Terpenes have an effect. Photo credit Cannabist Digest
Cannabis Terpenes And Their Effect On Your Body
So far THC and CBD have taken all of the spotlight where the medicinal benefits of marijuana are concerned but they are not the only components of the marijuana plant that holds benefits for both medical and recreational users. Recently the spotlight has shifted to cannabis terpenes and the effects that these little known compounds can have on the human body.
THC and other Cannabinoids can be likened to the engine that powers a car and in such a scenario terpenes would play the all important role of the suspension as they essentially determine how effective each strain of cannabis is, and it’s effects. Cannabis Terpenes may have been overlooked in the past but they are now being recognized for the immense potential that they have for treating several medical conditions, and also for their major contribution to the euphoric effects of the cannabis plant.
What are Terpenes?
At this point you may be wondering “what exactly are terpenes?”. Terpene is the general term used to describe a very broad class of organic compounds that are most commonly found in plants, but they can also be produced by some animals like butterflies and termites.
Here are some better known terpenes:
The basic scientific molecular formula for terpenes is (C5H8)n or multiples of this formula. In the formula ‘C’ represents Cyclopentene, ‘H’ Housane and the number of isoprene units is represented by the ‘n’. Terpenes are essentially formed by these linked units of isoprene through a biosynthetic process. Isoprene units are considered by many to be the building blocks of nature and so it is interesting to note that they are the primary components of terpenes.
Most essential oils that you will find on the shelves today actually have terpenes in them. Many terpenes like those found in cannabis are aromatic hydrocarbons and they typically have a very strong odor. In fact Cannabis terpenes are the bio-chemical compounds in the cannabis plant that are primarily responsible for the aroma that is produced.
Traditionally the strong odor produced by the presence of terpenes in plants was thought to have a protective function as in many cases it would act as a deterrent to herbivores while simultaneously attracting parasites that feed on herbivores. As we are only now just beginning to discover however, the function of terpenes in plants like cannabis goes far beyond just protecting them from plant-eating predators.
Popular Cannabis Terpenes / Photo Credit Edibles Magazine
To date scientists have discovered that there are, at the very least, 120 identifiable compounds in the cannabis plant. Of this number, terpenes are one of the compounds that make up a significant part of the plants anatomy (the primary 2 being THC and CBD). The terpenes that are found in cannabis are largely responsible for its famously potent aroma.
Research that is been done on the effect of terpenes on the human body shows however, that there is much more to the presence of terpenes than just a potent aroma. Scientists have found that when combined with different cannabinoids, terpenes have huge potential to treat a wide variety of conditions such as anxiety disorder, sleeping disorders and even unwanted physical conditions like acne.
Let’s have a closer look at some of the research that has been done on cannabis terpenes so far.
By far most of the scientific studies that have been done on the compounds found in the cannabis plant have been done on THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol). To date very little research has been done on cannabis terpenes and how these aromatic compounds affect the human body.
However the results from the few studies that have been done (and the number of terpene studies is expected to increase drastically due to the rapidly growing interest in these compounds) show undoubtedly that terpenes do have several potential applications in the medical marijuana industry.
The potential that terpenes have for being used effectively in the medical marijuana field is largely based on the fact that they work synergistically with cannabinoids to alleviate a wide variety of different health conditions. A study done by Ethan B Russo of GW Pharmaceuticals in the UK, Taming THC: Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects took an in depth look at how terpenes interact with cannabinoids in a synergistic, entourage style, that can potentially enhance certain medicinal qualities of the cannabis plant.
This ‘entourage effect’ describes the synergistic relationship between the two types of compounds and it is this effect that largely allows us to distinguish one strain of cannabis from another. Russo’s research concluded that terpenes and individual cannabinoids do indeed have significant potential for medical use.
Here are the main areas where terpenes show potential for use in the medical marijuana industry according to Russo’s research:
As A Treatment For Acne
Acne or pimples on the skin is a problem that many people are faced with in their teenage years and for some people the problem persists into adulthood. Increased hormone levels, bacteria, stress, even irregular habits can all contribute to acne breakouts. Could terpenes be the acne treatment of the future?
Terpenes that are found in aromatic plants like tea tree and yes, cannabis, have been found to be effective acne treatments. Russo’s study shows that terpenes and cannabinoids together were more effective in the treatment and suppression of acne than triclosan, the active ingredient in many acne treatments.
Bacteria is a very common contributor to the development of acne and terpenes are known bacteria fighters. They will either eliminate bacteria altogether or significantly weaken them so that they can be removed by antibodies. This bacteria fighting characteristic of terpenes contribute significantly to their effectiveness as an acne treatment.
MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacterial infection that is widely known to difficult to treat because the bacteria are very resistant to most antibiotics. In 2005 over 18000 deaths were attributed to MRSA in the USA alone. This number is higher than the deaths resulting from HIV/AIDs in the same year.
The terpene pinene is one of the active components of the essential oil Sideritis erythrantha that is very effective in treating MRSA as well as several other antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. This fact is documented in the work done by Russo as well as in another study done by Kose et al, 2010 and yet another by Gallucci et al in 2010 as well.
Anxiety and Depression
Another area where terpenes have been successfully used as treatment is with anxiety and depression. Many people already know that cannabis can be used to treat these types of conditions, but we are now getting more of the complete picture and seeing the important role that terpenes play in the effectiveness of cannabis when it is used to treat them.
Russo shows that terpenes like pinene, linalool and limonene are capable of improving a patient's mood and therefore they have significant potential for future use as a treatment for anxiety and depression. Other studies like this one that was published in the online journal, Physiology & Behaviour show that the terpene beta-caryophyllene specifically, holds huge potential for being an effective treatment for conditions like anxiety and depression. The authors of the study note the results clearly show where beta-caryophyllene is an effective anxiolytic and antidepressant in mice.
When in the body, beta-caryophyllene actually acts like a cannabinoid and attaches to cannabis pathways that exist inside the body. There are two types of cannabinoid receptors found in the body - CB1 and CB2. Beta-caryophyllene does not produce the ‘high’ euphoric feelings generally associated with cannabis because it targets the CB2 receptors.
CB2 receptors have already been proven to play a significant role in the reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms. The findings from Bahi’s research only serve as further proof of this. Relief of anxiety and depression is the most popular reason given by persons who use marijuana as treatment.
Based on the findings of his own research as well as that of other researchers who have looked at terpenes and how they affect the human body, Russo encourages cannabis growers to put more emphasis on the terpenes that they want to cultivate when they are breeding new cannabis plants.
Other key players in the industry like Kenneth K Morrow of Trichome Technologies also support and encourage this idea of growing cannabis with a focus on terpenes, therefore it is quite likely that we will see more terpene rich strains in the very near future.
Other Conditions Terpenes Can Help Treat
Although we do not have enough information from research to say all the conditions that terpenes can help treat, here are some other health conditions that they are currently known to relieve:
- Muscle Contractions
- Bacterial infections
- Gastric reflux
Where to Get Terpenes?
Now that you know a lot about the potential benefits of terpene, where can you get your hands on some? Terpene infused products are showing up more frequently than ever on the shelves of your local cannabis retail shop, and with the recent surge of interest in terpenes it can reasonably be expected that they will become stables on the shelves of dispensaries very soon.
Vaporizers like the Mighty help preserve terpene content / Photo Credit Vaped.com
Some cannabis growers like Green House Seeds in the netherlands are already profiling terpenes in their crops. Company manager, Franco Loja said that at first they were only concerned with terpenes from a flavor and aroma standpoint but since after 2011 more research has become available on the medicinal properties of terpenes, the company has begun to look at them from a medicinal viewpoint as well.
There are also modern dispensaries that are using pure terpenes to infuse their cannabis products. This is sometimes done for the aromatic affect, the flavor or both, but in recent times the potential medicinal benefits have been playing more of a role. Patients who suffer from asthma, for example, will be able to benefit from consuming products infused with the terpene pinene which is a very effective bronchodilator.
Terpenes can also be used as a topical treatment for some conditions. They can not only be used to enhance the aroma and color of topical cannabis products, certain terpenes like Nerolidol are skin penetrants and will aid in the absorption of other cannabinoid in the topicals as well.
If you want to get the most terpene content from your cannabis dried flower buds it is highly recommended that you use a vaporizer instead of smoking them. The high temperatures and direct heat that they are exposed to in the act of smoking will destroy most, if not all, of the terpenes. Vaporizers that can be used with low heat settings are great for preserving the terpene content and consequently the true flavor and aroma of the buds as well. Vaping is also good for getting the maximum terpenes out of other extracts.
As cannabis continues to gain legal status in more states across the US, the benefits and potential of the compounds in the plant like terpenes will be able to be explored more thoroughly. The research that has been done so far indicates that there is huge ‘pot’-tential for terpenes as a medical marijuana treatment. Terpenes have the potential to positively impact the lives of millions people who are suffering from treatable conditions like acne and depression. With such a huge potential, these helpful aromatic compounds should no longer be overlooked.