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What are Terpenes and What do they do?

What Are Terpenes? (Simple Guide)

You will find an extensive range of compounds in the cannabis plant. These include not only dozens of different cannabinoids, but other categories of compounds too.

One of the most important of these is a type of aromatic compound called terpenes. Terpenes give a unique fragrance to all plant species, with a high concentration of these natural compounds found in hemp plants. Along with cannabinoids and flavonoids, terpenes form the three main categories of compounds found in cannabis plants.

But what are terpenes exactly?

You may not have heard this term before, but you have probably come across terpenes frequently as part of your daily life. Just like cannabinoids, there are a variety of different terpenes with a range of fragrances, including citrus, lavender, pine, and more. They add flavor and aroma to plants, and may have other beneficial properties.

To date, scientists have discovered more than 20,000 different types of terpenes, with over 100 of these being found in the cannabis plant. There is also some evidence that terpenes may contribute to the entourage effect in CBD products – which we’ll look at in more detail later in this article.

In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into this often overlooked but important group of compounds, their role in cannabis plants, and how they work.

But let’s start with the basics.

What are Terpenes?

Even if you have never heard of this category of compound, without a doubt you will have smelled, tasted and otherwise experienced terpenes. Think about the last time you enjoyed the fresh fragrance of rose or pine: the unique fragrances of those plants come from the terpenes they contain.

Terpenes are found in the oils produced by plants and flowers. The vast majority of terpenes are found only in plant species, but a few of the larger, more complicated terpenes are also produced by animals.

The function of these aromatic and organic compounds varies from plant to plant. In some plants, including the cannabis plant, terpenes play an important role in the plant’s natural immune system to fend off harmful microorganisms. In some cases they can also protect the plant from predators and other potential damage.

Bioactive terpenes are also known to affect the human body. Different terpenes have a different chemical makeup, and therefore will have different effects on our bodies. Furthermore, how you use terpenes will have a significant impact on their effects.

What are the Uses and Benefits of Terpenes?  

Although this area needs further study, research has indicated that some terpenes may have benefits for human health. For example, studies have linked the fragrant orange terpene limonene to pain relief and improved sleep. We’ll take a closer look at the specifics of certain terpenes later in this article.

Because of their strong and distinctive smells and tastes, terpenes are commonly used to flavour foods and beverages, as well as being used to add pleasant smells to beauty products, cleaning products and more.

Terpenes are also used in perfumes, as well as being the key active ingredients in essential oils. The stress relief and mood boosting properties of essential oils used in aromatherapy are often due to the presence of terpenes such as limonene, caryophyllene and myrcene. Because of these benefits, terpenes are often included in CBD oil and other CBD products to work with cannabinoids to support stress management and promote a healthy balance.

Another term that is sometimes used interchangeably with terpenes is terpenoids. However, these two are actually quite different and it is important to understand the characteristics of each and the differences between them.

Let’s take a look at that next.

Differences between Terpenes and Terpenoids

Contrary to what people believe, terpenes and terpenoids are not synonymous. Essentially, terpenes are found in their natural form or as an active compound in a living plant. These compounds help to protect the plant from microbes, animal grazing, and other such dangers. They can also speed up the recovery of the plant from damage.

On the other hand, terpenes become terpenoids once the plant is dried and the flowers are cured. As part of this process, the terpenes are denatured through oxidation, turning into terpenoids. In this way, terpenes and terpenoids are very similar, but are not identical.

Because of this oxidation process, terpenes and terpenoids have different molecular structures. The aroma you inhale when walking through the forest is terpenes, which can be defined as the active form of terpenoids. In the same way, the fresh fragrance from a flower or herb comes from the presence of terpenes.

On the other hand, the aroma and flavour you find in dried herbs and flowers comes from terpenoids. Typically, manufacturers of CBD products add terpenes in their active form to CBD oil.

Although both cannabinoids and terpenes occur in high concentrations in cannabis plants, the way they are absorbed and used by the human body is quite different.

This leads us to an important question:

How Terpenes Affect the Human Body

We interact with terpenes through our nose as well as our respiratory organs. The moment we inhale a strong fragrance containing a high level of terpenes, these organic compounds travel to the olfactory nerves, allowing us to enjoy the scent of the plant through these nerves.

However, terpenes do a lot more to the human body than simply smelling nice. While researchers are still studying the mental and physical impact of different types of terpenes, studies are already demonstrating a range of benefits of these compounds for our physical and emotional wellbeing.

Studies have shown that scents can help calm your mind and induce a soothing and calming feeling in your body. One Japanese study found that participants experienced significant feelings of relaxation after walking through a pine forest. Further scientific research linked pine, lemon, orange and lavender scents with increased relaxation and improved mood. Limonene, on the other hand, in believed to boost concentration and improve energy levels, as well as making it easier for your body to absorb other terpenes.

