Though often overshadowed by the widely known cannabinoids, the star compounds in cannabis, terpenes are becoming a well-known term in the industry. If asked "what are terpenes?" the simple answer is that they are aromatic organic hydrocarbons often found in the essential oils of plants.
These compounds are most commonly known to provide the unique fragrance profiles sought after by medicinal cannabis users. As science continues to uncover the unknowns about cannabis, terpene-specific research has pointed to the therapeutic benefits of these aromatic compounds. This research shows that these molecules are active in the synergistic effects of whole-plant cannabis consumption, commonly known as the 'entourage effect'.
Terpenes are a big star in the medicinal and recreational marijuana circles, but these important compounds are making themselves known in the hemp-derived CBD space as well. As research and anecdotal evidence continues to grow, the role of individual terpenes has become well documented. These compounds provide unique potential medicinal benefits that should be considered by anyone who consumes cannabis.
While there are over 100 identified terpenes that have been found in cannabis, there are a few abundant types that are most common. Below we will take a look at the most well known of these cannabis-occurring compounds:
Linalool is a widely sourced compound found in several hundred different types of plants. This compound has long been used as a sleep aid and modern research points to its therapeutic potential in helping to treat a wide range of ailments.
Molar Mass: 154.25 g/mol
Boiling Point: 198°C (388°F)
Also Found In: Lavender, citrus, laurels, birch, coriander, and rosewood
D-Limonene is a cyclic terpene with very important uses. The compound is commonly used in citrus cleaner as it has very low toxicity and low chance of allergic reaction. This molecule is important for use in medicinal cannabis as it helps the absorption of other terpenes and cannabinoids through the skin, mucous membranes, and digestive tract - all increasing bioavailability.
Molar Mass: 136.13 g/mol
Boiling Point: 176 °C (349 °F)
Also Found In: Fruit rinds, rosemary, peppermint, juniper
Molar Mass: 204.19 g/mol
Boiling Point: 198 °C (388 °F)
Aroma(s): Hoppy, woody, earthy
Also Found In: Hops, coriander, basil, cloves
β-Myrcene is a monoterpene, and one of the most well known and important in cannabis. This compound is a precursor to many other terpenes and offers a wide range of effects and benefits. Specifically, the molecule lowers the resistance across the blood to brain barrier. This property works to speed the onset of effects of other cannabis compounds including and specifically cannabinoids.
Myrcene has been shown to increase the maximum saturation level of the CB1 receptor allowing for greater psychoactive effects of THC consumption. This can work by both eating myrcene-rich foods like mangos roughly 45 minutes before inhaling THC, or by choosing myrcene-rich strains of marijuana.
Molar Mass: 136.13 g/mol
Boiling Point: 168°C (334°F)
Aroma(s): Cardamom, cloves, earthy, herbal, musky
Potential Effects: Increased rate of cannabinoid effect
Also Found In: Fresh mango, hops, eucalyptus, lemongrass, bay leaves
Phytol is one of two parts created when the chlorophyll molecule degrades. This oily diterpene is used in the synthesis of vitamins E and K.
Molar Mass: 296.53 g/mol
Boiling Point: 204°C (399.2°F)
Aroma(s): Floral, balsamic
Citronellol has been used for over 2,000 years as a natural insect repellant to prevent exposure to mosquitos and preserve fabric from moths.
Molar Mass: 156.27 g/mol
Boiling Point: 225°C (437°F)
Also Found In: Rose, perennials, succulents, shrubs
This terpene is the oxidation product of beta-Caryophyllene. The molecule is known for its anti-fungus and tumors. In the medicinal hemp space, this compound is important as it may play a roll in improving uptake of CBD/CBC in the CB2 receptor. It is also believed to be the only terpene in cannabis known to bind with CB2.
Molar Mass: 220.35 g/mol
Boiling Point: 257 °C (495 °F)
Also Found In: Cloves, rosemary, hops
Molar Mass: 136.12 g/mol
Boiling Point: 155 °C (311 °F)
Aroma(s): Sharp, sweet pine
Potential Effects: Counteracts psychoactive potency of THC
Also Found In: Pine needles, rosemary, dill, parsley, basil
Molar Mass: 204.36 g/mol
Boiling Point: 130°C (266°F)
Aroma(s): Peppery, spicy, woody
Also Found In: Black pepper, cinnamon, cloves
Molar Mass: 136.23 g/mol
Boiling Point: 185˚C (365˚F)
Aroma(s): Piney, floral, herbal, occasionally citrusy
Also Found In: Nutmeg, conifers, tea tree, apples, cumin, lilacs
Molar Mass: 136.23 g/mol
Boiling Point: 92˚C (197˚F)
Also Found In: Cypress pine, guaiacum
Molar Mass: 136.24 g/mol
Boiling Point: 50˚C (122˚F)
Aroma(s): Herbaceous, sweet, woody, fruity, slightly acidic
Also Found In: fruits and herbs including mint, parsley, pepper, basil, mangoes, orchids, kumquats
Marijuana users really have it made when it comes to ingesting terpenes. There is a wide range of strains on the market that feature unique, specifically tailored terpene profiles that give each type unique characteristics, effects, and medicinal benefits. Unfortunately, the hemp-derived CBD industry doesn't offer this level of choice as a consumer.
That being said, more and more companies are focusing on providing CBD oil products that are rich in naturally extracted or added terpenes. Top-shelf companies will provide batch level terpene potency tests for their products. As a consumer, you'll be able to dig through lab results to find products containing a profile that suits your needs.
Originally published: September 20, 2018 | Last Updated: March 12, 2019
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