The benefits of Terpenes and the Entourage Effect
As well as giving each strain of cannabis its unique scent and flavour, terpenes also add to the therapeutic effect of cannabinoids. In our guide, we explain how this works.
Just like any other plant or flower, cannabis has its own recognisable smell. Each strain has a scent and taste that is unique - this uniqueness comes from terpenes.
There are around 200 known terpenes found in cannabis, but not all are present in amounts large enough to be distinguished by the nose. Citrus, pine, mint, mango, berries… all of these diverse fragrance profiles, and many more, can be identified within the different strain varieties of the cannabis plant.
The other key element of cannabis, the cannabinoids, are odourless; it is purely the predominant terpenes within the strain which determine the smell and flavour.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes (pronounced tur-peens) are organic oily compounds that are produced by most plants, not just cannabis. They are a class of volatile aromatic molecules that evaporate easily which makes them easily detectable by our noses.
If you want to venture into full science mode, a terpene is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon (meaning the only elements present are hydrogen and carbon); and there are many sub-categories of terpene based on how many carbon atoms are present.
The carbon atoms form a 5-carbon molecule called an isoprene, and it is the number of isoprenes that determine if a terpene is a monoterpene (2x isoprenes), sesquiterpene (3x isoprenes), diterpene (4x isoprenes), triterpene (6x isoprenes), tetraterpene (8x isoprenes), or a polyterpene (> 8x isoprenes). The lower the isoprenes, the faster the evaporation. The faster the evaporation, the more pungent the aroma.
Terpenes have two key roles in the life of a plant. One is to protect the plant from predators, disease and/or fungus. The other is to produce resin, which is used in the production of essential oils such as those used in aromatherapy and beauty products.
They are widely recognised as safe for human consumption and are found in many common parts of our diet. As an example, are you a fan of maple syrup on pancakes? There are about 300 terpenes within natural maple syrup that make it such a delicious treat. Your favourite wines and beers are also packed with tasty terpenes!
What about cannabis terpenes?
Cannabis terpenes coexist in the plant alongside cannabinoids; and, like CBD, they have no psychoactive or hallucinogenic properties.
Some of the terpenes are exclusively found in cannabis, while others can also be found in other plants. Caryophyllene, for example, is a sesquiterpene that can be found in various cannabis strains, as well as in the essential oil of black pepper, oregano, cloves, rosemary, hops, and many leafy green vegetables. More on that later.
What do terpenes do?
As well as delivering the powerful scent and flavour, terpenes also have therapeutic properties that can aid in the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
Terpenes work with our body by binding to the receptors in our brain, in the same way that CBD does. They interact with our endocannabinoid system and help the CBD, and other cannabinoids, to enter our bloodstream.
The terpene, Myrcene, for example, increases cell permeability allowing cannabinoids to be absorbed into the bloodstream faster than they could alone.
This process is called the ‘Entourage Effect’.
What is the Entourage Effect?
The phenomenon known as the ‘entourage effect’ was first theorised in 1998 by two Israeli scientists when studying the effects of cannabinoids on the body’s own endocannabinoid system.
The entourage effect occurs when the many natural compounds of a plant interact together within the human body to produce a stronger impact than any single compound used in isolation.
Even though the individual compounds may in fact share the same beneficial uses, the entourage effect means that the results are multiplied. The symbiosis between cannabinoids and terpenes is what helps improve the absorption of cannabinoids, overcome bacterial defence mechanisms, and minimise side effects.
Which terpene does what?
Some terpenes help to relieve stress; others are great when you need to improve your focus; some relax us and even induce sleep; some even have the potential to kill respiratory pathogens, such as MRSA.
In 2011, Dr Ethan Russo published an article in the British Journal of Pharmacology which discussed the cannabinoid-terpene interaction, and detailed the therapeutic properties of terpenes in cannabis.
These are some of the core cannabis terpenes that you will find in legal CBD e-liquids, and their associated benefits:
As mentioned above, Myrcene is great at improving the absorption speed of cannabinoids. It is a monoterpene and is the most prevalent terpene found in cannabis. Myrcene is recognisable by its musky, herbal smell - likened most closely to cloves with hints of red grape, balsamic, and spice.
Its potential health benefits include the easing of chronic pain and inflammation, muscle relaxation, and inducing sedative effects. As well as cannabis, Myrcene can be found in mangoes, citrus fruits, lemongrass, thyme, and hops. It is the top terpene in our OG Kush, Super Silver Haze, and Grand Daddy Purple CBD e-liquids. It features within the top 5 terpenes of our Pineapple Express and Jack Herer CBD e-liquids.
Limonene is another monoterpene, and is the second most abundant terpene found in most cannabis strains. As its name suggests, Limonene provides a citrus like scent and flavour, and is commonly used to make your household cleaning products smell lemony fresh!
CBD e-liquids that contain Limonene increase serotonin levels, reduce stress, and promote a general uplift in mood and attitude. Research also shows that Limonene has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties; and it is also being used in weight reduction and the treatment of ulcers and acid reflux.
A 2011 study conducted at the University of Arizona found that Limonene can help to modulate the body’s immune system, making this terpene a promising option in the treatment of certain forms of cancer. Watch this space!
Cannabis aficionados will recognise Linalool as having the most discernible aromas of all the terpenes. Non-cannabis aficionados will know the scent, even if they don’t know why. Linalool is present in a massive array of well known fragrances and cosmetics, and is the principle compound in lavender.
Linalool contains anaesthetic, anti-convulsant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties. If you know anything about aromatherapy, you will know that lavender oil has long been promoted for its calming, soporific, sedatory powers. This makes Linalool a great sleep aid for insomniacs, and an alternative treatment for stress and anxiety.
Pinene is one of the most researched terpenes to date, and is responsible for the memorable scent of pine and fir trees. Other plants with high pinene levels include rosemary, basil and parsley. As well as smelling and tasting delicious, Pinene also has big medical potential.
Pinene helps to open airways in the respiratory system, making it beneficial for sufferers of asthma. It is also effective at protecting the lungs against certain viral infections, such as bronchitis. Pinene has an anti-inflammatory effect on humans, and can help patients with arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and memory loss.
Recent research has shown that molecules which selectively target the CB2 receptor within our endocannabinoid system could help to treat a number of conditions. Beta-caryophyllene has been found to be a terpene that can also play the role of a cannabinoid and, as such, is one of those handy molecules.
Targeting the CB2 receptor can potentially treat a number of disorders including depression, anxiety, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, and chronic pain. It is also showing promising results in combating alcoholism.
Caryophyllene is gastro-protective, good for treating certain ulcers, and has been described as ‘a dietary cannabinoid’. As mentioned earlier, Beta-caryophyllene is prevalent in leafy green vegetables, which is one of the reasons that they are so good for us.
So many terpenes, so little time…
There are many, many more terpenes that each have many, many more benefits.Delta 3 Carene, which is playing a part in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Camphene, which has the ability to lower cholesterol. Humulene, which is a powerful appetite suppressant. Borneol, which has been shown by one study to kill breast cancer cells. There are simply too many for one blog, but we are sure to explore more in the future as CBD e-liquids evolve.
With so much of the focus being placed on the role of cannabinoids, such as CBD, on our health, it is important not to overlook the enhancing effects of terpenes.
As research continues, we are confident that further therapeutic qualities will be discovered. In the meantime, we hope this guide will provide you with enough information to make a choice about the CBD e-liquid that is right for you.
However, if you do have any more questions, we are always here to help.