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What Are Terpenes?

what are cannabis terpenes

One of the most fun aspects of being a Hemp consumer or patient is the ability to smell the array of fragrances that the plant’s flowers produce. With scents ranging from fruity aromas to cheese-like smells, the hemp plant can require the consumer to develop a level of familiarity and expertise with its unique makeup. So what exactly is behind these fragrances that trigger such connections? And what is it that makes them so unique?

You Had Me at Fragrance
You may have heard of terpenes or terpenoids, the chemical that gives Hemp its different types of scents. Terpenes are organic hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. With the rise of the legal hemp industry, the discussion around terpenes has recently heated up. We’re here to break down what these chemicals are, and exactly what they are doing to make your Hemp experience so unique.

What’s In a Name?
First, the words terpenes and terpenoids are often used interchangeably, although the meanings do vary. Terpenes are the naturally occurring combination of carbon and hydrogen, whereas terpenoids are terpenes that have been modified through a drying and curing process (chemical modification), altering the oxygen content of the compound.

Trichomes and Terpenes, What you Need to Know
In Industrial Hemp, terpenes are made in the trichomes of the plant. Trichomes are the shiny, sticky, mushroom-shaped crystals that cover the leaves and buds. Trichomes on hemp act as a defense mechanism in nature, protecting the plant from insects and animals through the production of fragrant terpenes that repel these dangers. As humans, we smell these terpenes and can make inferences about the strain and possibly physiological effects that the strain may have.

Hemp is an incredibly diverse plant regarding its biological makeup and potential benefits — and terpenes – are no exception. There are over 100 different identified terpenes in the Hemp plant, and while the differences can be subtle, much progress has been made in making classification of terpenes and their effects easy for patients and consumers to understand. Broadly, terpenes can be broken down into sweet, sour, spicy, or bitter — with each category further breaking down into more specific smells. These specific smells consist with certain strains, which in turn correlate to the effects of that plant. In fact, to help with this., many companies have produced terpene wheels to better help people understand this. More on that in a bit.

How Terpenes Affect your Mood
Here’s an example: A sour-smelling flower may have a strong lemon scent to it. Lemon scented strains are often correlated with strains like lemon skunk or lemon haze the consumer a boost of energy and euphoria. With a better understanding of terpenes and how they relate to the scents that you are experiencing, you are able to come to certain conclusions about the plant in front of you by simply smelling it. This is powerful information for consumers, patients, and growers alike.

So what exactly are these terpenes?

Common Terpenes You May Already Be Familiar With

common cannabis terpenes

Limonene

You may be more familiar with terpenes than you realize. Considering our lemon example above, do you know what terpene a lemon scent refers to? Limonene. Limonene is not only characteristic of citrus-smelling cannabis but it’s also the exact terpene found in lemons and other citrus fruit rinds, like oranges and limes, giving them that fruity smell. Among other products, limonene is commonly used as a fragrant additive in cosmetics and cleaning supplies.

Limonene is known for its powerful antifungal and antibacterial properties. It’s a natural insecticide on the cannabis plant and can even assist in treating toenail fungus in humans. Limonene is easily absorbed through inhalation and even improves absorption of other terpenes through the skin and body tissue, like mucous membranes and the digestive tract. Limonene is also known for its stress-relieving and mood-enhancing effects.

Pinene

Can you guess where pinene is commonly found? That’s right — pine trees. Pinene actually comes in two types: alpha, which smells like pine needles and is the most commonly found terpene in nature, and beta, which smells like rosemary, basil, dill, or parsley. Pinene is also found in conifer trees, citrus peels, and turpentine. Pinene is a powerful bronchodilator, which helps improve airflow to lungs, making it a good option for those struggling with asthma. It’s also an anti-inflammatory and local antiseptic and has been used by cultures around the world for its healing properties for thousands of years. Pinene easily crosses the blood-brain barrier improving memory and alertness. It’s even said that pinene counters memory loss.

Myrcene

Commonly found in mangoes, hops, thyme, and lemongrass, myrcene is said to be one of the most abundant terpenes in cannabis. Myrcene is important because its presence determines whether a strain is indica or sativa. According to Steep Hill Labs, if a plant has more than 0.5% myrcene, it will produce indica-like effects. Anything less than 0.5% myrcene produces sativa-like effects. Myrcene is also known for its antibiotic, analgesic, and anti-mutagenic properties.

Linalool

Linalool is commonly found in lavender and its aroma is light and floral. Widely known for the ability to reduce stress, linalool is used as an anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and sedative. Linalool is also used to relieve seizure symptoms and provide relief to those suffering from psychosis.

cannabis terpene benefits

Custom Terpene Profiles, Should I Care?
Custom terpene profiles can also be beneficial to patients seeking relief. Medical cannabis patients often suffer from several ailments at the same time, for example, nausea, pain, and stress. The severity and sensitivity of conditions vary among patients making individual, customized treatment essential. As more brands hit the market with custom terpene and cannabinoid profiles, patients are provided with increased treatment options, and in ways that we have not seen before. Because growing conditions and plant genetics determine terpene quality and content, growers are now able to make adjustments to the “how” and “what” they grow, in order to meet patient demand. This is a much faster and transparent process than waiting for a new pharmaceutical drug to hit the market.

Terpenes and Vaporizing

Because terpenes have different molecular structures, their boiling points vary. The temperature at which you vaporize becomes important for understanding what produces your desired effects. Some compounds require higher boiling points to turn into vapor, while others are ineffective at high temperatures. The same goes for hemp.

Smoking anything isn’t ideal for your body — combustion creates smoke which contains by-products that are harsh on your lungs. Vaporizing is more gentle on the body, and more of the vapor content is made of the hemp and terpenes that you seek. Hemp begin to vaporize at 285 F and combustion begins at 392 F. Playing with different temperatures will help you find your sweet spot.

Your Most Important Takeaways about Terpenes

From what we know, the potential benefits from terpenes are promising. These organic, naturally occurring compounds not only enhance and inform your cannabis experience but also offer great medicinal benefits to patients. Terpenes have been used for thousands of years by cultures around the world for their healing properties and as cannabis science expands, the possibilities to help more people becomes increasingly exciting.