Terpenes: Medicinal Benefits and Characteristics

dank budTHC has often been the chief concern of growers, patients and connoisseurs for decades but experiments have shown that Cannabis can contain dozens of active cannabinoids and hundreds of another class of active chemicals known as ‘terpenes.’ Though often overlooked, terpenes have long been known to possess powerful medicinal properties (they are the molecules responsible for many of the odors we know and love) and recent studies have suggested that they may play a more important role in the beneficial effects of cannabis than previously thought.

The cannabis community has always reinforced the anecdote that more odorous (my personal favorite term is ‘louder’) buds tend to be more potent but it wasn’t until 1998 that a scientific connection was be made to identify the synergistic effects between terpenes and cannabinoids. After over a decade of research, an article was finally published in the well-respected British Journal of Pharmacology outlining the potential medicinal properties of terpenes found in cannabis. We’ve outlined his work for a few of the more prevalent terpenes below:

D-Limonene:

  • Has a strong ‘citrusy’ scent and is responsible for the smell of citrus fruits, this is the second most common terpene found in nature.
  • Shown to have strong anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects
  • Being tested as treatment for breast cancer
  • Treats gastro-esophageal reflux
  • Demonstrated to have effective ‘antioxidant’ properties

β-Myrcene:

  • Found in hops, bay leaves and eucalyptus and fresh mango
  • Strong anti-inflammatory properties
  • Shown to prevent liver cancer
  • Has a sedative effect that may be associated with “couch lock” when combined with THC

α-Pinene:

  • The single most common terpene found in nature, responsible for ‘piney’ odors.
  • Insect repellant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Bronchodilator at low concentrations (opens breathing passages in the lungs)
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotic properties with ‘prominent activity against MRSA’
  • Appears to aid with short-term memory by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase (a neurotransmitter)

D-Linalool:

  • Responsible for the scent of Lavender
  • shown to have strong anti-anxiety properties
  • Sedative properties
  • Effective local anesthetic
  • Anti-convulsant

β-Caryophyllene:

  • The most common terpene found in decarboxylated cannabis extracts, has a ‘black pepper’ scent
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Shown to be effective in treating stomach ulcers
  • May have anti-malarial properties

Nerolidol:

  • Found in lesser concentrations in orange peels
  • Used to fight colon cancers
  • has strong skin-penetrating properties and may be useful in treating fungal growth

Caryophyllene oxide:

  • Common to lemon balm and Eucalyptus, this terpene is responsible for the scent detected by drug-sniffing dogs
  • Strong broad-spectrum anti-fungal
  • Shown to be an effective anti-coagulant in vitro

As you can plainly see, cannabinoids are not the only factor at work when it comes to the real medicinal properties of cannabis. Still, many growers and “concentrate artists” still take little care to ensure that these volatile terpenes are preserved during processing (they begin to decrease in concentration as soon as a plant is harvested and over purging only accelerates that process). Armed with the information we now have, it’s up to providers to ensure that these compounds are preserved and it’s imperative that the federal government remove Marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act so that more research can be done.

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