What Are Terpenes? Types, Benefits & Effects
Would you imagine living without smell? These days, the idea doesn’t sound so incredible, as due to the global COVID19 pandemic, many of us experienced what a world without smell is like. The food, for example, becomes pretty bland. But most importantly, we lose one of our important senses! It’s kinda scary to think that our house can catch fire and we would just ignore the smoke because we cannot detect it with our noses.
Now, the spring is knocking on the door, and we just cannot wait to experience nature in its full bloom through our noses. And who is responsible for all these exciting scents the natural world provides? The terpenes! They are the building blocks of aromas and they make smelling an adventure! Terpenes are found in plants, from their roots to their fruits, as well as in different kinds of animals.
The terpenes are around us all the time! Walking through a pine forest, we just deeply inhale and absorb the most abundant terpene found in nature, Pinene. In the morning we smell the coffee brewing. The pleasant Coffees’ aroma is mostly attributed to the terpenes cafestol and kahweol which are present in coffee as esters of fatty acids. And I think most of us have experienced what happens when we try to throw the green smelly bug (Nezara viridula) out of the window. The poor thing being in danger activates its defense mechanism and releases the bisabolene-type sesquiterpenes. These terpenes produce an unpleasant smell for us and other potential predators!
What are terpenes in cannabis?
And so would cannabis, without its terpenes, lose a big component. For the cannabis plant, terpenes are existential. Many plants might use terpenes to attract insects, who unknowingly act as pollinators of the plant which is vital for plant reproduction. In the cannabis plant, the terpenes act as a defense mechanism. The terpenes in cannabis are mostly functioning as repellents. The strong smell emitted by terpenes makes the cannabis flower unappealing for insects and other animals. The terpenes also protect the cannabis flower from being damaged by UV light, other external factors, and diseases spread by fungi and bacteria.
The terpenes in cannabis are concentrated in its flower. The flower is the most important part of the plant and needs to be protected the most! In the flower, the seeds are produced, which are crucial for reproduction. Terpenes are formed in the flower’s trichomes (meaning “hair” in Greek).
In these trichomes, most cannabinoids and terpenes are formed and found. The cannabis plant might just be the most hybridized plant on earth. And considering it was mostly bred to produce the highest concentrations of cannabinoids, the terpene concentration also soared. As a result of this targeted breeding to maximize the cannabinoid and terpene content, the cannabis plant became one of, if not the most aromatic plant in the world!
Potential Benefits of Terpenes
The aromatic properties of cannabis are not there to just make the whole experience more exciting. We know that cannabinoids, which are almost exclusively found in the cannabis plant, are mostly praised for their therapeutic potential. But what about terpenes, which are widely spread all over the plant kingdom?
It is merely 200 years ago that we transitioned from plant-based medicine to pharmaceuticals. Throughout human history, to treat health issues, man relied mostly on infusions, tinctures, and ointments from botanical sources. In most cases in whole-plant medicine, the aromatic component of the botanical is carried into our system. If and how much value do terpenes add to plant-based medicine is hard to say. But in the case of cannabis, it is believed the effect is pretty significant!
The Entourage effect
For the cannabis entourage effect to manifest at its fullest, the cannabinoid compounds are not enough. Monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, which structurally very similar to cannabinoids, play an important role in the entourage effect!
- Terpenes can potentiate the effects of cannabinoids, they can limit cannabinoid activity
Myrcene, the most common terpene found in cannabis, takes the sedative effects of CBD to another level. While Limonene can diminish the negative side effects of THC related to anxiety.
- Terpenes can produce an effect on their own, while the effects of combined terpenes can be pronounced.
Α-pinene, which is found to have great anti-inflammatory action, has a much stronger effect when combined with terpenes linalool and 1-octanol.
- Some terpenes even influence the endocannabinoid system directly!
The terpene Β-caryophyllene is actually considered a phytocannabinoid since it has a strong affinity to the CB2 cannabinoid receptor. It has strong antiviral and antibacterial effects and is found in a lot of plants other than cannabis.
Following this recent study, we can check all the positive effects of terpenes. Although we still cannot say for sure, what concentration of terpenes and which method of delivery is required for the desired effect to be achieved in humans.
A look at other studies confirming terpene benefits:
- beta-pinene and limonene, known to have antibacterial properties, help to prevent infections like herpes
- A-pinene with its anticonvulsant activity reduces seizures, and it can also provide stroke prevention.
- falcarinol is a terpene that acts similar to CBD and is a covalent cannabinoid CB1 receptor antagonist. Together, they show great potential as a cure for acne.
- Beta elemene together with cannabinoids shows promising results in treating nervous system dysfunctions such as multiple sclerosis. It can solve problems associated with retinal issues in the eye and reduces the progression of atherosclerosis.
