What are terpenes? Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds that are predominantly created by plants. Terpenes give plants their pleasing fragrance, and although plants often feature a cocktail of terpenes some are perhaps more characteristic than others. The scent of pine in the woods? Pinene. The zesty smell of citrus? Limonene (named after the French name for lemon, ‘limon’) or valencene (whose name is derived from sweet Valencia oranges). In fact, the reason why cannabis smells incredibly pungent is that it is packed with terpenes, varying from strain to strain of cannabis.
What are they used for?
Although terpenes are used by people for a range of purposes, which we shall get to shortly, plants have their own uses for terpenes that go beyond merely releasing a heady aroma. Plants use terpenes for disease resistance, attracting pollinators and defense against hungry insects and animals. Terpenes are even marshalled as a form of ‘communication’ whereby they can signal distress when being eaten to other plants and even summon the help of parasitic wasps to come to their aid when being eaten by caterpillars. Understanding terpenes may also benefit the climate. Scientists in the UK and Germany discovered that in hot weather pine trees release terpenes that may cause cloud seeding where the terpenes cause cloud condensation. Teams of scientists believe that the terpenes not only aid in cloud formation but double the thickness of clouds 1000m above the forest thereby reflecting 5% of sunlight back into space, creating a cooling effect on the planet and are integral in formation of water droplets that lead to precipitation.
What do terpenes mean for CBD?
Cannabis is packed with terpenes and the variability of experience you have after ingesting cannabis is largely dependent on the terpenes expressed in that particular strain. Terpenes are thought to not only possess their own therapeutic benefits but to facilitate and improve the effects of CBD. All together this therapeutic harmony among cannabinoids and terpenes are known as the ‘entourage effect’. Our CBD includes terpenes as well as other cannabinoids and we have even cultivated particular terpene blends that lend themselves to particular experiences. Our Sleep Easy CBD, coming soon, includes all the terpenes mentioned above in order to give the experience of relaxation without sacrificing mental clarity. To have a look at our CBD oil range, pop into our shop here and have a browse.
What are the therapeutic benefits of terpenes?
Much is still unknown about terpenes and research continues, however existing findings show a promising future for terpenes and their relationship to our health.
Here are a few of the more common terpenes, where they come from and their possible benefits:
Beta-caryophyllene is an extremely interesting terpene, not only does it add much of the spiciness to black pepper but is also an important component of copaiba, rosemary, cloves, hops and cannabis. In fact, with the exception of THC, CBD and CBN, β-Caryophyllene was one of the first compounds derived from cannabis that was found to bind to endocannabinoid receptors. Despite having a markedly different chemical structure to classical cannabinoids, β-Caryophyllene binds exclusively to the CB2 receptor. CB1 receptors are predominantly found in the brain and are implicated in the psychoactive or high effects associated with THC consumption. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are distributed throughout the body and are selected for therapeutic treatment of inflammation, pain, arteries clogged by plaques (fatty substances) and conditions that weaken bones such as osteoporosis.
β-Caryophyllene has been evidenced as being beneficial for treating inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes, cerebral ischemia (brain strokes), anxiety and depression, liver fibrosis, symptoms of Alzheimer’s like neuroinflammation and amyloid plaque build-up. β-Caryophyllene also seems to facilitate and promote the chemotherapy drug Paclitxel potentiating its effect on tumour cell lines, β-Caryophyllene itself appears to cause cell death in cancer cells and inhibit tumour growth. It has also been shown to extend the lifespan of simple organisms such as nematodes. Finally, β-Caryophyllene has been shown to be orally bioavailable meaning that it is perfect to be consumed as part of our tinctures under the tongue.
Pinene comes in two forms, alpha and beta. Alpha-pinene can be found in olives, rosemary, sassafras, bergamot, parsley, dill and basil and its herbal, woody scent is characteristic of the musty odours of woodland pines. On the other hand β-pinene is found in cumin, hops, conifers and cannabis. Both α and β-pinene have known therapeutic benefits such as mitigation of antibiotic resistance, anticoagulant, antitumor in test tube studies of human ovarian cells and shows potential as a drug therapy in humans for melanoma as there is evidence that α- pinene induces cell death in melanoma cancer cells and lung tumour nodules in mice.
In rat studies, administration of α-pinene was found to improve non-rapid eye movement sleep, decreasing the time it took rats to go to sleep and without any detriment to rapid eye movement sleep. Furthermore, evidence from a rat study suggests that α- pinene decreases anxiety. After administration of α- pinene rats spent considerably more time in exposed and open spaces in the ‘elevated platform test’ compared to rats only given water. This evidences an anxiolytic effect as, when anxious, rats stay in closed spaces or ‘wall-hug’.
