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What are terpenes and what is their function?

9.April 2021 | Manuela

Close-up of terpenes from a cannabis flower

Terpenes are the cherry on top of every cannabis sundae. They deliver flavor and effect free of charge and are a part of a beautiful flower that should not be underestimated. What terpenes actually are and how they affect their environment, we answer in this article.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are odorous and aromatic substances, better known under the term "essential oils". Surely terpenes have also been in your nose, because flavoring substances are now found in countless perfumes and cosmetics, but also occur naturally in flowers and fruits.

To date, about 8000 different variants are known and 200 of them have already been detected in the cannabis plant. The highest concentration of terpenes can be found in the flowers of female and unfertilized cannabis plants. Concentration and composition differ in each genetics.

The functions of terpenes

In addition to providing olfactory refreshment to humans, aromatic compounds perform important functions for plant well-being. The scents protect against harmful insects and parasites, bacteria and fungi. At the same time, they attract pollinators can also be used as environmentally friendly insecticides. When temperatures rise, plants begin to synthesize terpenes to prevent desiccation.

The mode of action of terpenes

If we put on our chemistry goggles, we see that terpenes are mainly composed of nanoparticle-sized carbon molecules. Thanks to their modest size, the molecules manage to cross the blood-brain barrier and exert their effects directly in the central nervous system. Normally, this layer separating the brain from the blood is difficult to cross: A protective mechanism that prevents toxic substances from entering the brain.

Although, as is often the case, research still has some catching up to do, studies to date show that, in addition to cannabinoids, terpenes also have an effect on the body. Terpenes have the ability to interact with cannabinoids by docking at the same sites, thus increasing the absorption capacity of a substance. In addition, thanks to the entourage effect, synergies can be created between the individual substances and effects can be enhanced. Terpenes can also stimulate the production of serotonin and dopamine and influence well-being.

Graphic showing 6 different terpenes of a cannabis plant

Meet & Greet: The Terpenes of the Cannabis Plant

Myrcene, limonene, humulene, pinene, linalool, caryophyllene - What sounds like the assembled "Lord of the Rings" cast are the six most famous cannabis terpenes that we would like to get to know a little better here. Let's start our meet and greet.

Learn more about the best known terpenes of the cannabis plant

Myrcene, known from the beer can, this terpene is not only found in hops, but often in the cannabis plant. With a slight citrus note, it smells primarily of musk and clove. Myrcene prefers to synergize with THC and thus can enhance its psychoactive effects. Myrcene can be relaxing and has anti-inflammatory and germ-reducing properties.

Most commonly found in nature, limonene is a citrus powerhouse. It smells like grated lemon peel and fresh oranges. Plants use it as an insect repellent, so it's hardly surprising that it finds its way into many bug sprays. In humans, it is considered a mood enhancer and concentration aid.

In the same beer can as myrcene, humulene often floats. With its woody earthy flavor, it supports hops, cinnamon, basil or coriander. It can reduce appetite. Humulene acts on CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system and is considered anti-inflammatory and analgesic.

Pine, eucalyptus, and sage, all host pinenes. This terpene is especially interesting for asthmatics, as it can dilate the bronchial tubes. It also promotes concentration, has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. With a slightly sweet pine scent, it is also one of the most popular fragrances.

"Floral to lavender-like" is how the nasal bouquet of linalool is described. It has sedative and relaxing, sleep-inducing and antispasmodic effects. Lavender, citrus, laurel and rosewood are its favorite acquaintances, along with cannabis.

Finally, the tongue twister: caryophyllene. Caryophyllene has a slightly spicier character thanks to a pepper note. It shows an affinity for the endocannabinoid receptor CB2 and has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Again a member of the hop society, however, caryophyllene is also at home in pepper, clove, basil and oregano.

The benefits of terpenes at a glance

Hopefully, anyone who still doubts the benefits of terpenes after these remarks has misread the facts. Terpenes:

  • act as natural bodyguards of plants

  • delight nose and palate in various combinations

  • influence our well-being

  • give every cannabis genetics its flavorful character

  • support cannabinoids in their work

If you want to grow cannabis successfully, you should also be a sensitive terpengrower.

Sources and further links

  • Adams, Philip. Weedology: Alles über den Cannabis-Anbau. 2018. Solothurn. Nachtschatten Verlag AG.

  • PhD Blesching, Uwe. The Cannabis Health Index. 2015. Berkley. North Atlantic Books.

  • Dr. Goldstein, Bonni. Cannabis is Medicine. 2020. London. Headline Publishing Group.

  • Dr. med. Grotenhermen, Franjo. Die Heilkraft von CBD und Cannabis. 2020. Hamburg. Rowohlt Verlag GmbH.

  • Mag. pharm. Hofmann, Susanne. Mag. pharm. Ehrmann, Alexander. CBD: Die wiederentdeckte Naturmedizin. 2020. Murnau am Staffelsee: Mankau Verlag.

  • Leinow, Leonard. Birnbaum, Juliana. Heilen mit CBD: Das wissenschaftlich fundierte Handbuch zur medizinischen Anwendung von Cannabidiol. 2019. München. riva Verlag.

  • Lizermann, LL. Der Cannabis-Anbau: Der einfache Weg zum eigenen Homegrow. 2020. Solothurn. Nachtschatten Verlag AG.

  • Lore, Chuck. Cannabis: Anbau, Ernte und Konsum. 2020. Solothurn. Nachtschatten Verlag AG.

  • Mike, MoD. Enzyklopädie der Cannabiszucht: Fachbuch der Hanfgenetik. 2020. Solothurn. Nachtschatten Verlag AG.

  • Healthline - Cannabis 101: What’s the Deal with Terpenes?

  • Leafly - What are cannabis terpenes and what do they do?

  • Cannabis Hemp Conference and Expo – The Pharmacology of Cannabis Cannabinoids and Terpenes by Dr. Ethan Russo

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