Sure, the big buzzwords surrounding marijuana and hemp may still be THC and CBD. But, if you’ve ever set foot in a dispensary or researched hemp-derived CBD products (e.g. cannabinoid-rich hemp oil tinctures, vapes, or topicals), you’ve probably heard someone mention “terpenes.” If not, then let us be the first to introduce you to these incredibly powerful plant compounds, and to explain why you definitely want them around.
What are terpenes and where do they come from?
If you’ve ever noticed the sweet smell of a rose on a hot summer day, caught a zesty whiff of a freshly peeled orange, inhaled in the intoxicatingly festive scent of a Christmas tree, or asked yourself “do I smell skunk?” while walking through downtown Boulder, then congratulations, you’ve experienced terpenes!
Terpenes are the aromatic organic compounds, or phytochemicals, that give plants their signature taste and smell. Plants typically produce these pungent essential oils as a defense mechanism to ward off predators. But, as luck would have it, many terpenes are beneficial to human health.
In fact, may doctors in Japan prescribe “forest bathing” (a.k.a. long walks in the woods) to patients; and, research suggests, some of the positive results (e.g. reduced inflammation and improved immune functioning) are due to breathing in the terpenes released by trees and other woodland plants.
Hemp and marijuana are no exception. Both contain dozens of different terpenes spread throughout the entire plant, but the specific terpenes and quantity of each varies depending on strain of the plant or what qualities it was bred for. Any minimally processed cannabis* product, like a high quality cannabinoid-rich (full-spectrum) hemp oil, will contain terpenes as well.
*Pro tip: the term cannabis encompasses both hemp and marijuana.
Terpenes contribute to the “entourage effect”
The benefit of terpenes is twofold: Not only do they offer therapeutic benefits of their own, they also interact with various cannabinoids (CBD, CBC, CBG, CBN, CBA) and other compounds to enhance or mute their effects. This influences the overall effect of a product. In fact, you could have two hemp oils with the exact same cannabinoid content, but the characteristics of each would differ based on their terpene profile.
This synergistic relationship between terpenes and cannabinoids, which has been demonstrated in scientific studies, is part of what’s known as the “entourage effect.” To get a better idea of how it works, consider orange juice: Everyone thinks the major beneficial ingredient in orange juice is vitamin C, but without the presence of tinier nutrients called bioflavonoids to help usher vitamin C into your cells, it wouldn’t be nearly as beneficial. So, essentially, cannabinoids are to vitamin C as terpenes are to bioflavonoids.
Terpenes (not “indica” and “sativa”) dictate how relaxed or amped you’ll feel
Even some of the most educated cannabis consumers think that cannabis strains, or cannabis-derived products, that are labeled “indica” will relax you while those labeled “sativa” will energize you. The truth is, from a scientific standpoint, the terms “indica” and “sativa” solely describe the species of the cannabis plant, not its mood- and energy-regulating characteristics. How amped up or chilled out you feel is actually a result of the terpene profile. In fact, some articles have gone as far as to say “terpenes are the new indica and sativa.”
If you’re at a dispensary or shopping online, something labeled “indica” might, in fact, relax you—but it might not actually be a predominantly indica strain. Same goes for things labeled “sativa.” Ideally, in the near future, cannabis products will be categorized based on their specific terpene profile so we don’t have to keep misusing the terms “indica” and “sativa.”
5 common hemp terpenes and what they do in the body
Terpenes have their own effects apart from their synergistic relationship with cannabinoids. For example, certain terpenes can directly influence the brain’s neurotransmitters, which may help regulate your mood. But the benefits don’t stop there. Here are some common terpenes found in hemp and a few of their health perks:
Myrcene is one of the most prevalent terpenes in cannabis. It’s also found in mango, lemongrass, and hops. Cannabis products with high levels of myrcene will result in greater relaxation, while those with lower levels are often more energizing. Myrcene is also anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and has cancer-fighting properties.
Linalool is a calming terpene that’s also found in cinnamon. It helps alleviate anxiety and depression, reduce seizures, boost the immune system, and reduce lung inflammation. It may also be helpful in treating various forms of dementia.
Caryophyllene is the only terpene (that we know of) that interacts with the endocannabinoid system. It’s also found in cloves, rosemary, and basil. It’s gastroprotective and may help treat ulcers and relieve autoimmune disorders associated with the gut. It also has cancer-fighting, pain-relieving, and muscle-relaxing properties.
Humulene is also found in hops, cloves, and basil. This terpene is known for its ability to suppress appetite, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain.
Bisabolol is naturally present in German Chamomile. It has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-irritant effects, which is why it’s sometimes used as an ingredient in skincare products. It also has cancer-fighting properties and helps induce death (apoptosis) of leukemia cells.
All of these terpenes (and more) are found in TruestYou hemp products, which are specifically formulated to contain only terpenes that promote calm and reduce anxiety.
How to know if your CBD oil contains terpenes
If individual cannabinoids or terpenes are isolated, they’ll be far less effective than they are together. That’s one reason you should be careful when buying CBD oil, as most products labeled “CBD oil” simply contain CBD isolate and a carrier oil—no terpenes. A better choice would be a cannabinoid-rich (full-spectrum) hemp oil that contains a range of different cannabinoids (CBD, CBC, CBG, CBN), terpenes, and a variety of other naturally occurring nutrients.
Some cannabis products contain natural cannabis-derived terpenes, while others contain natural terpenes derived from other plants, like citrus. Both can be safe and effective, as long as the the product contains the right terpenes in the right ratios to deliver the benefit you want. For example, all TruestYou hemp products have a controlled terpene profile that’s specifically formulated to help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation (by removing any terpenes that could be remotely agitating), while simultaneously delivering a subtle energy boost.
Written by health coach and wonderful human being, Steph Eckelkamp. Check out some of her other informative articles on her website.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.