Terpenes or terpenoids are key to the smell and flavour of plants. But they prove to be more than their sense-giving ability. 

In a 2019 research titled “Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes,” varieties of terpenes showed promise as anticancer and antidiabetic agents [1] 

What are terpenes? 

Terpenes are fragrant oils known to provide taste, flavour, and smell to the Earth’s flora, but they also play the key role of a protectant. They ward off pathogens, predators, and even competitors of the organism they thrive in.   

There is a wide array of terpenes in nature, but only a small percentage of them have been investigated.   

So far, cannabis’s terpenes are one of the most researched topics medically. With that said, it is not surprising that cannabis terpenes are included among the most medically sourced flora like tea, thyme, Spanish sage, and citrus fruits [2]. 

How do terpenes work? 

Most terpenes are bioactive, meaning they are capable of modulating metabolic processes and demonstrate favourable properties such as inhibition of receptor activities, antioxidant effect, induction or inhibition of enzymes and inhibition and induction of gene expression. The International Journal of Neuroscience suggests that terpenes’ effect can be described in two ways: pharmacological or psychological [3].  

The hypothesis of the pharmacological effect of terpenes translates to the physical aspect of the human body. For example, terpenes can interact with the nervous system and the endocrine system (produces hormones) [4].  

The psychological effect of terpenes refers to a person’s perceptions, emotions, and so on. Terpenes are primarily fragrant oils, so they naturally appeal to our sense of smell. The simple process of getting elated because of a certain scent has a domino effect on moods, emotions, and so on [5].  

 

Types of terpenes and their benefits 

The effect and medicinal benefits of terpenes vary depending on the type of terpenes used, concentration, and manner of administration.    

Below are some of the most common cannabis terpenes with promising medicinal benefits:  

  1. Alpha-bisabolol: This has a floral scent that is mostly sourced from cannabis, chamomile flower, and candeia tree. It has antibacterial properties, analgesic properties  and antioxidants [6].
  2. Alpha-pinene and beta-pinene: These cannabis terpenes smell like pine trees, and they are anti-inflammatory, they improve respiratory airflow, and they prevent memory loss [7]. 
  3. Beta-caryophyllene: It is commonly used for creams and topicals for inflammatory-relief. Aside from its anti-anxiety effects, research suggests that it helps you recuperate from alcohol intake because of its gastric protective, sleeping aid, and muscle relaxant properties [8,9,10,11].
  4. Delta-3 Carene: Its memory stimulating ability makes it a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. It has anti-inflammatory and sedative potentials, too [12].
  5. Eucalyptol: This is mostly found in eucalyptus trees but exists likewise on some plants. Eucalyptol’s medical value lies in its power to prevent fungi and bacterial growth [13].
  6. Geraniol: Besides cannabis, Geraniol is also abundant in lemons. It shows potential in terms of antibacterial, antioxidant, and anticancer abilities [14].
  7. Humulene: This cannabis, clove, sage, and black pepper-sourced terpene has anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic potential [15].
  8. Limonene: Limonene is the second most abundant terpene in all cannabis strains. It is known to improve mood, but it also shows potential anti-inflammatory and gastric protectant abilities [16,17,18].
  9. Linalool: This terpene gives cannabis its distinct spicy and floral scent. It has strong sedative and relaxing properties, which can benefit anxiety-driven conditions. Other patients have found relief from its analgesic, anesthetic, anticonvulsant, anticancer uses [19].
  10. Myrcene: This sedative, muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory terpene, is the most abundant terpene in cannabis [20].
  11. Terpineol: It’s a common ingredient in perfumes because of its floral-like scent. Its medical uses include antibacterial, anticancer, antioxidant, sedative abilities [21].
  12. Terpinolene: This terpene induces relaxation because of its sedative and stress-relieving properties. It is also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant [22]

  

Studies and research on terpenes 

 

Industry professionals finally recognised the need to invest in terpene research. They saw the potential of terpenes to address conditions like cancer, diabetes, and the like. Some of the most important landmark studies on terpenes are:  

  • Terpene’s therapeutic effect: A 2019 study explored the therapeutic effects of terpenes. They’ve discovered that terpenes have a wide range of medicinal uses, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, antiseptic, antiplasmodial, astringent, digestive, and diuretic abilities [1]. 
  • Terpenes entourage effect: The “Entourage Effect”: Terpenes Coupled with Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Mood Disorders and Anxiety Disorders” study tackles the potential of terpenes in enhancing cannabinoid activity on psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety [23].

