What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are organic molecules produced by all plants and some insects. If you’ve ever been delighted by a fragrant flower or disgusted by a stinky bug, then your nose is already quite familiar with organic terpenes.
Terpenes are responsible for the potent natural scents that flowers, fruits and some insects give off. Even without knowing exactly what they were, ancient cultures have used terpenes as flavorings, fragrances and medicines for millennia (CITATION 1). To date, researchers have identified more than 80,000 kinds of organic terpenes (CITATION 2).
A few of the most common terpene smells include:
Many plants and insects use the smells produced by organic terpenes as defense mechanisms or reproduction aids. On the defense side, they can help protect plants and bugs from getting eaten by hungry animals or infected by fungi and bacteria (CITATION 3). They can also attract bees and other insects to participate in the cycle of pollination.
Us humans use these phytochemicals to make refreshing essential oils and to add unique scents and tastes to beauty products, cleaning supplies, foods and beverages. If you’ve ever made your bathroom smell like a pine forest, your dishes smell like lavender or your car smell like a lemon tree, you too have enjoyed a terpene or two.
Cannabinoids vs Terpenes
When it comes to cannabis, the cannabinoids tend to get most of the attention. Everyone talks about the CBD and the THC content while mostly ignoring the unique medicinal and therapeutic effects of the marijuana terpenes.
Just like every cannabis hybrid has its own cannabinoid profile with precise ratios and combinations of cannabinoids, each also has its own terpene profile with its own unique terpene blends. So far, researchers have identified more than 100 different cannabinoids and around 150 distinct natural terpenes in the cannabis plant alone (CITATION 4).
Just like the cannabinoids themselves, cannabis terpenes are made in the resin glands of the cannabis plant, which we call the “trichomes.” Researchers believe THC is the only compound made by these glands that can get you high. None of the other cannabinoids or marijuana terpenes have been found to have psychotropic effects.
What they have found, however, is that cannabinoids and cannabis terpenes may actually work together synergistically to enhance each other’s medicinal and therapeutic effects. Cannabis researchers call this the “entourage effect.” (CITATION 5)
This entourage effect means that learning about hemp terpenes and how they work may help us pin down what certain CBD products can do better and worse than others. When you can understand the terpene profiles of the various CBD products on the market, it may be easier to pick the one that’s right for you.
Botanically Derived vs Hemp Derived Terpenes
Natural terpenes are beginning to catch on in the cannabis industry as scented molecules with possible medicinal properties. CBD and cannabis consumers are beginning to learn which cannabis terpenes, and ipso facto, which cannabis hybrids, they prefer, whether for their smell, taste or effects.
Isolated terpenes that come from a cannabis plant are known as hemp derived terpenes. Unfortunately, the process of pulling these baby molecules directly from their hemp mothers is still quite expensive. Extracting bulk hemp terpenes is also messy, inefficient and difficult to standardize and scale. That brings us to their botanically derived cousins.
A botanically derived terpene is one that has been pulled from a non-hemp plant. It’s kind of a misnomer, given that hemp is also a plant.
It is believed that botanically derived and hemp terpenes are functionally the same, even if they come from different sources. However hemp derived isolates may pair better with other hemp and cannabis derived isolates. What is special about Hemp Derived terpenes is that there are many terpenes that are specific to cannabis/hemp. Whether the terpenes that manufacturers add to their CBD products originally came from a hemp plant or a non-hemp plant, the end result should be the same. Except for the terpenes that are exclusive from hemp and cannabis. The smell, the taste and most importantly, the effects will be indistinguishable but when you add in the cannabis specific terpenes it creates synergistic effects for the entire compound. Most Terpene suppliers only have access to non cannabis terpenes. When you use hemp and cannabis derived terpenes you get a much broader spectrum of dn science shows that is the key to maximizing the effects of the cannabinoids and other compounds in the plant.
Common Hemp Terpenes
The fact that different strains of cannabis have unique terpene blends is one of the main reasons that different CBD products have subtly different effects. Knowing the terpene profile of a CBD oil, edible, topical or tincture can clue you in on what to expect. It can help you narrow down what works for you and what doesn’t work so well.
Full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD oil is made from the entire hemp plant and is chock full of hemp-derived organic terpenes. CBD isolate, on the other hand, is pure CBD extract. Products made with CBD isolate don’t contain any other cannabinoids or hemp derived terpenes.
To counter this problem and bring back the entourage effect, CBD isolate manufacturers often add botanically derived wholesale terpenes to their CBD products. As we’ve already seen, isolated terpenes from other plant sources end up producing basically the same effects as ones isolated from hemp plants. CBD entrepreneurs can choose which botanically derived organic terpenes to add to give their products the specific food grade terpene profiles they want.
Let’s take a deep dive into the most common cannabis terpenes and explore their distinct scents and possible medicinal effects.
Myrcene is made by mango, basil, lemongrass, hops and cannabis plants. It has an earthy, musky scent. Research indicates that this terpene has relaxant and even sedative properties that may be able to help you sleep better (CITATION 6). It also seems to be anti-inflammatory and may protect against certain kinds of cancer (CITATION 7).
This terpene is made abundantly by citrus plants like lemon and orange, but it’s also found in many cannabis strains. As you might imagine, it has a bold citrus tang. Researchers believe it may have anti-cancer properties and are currently investigating its specific effects on breast cancer (CITATION 8). It may also protect against harmful bacteria, viruses and inflammation (CITATION 9).
Like its name indicates, pinene smells like pine and is found mainly in pine needles as well as cannabis. There’s a lot of research suggesting this terpene may be effective against inflammation and cancer. It is also being studied for its neuroprotective and antioxidative properties (CITATION 10).
Linalool is a time-honored terpene found in the frankincense used by ancient royalty. You can also find it in lavender, tomatoes, coriander and various strains of cannabis. Linalool helps your body inhibit inflammatory cytokines and may also combat pain, manage cholesterol and eliminate harmful microorganisms (CITATION 11).
This is the terpene most people associate with black pepper. Its spicy overtones also contribute to the complex flavors of cloves, hops, rosemary and some cannabis hybrids. Recent studies indicate it may protect against anxiety and depression. Beta-Caryophyllene also seems to have antioxidant, antimicrobial, immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects. Prolonged use may be effective against arthritis. (CITATION 12)
Besides eucalyptus trees, the mint-adjacent scent of eucalyptol can also be found in sage, bay leaves, rosemary, cardamom and many kinds of cannabis. It’s used in cleaning supplies and soaps for its fresh odor, but studies also suggest it may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and even anticancer properties (CITATION 13).
Ocimene is a sweet terpene present in mangoes, kumquats, orchids, lavender, pepper and various sweet cannabis strains. It is in a number of studies exploring its possible antioxidant, antifungal and anti-inflammatory activity (CITATION 14).