Have you ever used lavender soap for a bubble bath? Or have you ever had a soothing body massage with rosemary and chamomile oil? Or have you ever been to a forest filled with pine trees and scented flowers? How did these experiences affect your mood and mental state? Chances are they must have calmed your mind and lifted your mood.

In all these cases, it is the terpenes produced by the plants and flowers and exuded by either the living plant or essential oil extracted from that plant that produces the scent which in turn has a positive effect on our physical and emotional wellbeing. The effect of terpenes on the human body varies depending on the type of terpene and its concentration.

When it comes to CBD products, the inclusion of terpenes which naturally occur in the hemp plant may not only deliver the kinds of benefits mentioned above, but they also support the effectiveness of CBD through the entourage effect. We’ll dive in this, and how terpenes work with CBD and other cannabinoids to deliver the maximum benefits, later in this post.

But first, let’s take a look at some of the terpenes found in hemp plants, and the benefits they may have for the human body.

Terpenes Found in Cannabis Plants

Terpenes are produced but just about every plant, but not all plants contain the same terpenes. The types and concentrations of terpenes vary significantly from plant to plant. Some terpenes are commonly found in a large number of plant species, while others are rare.

Even within the world of cannabis plants, different strains of the cannabis plant have various levels of terpenes. This is one of the reasons why various cannabis strains have distinct fragrances and effects. In the same way, some terpenes can uplift your mood and boost your concentration, while others help you fall sleep. Depending on the terpenes present, you may find different aromas, tastes and effects.

Here we are looking at compounds found in cannabis plants in general, but remember that there are different strains of these plants, which fall within the categories of hemp and marijuana plants. For more on the different types of cannabis plants and the difference between hemp and marijuana, check this post.

Let’s take a look at some of the key terpenes found in cannabis plants that you may also find in CBD products.

1.      Limonene

One of the most common types of terpene is Limonene, the terpene responsible for giving lemons and other citrus fruits their distinctive fragrance, as well as being found in other plants including rosemary, juniper and peppermint. In addition to its pleasant citrus aroma, this terpene is associated with some health benefits. It comes loaded with antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties and research suggest it can also be helpful in managing anxiety.

Additionally, it is a useful component in CBD oil as it is believed to improve the absorption of other types of terpenes by the human body, therefore making other terpenes present more effective.

2.      Myrcene

Another common terpene found in abundance in cannabis plants is Myrcene which is responsible for giving these plants an earthy and herbal fragrance. It is also naturally occurring in a range of other plants, including mango, hops and lemongrass.

Despite being one of the smallest terpenes in the cannabis world, Myrcene can have a powerful impact on your body. Found in the Cannabis Indica strains, Myrcene has soothing and calming effects.

3.      Pinene

As the name suggests, this terpene is produced by pine trees, or more specifically by pine needles. Found in abundance in the natural world, Pinene also adds fragrance to rosemary, dill and basil, among other plants including some citrus fruits. This terpene is also known for its powerful properties in Chinese medicine.

As well as the calming effects mentioned above, this natural compound can help fight bacterial growth and is believed to improve focus. The sharp earthy scent of this terpene uplifts your mood and Pinene is one of the most common terpenes in the natural world, meaning you likely interact with this terpene every day.

4.      Linalool

Linalool gives a sweet and floral fragrance to chamomile, lavender, and other similar plants, with most flowers getting their fragrance from Linalool. Manufacturers often include Linalool in topical CBD products to add a fresh and delicate aroma to the product. Essential oils extracted from flowers and plants rich in Linalool are often used in aromatherapy. Simply inhaling the delicate scents of this terpene can soothe your mind and calm your body without causing drowsiness.

5.      Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene is found in black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves among other plants and carries an earthy and woody fragrance. This terpene gives the cannabis plant a spicy aroma. What sets Caryophyllene is believed to be helpful in managing pain and reducing inflammation. It is also the only terpene that we know of that acts as a cannabinoid, being able to activate the endocannabinoid system. This functionality is linked to its anti-inflammatory properties.

6.      Humulene

Humulene is a key active ingredient in the hops plant. This organic compound is also found in high concentrations in vegetables and herbs, including but not limited to coriander, cloves, and basil. Research has found that this natural terpene could help fight allergic reactions as well as being an appetite suppressant.

7.      Terpinolene

The woody and smoky fragrance you might inhale in the forest from certain plants comes from Terpinolene. This natural compound is found in rosemary, apple, pine, sage, and other such plants. With a woody and sweet aroma, Terpinolene is believed to have sedating and antioxidant properties as well as helping to control anxiety. However, it also has sedative properties they may cause drowsiness.

8.      Bisabolol

A cup of chamomile tea always helps you to feel calmer when you are anxious or worried. But why is this tea so effective in helping to calm your mind? Chamomile contains a high concentration of Bisabolol, a soothing and mellow terpene which has a pleasant, floral fragrance. This compound is often recommended for people who struggle to fall asleep to promote better, more restful sleep. Additionally, this terpene’s soothing properties can help relax your tense muscles.

