What are Terpenes?

You may have heard of the word terpenes in relation to CBD oil products, but what are they and what do they actually do?

Terpenes are organic natural compounds consisting of hydrocarbons. In a nutshell, they are the molecules which give a plant its characteristic smell and taste – think ginger, lavender, pine and cinnamon for example.

Terpenes are found in the essential oils of plants and flowers and have evolved over time in nature to produce a strong odour to both attract pollinators and also act as a defence against predators, bacteria, fungi and parasites. There are more than 20,000 different terpene types and their aromatic properties are already used extensively within the perfumes and cosmetics industry, as well as food and pharmaceutical industries.

Cannabis plants (including hemp) are also particularly rich in terpenes –at least 100 types. Different strains of plant will contain different types of terpenes, and in more recent years it is thought that they have an even greater function than just as a fragrance. Here are some common ones and the medicinal benefits thought to be associated with each:

  • Myrcene – possibly the most abundant terpene in cannabis, it has anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant and sedative properties
  • Limonene – smells of lemons and is used for air fresheners, perfumes and can relieve stress and improve mood. It also has antibacterial properties so commonly used as a topical tincture
  • Linalool – an anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory. Commercially used in perfumes and insect repellent
  • Humulene – anti-inflammatory and can also supress appetite. This terpene is also found in cloves, hops and basil

 The chemical structure of terpenes is similar to cannabinoid compounds (CBD is the main cannabinoid found in cannabis) which are also abundant in the cannabis plant. Since both have anecdotal medicinal properties it is possible to use them in synergy to tailor the outcome effects with more precision. For example, if you combine cannabinoids and terpenes which have similar properties then you can make the overall effect stronger. Or by counterbalancing them you can downplay or mute other dominant cannabinoid effects that you don’t want. This interaction is known as the “entourage effect”.

Full spectrum CBD oils contain a range of cannabinoids and terpenes as oil from the whole plant is extracted. (CBD Isolate oils do not contain terpenes and the entourage effect is not present). Lab reports can identify the compound content clearly, which is important when searching for the right oil for you.

The potential health benefits of cannabinoids are currently being researched, and it is possible that terpenes will follow as another substance of greater worth than just its fragrance.