Discover Terpenes: Part 1 – Why They Matter

Weed comes in many fragrances. The distinctions in floral perfumes are created by the components called terpenes found in the essential oil of marijuana plants. The almost unbelievable number of terpenes expressed in cannabis varietals, and the myriad of ways Mother Nature combines terpenes, cannabinoids and other components means that each formulation will create a different effect in the human body

In this article, we’ll learn about terpenes in general and how their combinations can contribute to the many beneficial effects of consuming or using cannabis products.

The wonder of terpenes

Terpenes help create an atmosphere that promotes cellular healing, guiding the cells back to health and wholeness, often in subtle ways. Wipe your face with a clean cloth soaked in water with lemon juice (rich in limonene) when you feel tired and lackluster and you’ll almost instantly feel refreshed. Dab some lavender oil (rich in linalool) on a cotton swab to place under your pillow and drift off to restful sleep. 

The exciting news about cannabis is the volume and variety of combinations the plants are capable of producing. 

All of those combinations will have different biological responses when taken into the human body. This variety in expression is the primary reason we introduce new cannabis products carefully by starting at a low dose and slowly raising that dose once you can identify how it’s affecting you. Remember, you’ll have a better experience when you start low, go slow & stay low.

Cannabis: The master of aromatherapy

Terpenes give cannabis strains their distinct aromas.

Terpenes are what drives the success of the essential oil/aromatherapy marketplace, and no plant expresses as many as cannabis. 

Should you ever be lucky enough to find yourself in a growing space filled with weed you’ll discover what those of us who grow have always known – terpenes will affect the body in positive ways without your need to ingest any part of the plant. Stopping to smell the roses, or in this case the buds, is more beneficial than you probably imagined. 

This wonder of biology is possible because your body makes use of those terpenes you breathe in. In a real sense, the plant heals the gardener as well as the intended patients.

Cannabis stands alone

Different terpenes have different effects.

Cannabis sativa is unique in the plant kingdom for the sheer number of compounds found in its essential oils. If another plant exists richer in the complex mix of cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenoids we have yet to discover it. 

Over 400 different chemical components can be found in cannabis, all working in synergy, one influencing the other to greater effect. 

  • Cannabinoids, the cellular signaling molecules of homeostasis. 
  • Terpenes, adding the distinctive smell to cannabis plants and directing the action of cannabinoids, over 120 different terpenes have been identified as expressed by cannabis. 
  • Flavonoids, giving cannabis its range of colors. 

We’ve paid most attention to the cannabinoids, and in particular THC, that delightful molecule that brings with it the release of euphoria. What we almost missed was the importance of the intricate profiles of the terpenes, those lighter-than-air components that waft to our noses and blast our olfactory systems with the sometimes overwhelming complexity of pot’s perfumes. 

As a whole, terpenes make up very little by weight in cannabis plants, but oh my goodness do they make a difference! Inhaling them on their own can decrease anxiety, help you sleep, improve the cognitive activity of your brain, and create alertness – and that’s individual terpenes.

What is it terpenes actually do for me when I use cannabis?

Terpenes have a variety of different effects based on their combinations.

Terpenes in cannabis improve the administration and medical effects of weed in many ways, as demonstrated by the following short but impressive list. 

  • Some, like limonene, dilate the capillaries of the lungs. This speeds the uptake of cannabinoids administered through vaporization or combustion. Faster uptake = faster activation of the brain’s endocannabinoid receptors. You’ll get higher, faster. 
  • The high from THC is buffered to some extent by the presence of terpenes. Pure THC is never well-tolerated by patients, who overwhelmingly prefer the synergy of a full-plant extraction over an isolate
  • They increase blood flow. Cannabinoids ultimately travel through the body in the bloodstream, and it stands to reason that more blood flow results in broader distribution. 
  • Cortical activity is stimulated by their presence. Your thinking will be clearer. The crisp scent of pinenes are sought after in cannabis flowers for their alerting qualities, and limonene opens the mind to clear, creative thought. 

How do you want to feel?

Knowing what you want from your cannabis, you can seek out strains that have the accompanying terpene profiles.

If cannabinoids are the power of cannabis, terpenes are the managers of that power. It’s the mix of terpenes that will drive the experience of your cannabis-based product. Individually, terpenes create their own effect. Cannabis steps beyond the mundane and generates incredible combinations working in synergy that completely change what’s expected into something so much more. 

As an example, myrcene is the terpene most associated with couchlock, the biological response of, “I’m soooo relaxed I don’t want to move from this comfortable spot!” High myrcene content is what consumers look for when they want to kick back and relax.  

Combine low levels of myrcene with high levels of terpinolene, as in the classic Jack Herer, consume high enough doses, and you’ll skirt the electric, soaring buzz some of us covet. 

It’s all about making informed choices. When choosing a strain of cannabis, one begins by deciding how you want to feel, and what goals you have as a patient.

Common cannabis terpenes

Here are some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis.

Even with the incredible variety found in cannabis formulations plants demonstrate patterns of expression. Cannabis plants tend to group according to major terpene expressions, with minor terpenes joining in to create complexity and increase medicinal value. 

Knowing what effect those combinations can potentially influence can help you more easily zero in on the ones that work for you and meet your individual needs. 

Keeping in mind that every plant will create a unique oil, the table below will give you a general starting point in identifying desirable traits. Experimentation will help you find the special mix that makes your endocannabinoid system sing in harmony.

MyrceneRelaxed body stone (couchlock), reduced pain
PineneAlert, focused, energetic
Beta-CaryophylleneInflammatory relief, stimulated
LinaloolSleep, relaxed, peaceful
LimoneneAwake, creative, alive
TerpinoleneStimulated, motivated
OcimeneBalanced (not too energized, not too relaxed)

In Part 2, we’ll get up close and personal with cannabis terpenes. 

If I’ve raised any questions you’d like to see answered or you have something of value to share about cannabis terpenes, there’s a comment section below. Feel free to leave your queries and share your thoughts about how terpenes improve the experience when using cannabis.