- Limonene and Elemene are already clinically proven for cancer treatment. Following the link, we can also see the potential of other terpenes and how they stop tumor growth.
How terpenes affect the body
As seen above, terpenes are magnificent plant substances, that can help us in many ways. But how do we take the most advantage out of terpenes? We must take a closer look at the consumption of these delicate compounds.
Smoking and Vaporising
Absorbing terpenes through our lungs provides the highest bioavailability, meaning their intake is most effective. Although with smoking, a lot of terpenes are destroyed by the heat of combustion before they can reach our system. With vaporization, the terpene delivery from cannabis is the best route of administration. Inhaling the vapor, we can really taste the terpenes, and their effect is also pronounced.
By varying our vaporizing temperature, we can tailor in which direction the effects will flow. By upping the temperature to 200°C, sedative terpenes myrcene (167°C) and linalool (198°C) will be emitted into the vapor, leading to more relaxing effects. Staying below 170°C, our experience will be more energizing as only terpenes such as pinene (156°C) will be vaporized
Oral administration is not as effective, especially if we eat terpenes. Before terpenes enter into our bloodstream through the peroral route, they are subject to digestion. They are affected by liver metabolism, enzymatic degradation, and other physiological factors. There’s is a very little amount of terpenes that actually makes it into our system this way.
A better delivery method, if we use tinctures or paste products, is to dose terpene-rich products sublingually or buccally. Dosing terpenes under the tongue allows them to bypass the metabolic process of digestion and terpenes are absorbed directly.
The application of terpenes on the skin is very popular with essential oils used in massages. The relaxing experience is much more enjoyable with the inhalation of pleasant aromas, and our skin also benefits from terpene absorption. Compared to cannabinoids, which hardly penetrate the skin, terpenes can even reach the bloodstream. This is especially the case with hydrophilic (water-soluble) terpenes.
As our skin has huge amounts of water in it, hydrophobic substances such as cannabinoids have a hard time getting through. Some terpenes are also hydrophobic, but those which are water-soluble are more likely to be absorbed into the skin, faster and in higher concentrations. They can even act as carriers and help substances like CBD penetrate further!
And not to mention the natural scents the terpenes can provide, when formulated into skincare items!
Are terpenes safe?
In the amounts found in nature, terpenes should be very safe. Nobody should expect a negative reaction, when they are, for example, peeling an orange. Even though the orange skin is rich in terpene limonene, our fingers shouldn’t be hurt by that amount of limonene. (unless we are allergic to it.) But when concentrated, limonene in the pure form becomes very powerful, and can even act as a solvent to extract CBD!
Some terpenes are even more aggressive and can melt materials like epoxy if they fall o the lab’s floor. So we can only imagine what would happen if a pure terpene, undiluted, comes into contact with our skin. Even essential oils are in some cases dangerous and must be diluted before they are applied to the skin.
Cannabis flower has a natural presence of terpenes in a concentration of 1-5% of total weight. And so should cannabis products contain a similar concentration of terpenes and not go beyond 10%. Especially with vaping products, a terpene content higher than 10%, shows alarming airway and lung irritations.
Types Of Terpenes
There are more than 20000 of these fragrant substances. Terpenes, which are unsaturated hydrocarbons produced mostly by plants, can also be modified, mostly by oxidation. Then they become terpenoids, and together with terpenes, their unique count quickly jumps over 50000.
In the cannabis plant, there are more than 400 unique terpenes identified. But here we will only list the 10 most common ones:
Myrcene: this monoterpene is the most common terpene found in cannabis. Praised for its relaxing, sedating, and pain-relieving effects, myrcene has also great neuroprotective properties.
Found in: found in thyme, bay leaves and hops,
Pinene: Another monoterpene, very common in cannabis, boasts cytogenetic, gastroprotective, anxiolytic, cytoprotective, anticonvulsant, and neuroprotective effects. It is also praised for its memory-enhancing properties and is said to diminish the short-term memory loss caused by THC intoxication.
Found in: Coniferous pine Trees, Basil, Parsley
Caryophyllene: Of the major sesquiterpenes encountered in the Cannabis plant, alpha, and especially Beta-Caryophyllene are most represented. Caryiophyllenes are natural bicyclic sesquiterpenes, found in countless plants, not just cannabis, which influences our endocannabinoid system. Especially β‐caryophyllene provides anticancer and analgesic action.
Found in: rosemary, and hops, black pepper
Linalool: The soothing calming effects of lavender popular in aromatherapy and folk medicine are attributed to the monoterpene linalool.
Found in: several medicinal plants and also in purple varieties of cannabis, linalool proves to have the best anxiolytic properties.
D-Limonene: together with pinene, Limonene is the most common monoterpene found in nature. Limonene has great antibacterial activity against food-borne pathogens, that’s why lemon juice is added to preserve the food freshness! This terpene is a big component of cannabis terpene profiles and is believed to enhance the antimicrobial properties of cannabinoids.
