What are terpenes?
TERPENES: IMPORTANT OILS WITH THERAPEUTIC BENEFITS
Terpenes are produced by the resin glands of many plants, not just cannabis—and they’re even found in a few insects. These oily substances are responsible for the distinctive smells and tastes that characterize different plants and trees.
Take limonene, a terpene that adds a lemony scent not only to lemons themselves but also to other fruits, some spices, and a variety of cleaning products as well as some strains of cannabis.
And then there’s pinene, a very common terpene that accounts for the smell of pine trees and a variety of spices as well as industrial and cleaning products.
Some marijuana strains contain limonene and pinene, too. Each cannabis strain has a long list of other terpenes that are both major (showing up frequently and in relatively large quantities in many cannabis strains) and minor (less common terpenes whose value isn’t precisely known).
Many terpenes are even considered food grade, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has designated them as generally safe for consumption. But studies on the properties of terpenes reveal that some have healing benefits, too.
Like cannabinoids, terpenes can bind with endocannabinoid receptors in the brain and body, and they can also act directly on tissues and cells in the immune system.
For example, pinene can damp down responses in the body’s pain receptors, so that it reduces pain and discomfort from disorders such as fibromyalgia and arthritis. As for limonene, it’s been shown to reduce anxiety, fight fungal infections and improve respiratory function.
Terpenes can also work with each other. Some studies suggest that limonene and pinene can work together to combat viral infections. Meanwhile, a form of pinene called beta-pinene appears to boost the production of myrcene, another terpene that reduces resistance in the blood brain barrier.
CANNABINOIDS & TERPENES: A COMPLEX PARTNERSHIP
Both the cannabinoids THC and CBD are available in isolated forms, and so are terpenes. You can buy isolated terpene extracts to add to foods. You could even add them to cannabis and marijuana products.
But research over the past few decades seems to suggest that consumers feel the maximum effect of cannabinoids and terpenes when they’re consumed together in their natural state. This synergy among various combinations of terpenes and cannabinoids is the reason why many medicinal cannabis experts advocate for whole plant medicine, rather than taking specific compounds in isolation.