The properties of terpenes in medical cannabis


Terpenes are organic, aromatic hydrocarbons that can be found in thousands of plants around the world. They are part of the alkenes, alcohol, esters and ethers families. If these compounds are known, it is mainly because they are responsible for the smell and the taste of plants. Most of the plants will synthesize and release terpenes with important environmental and physiological repercussions.

Terpenes are volatile compounds that become part of the atmospheric gases, but they can also accumulate inside the plants. The wide range of medicinal properties in these compounds opens unsuspected development opportunities for scientific research. As the research progresses, the complexity of terpene functions and their benefits are being discovered.

Terpenes: properties and therapeutic benefits

Cannabis contains a large number of terpenes that are therapeutically beneficial to the human body. They are also responsible for the odours that we associate with cannabis, as well as other products that we encounter in day to day life, such as cheese and blueberries.The smell and the taste of cannabis and many other products depend on the presence and proportion of the different terpenes found in aromatic plants. In addition, they have therapeutic effects that enhance and complement the effects of the cannabinoids.
In general, terpenes play an important role in the treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer and bacterial and fungal infections.

Types of terpenes

Although medical cannabis is composed of lots of different types of terpenes, these are the main ones:

  • Myrcene (ß-Myrcene): This is the most prominent terpene in the cannabis plant, it can be found in hops, aged mangoes, bay leaves and lemon grass. ß-Myrcene is well known for its medicinal properties in the treatment of general pain and inflammation. Mixed with THC, it has relaxing, analgesic effects at a mental and physical level, it can be used against both psychological and muscular fatigue.
  • Limonene: The second most prominent terpene in cannabis is limonene. It can also be found in citrus peels and numerous flowers. With its lemon scent, limonene is an antidepressant, anxiolytic, immunostimulant, antitumor and an antibacterial. Limonene act together with the phytoannanabinoids: THC-A, CBD-A, CBC-A, CBC, CBG as well as others. They are useful when combined with cannabinoids; improving, modulating and enhancing their effects. The cannabis plant has a series of compounds which may be very useful for terpene-based monotherapies and cannabinoid therapies. As limonenes help to dissolve oils and other lipids, they are used to aid weight loss, gastric reflux and heartburn.
  • Pinene: This terpene is responsible for the smell of the plants, such as pine and spruce. It is known to be an expectorant, bronchodilator, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. For thousands of years rosemary and sage (both contain high concentrations of pinene) have been used in traditional medicine to improve memory. This feature can counteract some of the effects of THC. A study done in China in 2015, highlighted the antitumor effects of pinene, when tested on humans.

The combination of terpenes and cannabinoids: the entourage effect

This diversity of components in nature also show the limits of the synthesis of the pharmaceutical industry. When combined with cannabinoids and other plants, terpenes act differently, just as synthesized pure THC has much weaker effect without terpenes. While recognizing the high presence of terpenes in the intensity of plant’s odour, its concentration depends on the variety of medical cannabis and their modes of cultivation. That is why it is very important to know which varieties of medical cannabis have been adapted to suit your needs. On the other hand, it is imperative to consider different forms of consumption of therapeutic cannabis since certain ways can affect the potency of the terpenes:

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