.

Types of Terpenes

Although there are many terpenes in the natural world, scientists have studied only a handful.

Some examples of the best known terpenes are:

Limonene

Limonene is a common terpene that most people can recognise by its smell. As its name suggests, limonene gives the peels of fruits such as lemons and oranges their citrusy smell.

A study published in Chemico-Biological Interactions notes that limonene has the following therapeutic properties:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • antiviral
  • antidiabetic
  • anticarcinogenic

Limonene appears to modulate the behaviour of certain immune cells, which may protect the body from a range of disorders. Limonene is also safe for people taking it as a supplement.

Linalool

Linalool is the most abundant in the lavender plant and gives the flower its rich aroma. Linalool is one of the most important compounds in aromatherapy and is responsible for the calming effect that many people feel when smelling lavender or its essential oil.

A study published in Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces points out that linalool can affect the body in a number of ways due to a number of properties, including:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antimicrobial
  • neuroprotective
  • antidepressant
  • anticarcinogenic
  • anxiolytic

Linalool appears to work in the body, but researchers need to study its effects further to understand how people can use it to benefit their health.

Beta-caryophyllene

Beta-caryophyllene exists in many herbs and vegetables, such as cloves and black pepper.

Like other terpenes, beta-caryophyllene may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body that could reduce pain levels in some people.

In a study In animal studies, beta-caryophyllene reduced pain from inflammation and nerve pain. The researchers noted that this anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect could be useful for treating long-term chronic pain, as the body showed no sign of developing a tolerance to these effects.

Humulene

Humulene is a key component of the hop plant. Other plants, such as cloves and ginger, also contain humulene.

A study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology suggests that terpenes, including humulene, may have potential to prevent allergic reactions and asthma. In animal models, humulene reduced allergic inflammation in the airways. This could make it a useful compound for natural asthma treatments in the future.

Another study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that humulene may also have a protective effect on some cells. This protective effect may protect against cancer. However, this is only preliminary evidence, and researchers need to continue studying the effects of humulene to back up these claims.

Other Terpenes

The terpenes mentioned above are among the most abundant active terpenes that people can find in all our Balance Oils.

Other common terpenes are:

  • geraniol
  • terpinolene
  • ocimeno
  • nerolidol
  • phytol

In conclusion

Terpenes are the compounds responsible for the smell of most plants. They are abundant in cannabis and many other plants, fruits and herbs.

They can play a role in the health and survival of the plants in which they exist.

In some cases, smelling specific essential oils, ingesting terpene-rich plants or spending time in areas with high terpene content can provide some health benefits for humans.

Researchers must continue to study terpenes to fully understand their potential therapeutic and medicinal uses.

Written by:
Carlos Vera

Carlos Vera

CEO & Founder

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