What are terpenes?
Terpenes (or terpenoids) are the distinct chemical compounds found in hemp and cannabis—and nearly all plants, herbs, and fruit for that matter. Terpenes are what give a plant its unique aromatic properties.
In nature, the terpenes of plants play an important role in their life. Some terpenes help to attract pollinators, for example, while others might repel pests to help the plant reach maturity to reproduce. In the world of hemp, a plant’s terpene content is generally determined by its specific strain or cultivar. Such plants are categorically cannabis sativa, and yet they can vary wildly in appearance and aroma based on unique genetics—which in turn infers a nearly endless variety of terpene profiles.
Some particularly bioactive terpenes go beyond just determining the odor of a plant, however, and can influence its flavors—at times, even the physical effects of the plant upon consumption. This interaction in conjunction with cannabinoids is known as an “entourage effect,” and is starting to receive widespread attention with cannabis and hemp products becoming more and more mainstream.
According to a 2020 study titled “Terpenes/Terpenoids In Cannabis: Are They Important?”:
“Terpenes/terpenoids have a wide range of biological and pharmacological activities, for instance: antifungal, antiviral, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antihyperglycemic, antiparasitic, antioxidant, and antimicrobial.”
Terpenes VS. Cannabinoids
Like cannabinoids, terpenes are bioactive molecules that are extremely prevalent in cannabis sativa. Unlike cannabinoids, researchers have found that terpenes do not interact with the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors (short for Cannabinoid Receptors 1 & 2). These are the entry points for cannabinoids like CBD and THC into the body’s ECS (Endocannabinoid System), which help regulate important bodily functions such as sleep, pain, and stress. The effects of terpenes appear to be rather subjective. In 2009, a review of research studies regarding olfactory effects on our mood, physiology, and behavior found evidence of pharmacological and psychological mechanisms at play.
Various Types & Effects
When it comes to cannabis and hemp, researchers have identified over 120 different terpene compounds and variations between each strain—meaning the plant carries a near-countless number of possible terpene profiles. Despite the possibility for there to be a vast range, several terpenes have been identified as most commonly found in cannabis sativa: caryophyllene, myrcene, pinene, humulene, limonene, linalool, and terpinolene.
Linalool carries a sweet, floral scent and is a commonly used ingredient in many fragrant products—appearing in a majority of cosmetic products in some form.
When consumed, linalool has been shown to produce some sedative and analgesic effects.
Caryophyllene is commonly found in many species of herbs and plants beyond just hemp and cannabis—including basil, cinnamon, and oregano. It has a strong wood scent and is one of the primary contributors to the aroma of black pepper.
In terms of its effects, researchers have posited that caryophyllene may aid against nervous system disorders such as chronic pain, anxiety, spasms, and depression.
Myrcene is the most abundant terpene found in hemp and cannabis. It can be hard to distinguish from other more pronounced terpenes due to its earthy aroma. One of the reasons myrcene may be so abundant in cannabis sativa is the fact it is a known precursor to many other terpenoids—which often change over the course of a plant’s curing process.
Myrcene is known to have some sedative and pain-relieving properties.
Limonene is the terpene present in the rinds of all citrus fruit, smelling primarily of oranges. In cannabis sativa, limonene is one of the most common terpenes.
It’s a known mood-elevator and can be helpful in handling anxiety and depression.
Humulene is the predominant terpene in beer hops, carrying an aroma that’s earthy, woody, and spicy. It’s one of the major terpenes responsible for hemp’s unique scent (and why the funky smells of hops and hemp can seem so similar).
In terms of effects, humulene plays a role in many therapeutic essential oils and has been used by humans for healing purposes for centuries (if not millenia). One study in 2016 even indicated that it may have anti-cancer and analgesic properties.
Pinene is another common terpene in hemp and cannabis, and is actually the most common terpene in the natural world. It smells exactly like pine. (Surprised?) Besides occurring in cannabis and evergreens, pinene can also be found in herbs and flowers like rosemary, parsley, dill, basil, and rose.
Pinene is known to provide an uplifting sensation. (Think of a refreshing walk along a forest trail or the familiar scent of holiday trees.) Anecdotal evidence suggests it may support relaxation and fight inflammation of the airway, including minor symptoms of asthma.
Terpinolene has one of the more complex aromas among hemp terpenes, which can make it hard to pin down. Historically, people have reported the aroma of pine, herbs, and lime/citrus. In addition to cannabis sativa, it appears naturally in lilacs, parsnips, nutmeg, and cumin.
Terpinolene carries natural antifungal and antibacterial properties, which is why it’s often a go-to additive in soaps and natural insect repellent. It can also function as a natural sedative.
Want to know what terpenes your Lazarus Naturals product has? Head to our Test Results page, find your product, match your batch number, and see for yourself!
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