We hear the term “terpene” quite a bit these days. But what is a terpene? Do they do anything other than simply smell interesting? Why are people starting to flock to cannabis with excellent terpene profiles? As it turns out, it is about more than simply taste and smell. Terpenes can enhance or mitigate the effects of THC and they have a number of effects on the human body that can be considered medicinal.
A terpene is technically an aromatic hydrocarbon made by plants and a few insects. Terpenoids are similar to the terpene with one minor difference. Terpenoids are terpenes that have been denatured by the process of oxidation. There are also different structures a terpene can have. Monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and others are named after the number of isoprene units they contain. Monoterpenes contain two but there are sesquiterpenes other more complex terpenes that contain additional isoprene units.
Terpenes have become a very hot topic within the cannabis industry within the past 1-2 years and interest continues to grow. Primarily because terpenes affect the aroma, flavor, and experience of cannabis. In fact, the entire cannabis experience from the high to the medicinal benefits cannabis provides many people are due almost entirely to terpenes and cannabinoids. As an interesting side-note, cannabinoids are technically terpenes as they are all produced from geranyl pyrophosphate in the plant.
Dr. Ethan Russo, MD, Director of Research and Development at International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute and Senior Medical Advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals, found CBD antagonized the effects of THC during a study in 2006. Additionally, researchers discovered the presence of other cannabinoids in combination with THC to enhance the overall effects.
This research showed the synergistic or “entourage effect” between two cannabinoids, Dr. Russo went on to study the synergistic effects of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Russo’s research on cannabis synergy concluded that terpenoid content offers “complementary pharmacological activities that may strengthen and broaden clinical applications and improve the therapeutic index of cannabis extracts.”
Here at the University of Cannabis Technology, we use a somewhat different term than “entourage effect”, we call it the “symphony effect”. A term coined by our cannabis chemistry professor, Steve Ottersberg MS. When it comes to an experience with cannabinoids, there can be a range of effects. Pure synthetic THC provides many people with an intense, paranoid type of experience. However, as you add in the effects of the other various cannabinoids and terpenes the effect can vary tremendously. From a calm and sedate feeling to one of high energy and creativity, this is the difference the balance of cannabinoids and terpenes produce.
Within cannabis, there are ten terpenes which rank as the most prevalent –
Many laboratories claim the myrcene concentration indicates whether a strain will have a sedative indica effect or the effects of an energetic sativa. Myrcene is the most prevalent terpene found in cannabis.
Other terpenes have a range of medicinal effects from anti-inflammatory properties to anti-tumor qualities. And the future for terpene research is just beginning to open up. The most exciting thing about terpenes currently, is that we are just beginning to understand all of the amazing ways they work.