Have you heard of terpenes? They’re the naturally occurring chemical compounds that give plants their unique smell, taste and effects.
Fascinatingly, they’re found in thousands of plant species all over the world, but they’re often associated with cannabis because the plant has particularly high concentrations of them. Over 100, to be more specific.
So next time you stop and smell the roses, add a sprig of rosemary to your lamb or add lavender oil to your bath – you owe those delightful smells to terpenes.
What do terpenes do?
Besides evoking pleasant feelings after we’ve taken a whiff, terpenes have an important job to do. Their smell defends plants against the bad guys (predators) while attracting the good guys (pollinators).
On top of this, research now suggests that terpenes have therapeutic benefits and medicinal effects on the human body.
So, what better plant to dive deeper into this research than Cannabis?
Terpenes in Cannabis
When people speak about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, they probably rattle off terms like CBD and THC (which are cannabinoids found in Cannabis that interact with our body).
While terpenes may not be as dominating as these compounds, research suggests they still have benefits of their own – including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-depressive and neuroprotective properties.
Not only that, many researchers believe terpenes and cannabinoids work together to alter the plant’s effects. It’s called the entourage effect, which is a theory that consuming all the compounds in cannabis (cannabis, terpenese, flavonoids) heightens the plant’s benefits.
3 common cannabis terpenes
You can’t talk about cannabis terpenes and sidestep myrcene. One of the most abundant terpenes, myrcene is also found in hops, lemongrass, mango, thyme and basil.
It’s got a fruity flavour profile, celebrated for its pain-relieving, anti-anxiety, sedative and anti-inflammatory effects. But as is often the case, more research needs to be done.
As the name suggests, limonene is also found in citrus fruits like lemon, lime and orange. It’s often used as a flavouring in cosmetics, soft drinks, fruit juices and desserts due to its lovely and refreshing aroma. Early research shows it may relieve heartburn, reduce inflammation and protect against certain types of cancers.
Found in places like cedar, pine and rosemary, pinene has a clean, earthy scent. Early research suggests it may improve memory, reduce inflammation, protect against certain diseases and help open the airways (just like a beautiful pine forest).
The final word
While our entire world is made up of terpenes, the cannabis plant has particularly impressive quantities of them. And it’s the reason why cannabis and terpenes are often said under the same breath.
The smell and flavour of cannabis can vary depending on the terpene profile - it’s what makes one strain smell wildly different to the next.
Finally, the terpenes we explored in this article - myrcene, limonene and pinene - are only three of the hundreds of beneficial terpenes available in cannabis.
Yep, we’ve only scratched the surface of this astonishing plant. With time and further study, there’s so much more to uncover.
Written by Samantha, an ethical copywriter from the Mornington Peninsula. She’s a former environmental scientist, outdoor enthusiast and the founder of Copy Circle.