Found in: Fruits, especially citrus, lemon-smelling herbs like lemongrass
Terpinene: are monoterpenes of which the most common in cannabis is terpinolene, are said to contain antimicrobial activity similar to limonene. Terpinenes can relieve sleep problems associated with insomnia.
Found in: Lippa genus (lilacs), eucalyptus trees, pome fruits
Humulene: this monocyclic sesquiterpene got its name from hops (Humulus lupulus). Beer brewers use the hop cones to infuse the beer with humulene, which due to its antibacterial function, acts as a preservative. Hops are also used in many sleep aid preparations due to the relaxing properties of humulene. As the cannabis plant and hops both fall under the Cannabaceae family of plants, there is also plenty of humulene in cannabis flowers.
Creating Full-Spectrum CBD Products
As we discovered the different types of terpenes and their benefits, below he will try to incorporate them into the CBD products.
To work with terpenes, we first need to obtain them. As the cannabis plant has such complex, unique, and unlimited terpene profiles, it looks like we have everything we need. But, it is actually an art to produce and capture these delicate substances. Let’s examine which challenges arise when we try to maximize the terpene content in our CBD products.
- Genetics plays a big role in the terpene content of the cannabis flower. many of the legal industrial cannabis varieties just do not contain huge amounts of terpenes as the main focus of their cultivation are seeds and fiber.
- Once we grow cannabis genetics rich in cannabinoids and terpenes, it is crucial to know when to harvest them. The flowers must be ripe, and cut in sunny and dry weather. Ideally in the late morning, as the aromatics of the plant are the highest in that time of day.
- After the cannabis flowers are harvested, they must be dried in optimal conditions. This step, which involves terpene retention has the most impact on the taste and flavor of cannabis flower. The drying process of cannabis is probably the most challenging aspect of cannabis cultivation.
- Now that we have terpene-rich biomass, we can proceed with the extraction. During extraction, we focus on preserving the most terpenes possible in the process!
Which extraction methods are most suitable for high terpene cannabis extracts?
- CO2 extraction is the best way to extract cannabis terpenes as it can work in both super and subcritical parameters, and we can separate pure terpenes of the cannabis biomass.
- Alcohol has an advantage over CO2 since it can extract fresh cannabis biomass which has a higher terpene content. The disadvantage is that during alcohol recovery, many terpenes are lost in the process.
- Hydrocarbon extractions with butane and propane are great as they can also process fresh material with more terpenes. The downside is the purging process of solvents, where terpenes are lost.
Post-processing of the extracts is very important as well. During the decarboxylation and winterization process, the extract is heated. And when heated, the terpenes start escaping, especially the more volatile ones. Care and expertise must be incorporated in these methods to be assured the least amount of terpenes is lost.
In the making of CBD distillate, most of the terpenes are separated from CBD, since they have a different boiling point. The terpenes are caught in a different flask and can be reintroduced into the CBD distillate. If they are not added back, the CBD distillate loses a big component and is left without many health benefits of terpenes.
This is especially the case with CBD isolate, which is so purified that it is deprived of all the terpenes that were originally present in the crude CBD hemp extract.
Manufacturing terpene-rich CBD products
Formulating CBD products with terpenes is not difficult at all and there are several reasons why we might want to blend terpenes with CBD.
Once we know what we are trying to achieve, and what is the target content of terpenes it is mostly about the source of terpenes. Where terpenes come from and in what form is actually the most important factor.
Essentia Pura is producing all kinds of botanical extracts which are natural sources of terpenes.
While we can add synthetic isolated terpenes, we try to aim for as natural products as possible.
For example, we are trying to add the myrcene to CBD drops, to bring more sedative effects out of the product. We can supplement the CBD drops by adding isolated synthetic myrcene. But why not add the essential oil of a cannabis variety that is rich in myrcene? Which shouldn’t be hard to find to come by since myrcene is the most represented terpene in cannabis!
Or maybe we want to add limonene to face cream and boost its cleansing function. This can be achieved by adding synthetic limonene. But why not use a natural alternative instead, like the essential oil of let’s say lemongrass. Or just start with a cannabis variety that is rich in limonene in the first place. And with subcritical CO2 extraction retain the limonene as much as possible
This is what we pride ourselves on. To source high-quality organically grown hemp, abundant in terpenes, and preserve them as much as possible all the way to the finished product. In case a demand arises from our clients, who desire a higher content of terpenes, we always find a solution. And always a natural solution, which provides the most authentic taste and the biggest beneficial value.
If you would like to know more about how terpenes act alongside cannabinoids and bring your CBD products to the next level, do not hesitate to get in touch. Use the contact form here and get ready for a journey of limitless flavors and aromas!