When we talk about hemp (and literally everyone is talking about hemp) cannabinoids like CBD, THC, and CBG tend to get all the fame.
But they’re not the only superpower ingredients to keep our eyes on. In fact, a conversation with a true hemp expert will no doubt land on terpenes. But what are terpenes, actually? And why are they in our hemp oil? Read on for the full intel.
Terpenes: The essential oils of the hemp plant
Put simply, terpenes are the essential oils of the hemp plant. More technically, they’re the aromatic oils responsible for the different flavors of cannabis (you’ve probably heard of ones like mint, pine, and berry). Much like a lavender or peppermint essential oil, each has a specific set of health benefits attached to it. These oils account for as much as 3 to 5% of the total dry mass of the flowering portions of certain plants and have been used for years in traditional medical systems.
Talk to any hemp grower, researcher, or product developer and they’ll tell you the same thing: They loveeee terpenes. As it turns out, they’re one of the most important factors in a good hemp extract. Michael Ray, CEO of Bloom Farms CBD—a one-for-one company tackling food insecurity by donating a healthy meal for every product sold—has always been excited about the power of terpenes. “The terpenes are what give the 1000's of cannabis strains different flavors, aromas, and effects. I look at terpenes as the spices in a well-designed recipe and have the ability to make the dish something special,” he explained.
The terpenes you should know about
Over 200 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant but only a select few have really sparked the curiosity of researchers. As a result, the health benefits of some terpenes are well-studied while others remain a total mystery.
So which terpenes are the ones to watch?
Myrcene is one we should all familiarize ourselves with. It’s been produced in a wide range of cannabis varieties and some rodent studies have shown it has sedative effects. It’s thought that myrcene, specifically, can help bolster the psychoactive effects of cannabis by working synergistically with THC. Fun fact: Myrcene is also found in high amounts in mangos and lemongrass as well.
The terpene β-caryophyllene—which is also found in hops, cloves, and black pepper as well as cannabis—is also gaining notoriety by the day, mostly for its ability to selectively bind to the body’s CB2 receptor. This is pretty major; as the author of a 2008 study put it: “Activation of the CB2 receptor is a potential therapeutic strategy for the treatment of inflammation, pain, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis.” Michael Ray is keeping his eye on this terpene in particular: “As someone who appreciates a deep night’s sleep, I'm excited about caryophyllene, which is known for having sedative effects.”
Some other promising terpenes include limonene, α-pinene, linalool, caryophyllene oxide, nerolidol, and phytol.
The benefits of terpenes
Each terpene seems to do its own thing, but as a general rule, they work synergistically with cannabinoids to make hemp oil more effective as a whole, something called the entourage effect. These effects are so important that many experts consider the science of terpenes just as important—if not more important—than the cannabinoids themselves. As to Ashlae Warner, cannabis expert and founder of SUPERGOOD Hemp—a Colorado-grown, third-party lab tested hemp and CBD product company—put it, ”Cannabinoids are great but I've been saying it since day one: There is so much more to cannabis than cannabinoids. Just like cannabinoids, terpenes are exceedingly therapeutic and have been shown to promote a lot of the same benefits as their highly sought-after chemical cousins.”
This comes as a surprise to many, but when you delve into the science of terpenes, you start to understand why. An article published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry explained how numerous studies have been done on terpenes, which “show anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, anticonvulsive, antidepressant, anxiolytic, anticancer, antitumor, neuroprotective, anti-mutagenic, anti-allergic, antibiotic and anti-diabetic attributes, among others.” Is that all?!
If you’re still trying to wrap your head around terpenes and the role they play, think about it like this: Cannabinoids (like CBD and THC) are the car and terpenes are the driver. Cannabinoids provide the brute force to get you moving but terpenes determine where you go and exactly how you get there. There’s still a lot to learn about these powerful, fragrant oils but rest assured, we’ll be hearing more about terpenes in the future.
Great summary piece.