The entourage and ensemble effect  

The entourage effect is a synergistic process to which compounds of cannabis work together to provide better medical effects.  

The focus of the entourage effect may be credited to cannabinoids, CBD (cannabidiol), and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) but terpenes, no matter how little, still contribute to the overall experience. The contribution of terpenes for the medical attributions of cannabis can be more aptly described as “ensemble effect.” The ensemble effect is the result  of different medical cannabis compounds syncing with other medical cannabis compounds to produce a greater effect. This is done instead of depending on an entourage of compounds to create the desired effect. 

If you are a doctor or a pharmacist, please download our terpene handout for more information. 

CanView does not endorse the use of Medicinal Cannabis without lawful prescription. Just like any Medicine, Medicinal Cannabis may have both positive and negative side effects on the user and should only be prescribed to patients by a Health Professional with the authority and expertise to do so. The information provided by CanView is for informational and educational purposes and is of a general nature. If you are interested in accessing Medicinal Cannabis please talk to your doctor and request a referral to a Medicinal Cannabis clinic.  

Endnotes:

Department of Biology, California State University, Northridge, Northridge, CA USA. 2019. Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes.  Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7120914/.

Franklin L, et al. 2001. Terpene based pesticide treatments for killing terrestrial arthropods including, amongst others, lice, lice eggs, mites and ants. Available at: https://patents.google.com/patent/EP1211938A1/en.

Herz, R. 2009. Aromatherapy facts and fictions: a scientific analysis of olfactory effects on mood, physiology and behavior. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19125379/.

Tennant, L. 2019. How cannabis terpenes work on your body and mind. Available at:  https://www.leafly.ca/news/science-tech/how-cannabis-terpenes-work-body-mind.

Sowndhararajan K, et al. 2016. Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity: With Special Reference to Human Electroencephalographic Response. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198031/.

Braga P, et al. 2019. Antioxidant Activity of Bisabolol: Inhibitory Effects on Chemiluminescence of Human Neutrophil Bursts and Cell-Free Systems. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23677194_Antioxidant_Activity_of_Bisabolol_Inhibitory_Effects_on_Chemiluminescence_of_Human_Neutrophil_Bursts_and_Cell-Free_Systems.

Salehi B, et al. 2019. Therapeutic Potential of α- and β-Pinene: A Miracle Gift of Nature. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6920849/.

Fidyt K, et al. 2016. β‐caryophyllene and β‐caryophyllene oxide—natural compounds of anticancer and analgesic properties. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5083753/.

Bahi A, et al. 2014. β-Caryophyllene, a CB2 receptor agonist produces multiple behavioral changes relevant to anxiety and depression in mice. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24930711/.

Jung D, et al. 2020. Effect of β-caryophyllene from Cloves Extract on Helicobacter pylori Eradication in Mouse Model. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7230661/.

Francomano F, et al. 2019. β-Caryophyllene: A Sesquiterpene with Countless Biological Properties. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3417/9/24/5420/htm.

Strainprint. 2019. Understanding Terpenes: Delta 3 Carene. Available at: https://strainprint.ca/understanding-terpenes-delta-3-carene/.

John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2006. Sell CS; Terpenoids. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology (1999-2015). Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/0471238961.2005181602120504.a01.pub2.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2020. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 637566, Geraniol. Available at: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Geraniol.

Hartsel J. et al. 2016. Chapter 53 – Cannabis sativa and Hemp. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012802147700053X.

Hoenen, M. et al. 2016. Fancy Citrus, Feel Good: Positive Judgment of Citrus Odor, but Not the Odor Itself, Is Associated with Elevated Mood during Experienced Helplessness. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4735708/.

Erasto P, and Viljoen A. 2008. Limonene – A Review: Biosynthetic, Ecological and Pharmacological Relevance. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1934578X0800300728.

Russo E, et al. 2017. Chapter Three – Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1054358917300273.

Kamatou G, and Viljoen A. 2008. Linalool – A Review of a Biologically Active Compound of Commercial Importance. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1934578X0800300727.

Science Direct. N.D. Myrcene. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/myrcene.

Khaleel C, et al. 2018. α-Terpineol, a natural monoterpene: A review of its biological properties. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324790949_a-Terpineol_a_natural_monoterpene_A_review_of_its_biological_properties.

Pubchem. N.D. Terpinolene. Available at: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Terpinolene#section=Toxicity.

Ferber, S, et al. 2020. The “Entourage Effect”: Terpenes Coupled with Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Mood Disorders and Anxiety Disorders. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7324885/

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