9.      Borneol

Borneol is one of the more rare terpenes found in the cannibis plant, generally in strains of Cannabis Sativa. Plants with a high concentration of Borneol have long been used in Chinese medicine to treat pain and digestive problem. Borneol has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is most commonly used in topical applications for pain relief. This component has also been shown to be useful as an anticoagulant in stroke patients.

Many CBD manufacturers and brands choose to include terpenes in their products because of the above-mentioned benefits as well as the positive entourage effect of these compounds which help to make CBD more effective and more efficient. To find a CBD product that contains terpenes, you need to look at full-spectrum CBD oil or other products.

On the other hand, CBD isolate, as a “pure” form of CBD does not contain other organic compounds. This means that isolate does not contain other cannabinoids or terpenes that naturally occur in the cannabis plant, as these are eliminated in the extraction process.

Some people prefer CBD isolate as this means they do need to worry about it containing even trace elements of THC. However, in using CBD isolate you also miss out on the benefits of other organic compounds such as terpenes and additional cannabinoids, as well as the entourage effect. In this way, you are arguably best to choose a full-spectrum CBD product if you want to reap the full benefits of this plant.

Next, we’ll take a closer look at the role terpenes play in plants and how they work exactly.

How do Terpenes Protect Plants?

It is important to learn about terpenes in order to get a clear understanding of the difference between various cannabis strains and different CBD products. There is a lot more to the terpenes than their pleasant fragrance. By now we know that terpenes add a unique aroma to the plants they are found in.

But what else do terpenes do for plants and why are they important?

Terpenes act to protect plants and help them to survive in the natural world. Plants respond to predators and other dangers or harsh elements with the help of terpenes. Unlike humans, plants need chemical signals to attract or repel micro-organisms, animals and insects. That’s where terpenes come in.

For example, these aromatic compounds can create a sweet scent that draws pollinators to the plant’s flowers, helping the plants to reproduce and therefore for the plant species to survive. They also act as the plant’s immune system by warding off microbes and other dangers that can harm the plant.

While terpenes occurring in the flowers tend to be sweet and pleasant, the same compounds found in the herbs can be quite bitter. Certain plants have the ability to produce strong aromatic compounds to protect themselves for dangers. For example, if a predator attacks a plant, then the plant can release the aromatic molecules as a signal to neighboring plants to release pungent terpene compounds to fend off their attackers.

As many terpenes are specifically designed to attract insects and animals, it is not surprising that humans find these aromas attractive too.

How Do Terpenes Work?

We inhale terpene compounds through our nose and from there they travel all the way to our respiratory organs. When inhaled, the terpene’s fragrance fills your tissues, cell membranes, and other receptors. That’s when its beneficial effects can come into play, whether it is relieving pain, relaxing the tense muscles or easing anxiety.

In aromatherapy, practitioners use different types of terpenes to fill the room with earthy, woody, pungent, sweet or floral aromas. In the same way massage therapists use scented oils containing a variety of terpenes.

The terpenes in CBD products can play a significant role in enhancing the effects and benefits of that product. For more information, check the label to learn about the terpenes that are found in that product. The unique properties of these aromatic compounds can have a range of effects and benefits on the human body, not just on their own but when acting as a group.

This brings us to the entourage effect:

The Entourage Effect

In previous posts, we’ve covered how beneficial the entourage effect can be in CBD products. The entourage effect is the phenomena where different cannabinoids and other organic compounds work together to produce superior benefits for our health and wellbeing. Simply put, the positive impacts of these compounds working together is greater than the sum of each compound working on its own.

If you consume terpenes alone, then you will doubtless notice some results. However, it is when CBD, other cannabinoids and terpenes work together that they become truly powerful. In this way, terpenes work differently when you consume them with the CBD than in an isolated form. Terpenes bind to our cells and receptors, making it easier for the body to absorb CBD and other compounds, therefore improving bioavailability.

The type and concentration of terpene present in any given CBD product can vary significantly. Some products contain a higher concentration of terpenes than others. Likewise, the type of terpene used in the manufacturing of CBD products can vary. For this reason, it’s important to check the product information carefully to learn about the terpenes carefully. If in doubt, ask the manufacturer or retailer.

Summing Up

Terpenes are responsible for giving fragrance and taste to a large variety of plants. These aromatic compounds are found in abundance in certain plants and herbs, and are found in high concentrations in cannabis plants.

Terpenes are widely used in foods, perfumes, and other every-day products for their taste and smell. In nature, they play a vital role in pollination, plant immunity, and protecting the plant from predators.

Although research is still ongoing, a number of terpenes have been linked to benefits for human health and wellbeing. Along with their own benefits, terpenes work in tandem with CBD to enhance its effects on the human body and so are a useful addition to CBD products.Browse our blog for more informative articles as well as the latest news from the CBD world!

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