Limonene is one of the most ubiquitous terpenes found in nature. Due to its distinct citrus aroma and taste, it is a common additive in cosmetics, foods, insect repellents and cleaning properties.
A mice study of limonene found that inhibited bacterial growth and acted as an anti-inflammatory in gum disease. Overall, a number of studies are pointing toward the potential anti-inflammatory benefits of limonene, such as its ability to suppress nitric-oxide, a key molecule implicated in the cause of inflammation. Further studies suggest that limonene may aid in treating conditions such as asthma due to limonene’s anti-oxidant properties leading to the mitigation of oxidative damage to the lungs. Osteoarthritis may also be treated by limonene as limonene was found to reduce production of nitric oxide which contributes to the breaking down of cells called chondrocytes that maintain and stabilise cells in bones and cartilage. Limonene may help in fat reduction. Mice fed a high fat died and then treated with limonene seen a reduction in fat accumulation as well as blood-glucose levels and cell accumulation in the pancreas. The authors suggest limonene shows promise in treating metabolic syndrome associated with non-alcohol associated fatty liver disease. Stomach ulcers may also be preventable with limonene. In a rat study, stomach ulcer formation was almost entirely prevented with limonene treatment. The authors suggest that limonene ultimately stimulates the secretion of mucus and bicarbonate which forms a protective layer on the stomach’s lining.
Is found in over 200 kinds of plants and has a woody, floral scent that is most characteristic of lavender. Among other terpenes, linalool is now becoming appreciated for not only its potential as a pleasing aroma but also its therapeutic benefits. One of the reasons linalool may be so ubiquitous in plants is because of its antimicrobial properties, which represent potential benefits as a therapeutic. Linalool has been found to have anti-depressant and sedative effects in mice studies. Furthermore, linalool appears to increase the robustness of the immune system by mitigating the damage caused by stress. In a rat study, after being administered with linalool, there was a reduction in white blood cells (those cells that are marshalled to fight infection and kill cells). This ultimately prevented stress-induced alterations in the rats’ genetic expression of DNA. The researchers hypothesise this as being a result of linalool’s stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system inducing the ‘rest and digest’ state of the body, supporting the idea of linalool as reducing anxiety.
Research suggests linalool has potential anti-epileptic properties. A rat study found linalool to be an anti-convulsant by virtue of its ability to inhibit glutamate binding in the cortex, as the glutamatergic system has been increasingly recognised as being implicated in epilepsy. Potential pain relief has been found in studies as linalool blocks signals that communicate pain from the sciatic nerve in the spin to the brain and has an effect on neurons similar to that of local anaesthetic. Furthermore, after gastric banding surgery, fewer patients (46%) who were administered lavender oil vapour required post-operative opioids compared to the placebo group (86% of patients), who were exposed to non-scented baby oil. This supports the idea that linalool decreases the need for pain-reducing drugs after surgery.
Myrcene is found in a vast array of plants, including hops and cannabis and is a popular flavouring and food additive in food and drinks. Evidence suggests that it may also act on the endocannabinoid system and, along with other terpenes facilitate ‘the entourage effect’. There may also be a range of therapeutic benefits inherent in myrcene, for example, it may be a potential treatment for osteoarthritis. A ‘test tube’ study found myrcene to have anti-inflammatory properties and inhibit the breakdown of cartilage. Further mice studies found myrcene to be pain relieving which researchers believe is the result of myrcene stimulating the production of natural opioids in the body. Sedative effects, as well as increased sleeping time, were found in mice administered with myrcene, supporting the idea of myrcene as a sleep aid and relaxant.
Myrcene cultivated from rosemary was found to be a strong antioxidant. Antioxidants prevent or slow free radicals from damaging cells in the body and as such have been implicated in anti-ageing. Myrcene may also have potential benefits as an anti-inflammatory. A test-tube study found myrcene to be the most effective in inhibiting the production of molecules (nitric oxide) that can lead to the death of cells (chondrocytes) used to maintain the tissue and structure of cartilage. Although a test-tube study opens the possibility of myrcene as a potential therapeutic intervention in inhibiting or halting osteoarthritis. Finally, myrcene may have anticancer properties. Another test-tube study showed that myrcene inhibited cell proliferation of particular lung cancer cells, reducing their growth and highlighting the potential viability of myrcene as an anticancer agent. It must be stressed that this is a test-tube study, more studies are needed before any conclusions can be drawn regarding the effectiveness of myrcene as a therapeutic intervention in the treatment of cancer.