The Lowdown

CANNABINOIDS & TERPENES

Cannabis is made up of hundreds of active chemical compounds, over 60 of which are cannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are naturally-occurring chemical ingredients that are found in the highest concentration in the female buds of the cannabis plant. These chemical compounds play an important role. They interact directly with the cannabinoid receptors found throughout the human endocannabinoid system. The medicinal benefits of cannabis can be attributed to the phenomenon of cannabinoids activating the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and body.

Terpenes are the compounds responsible for a plant’s scent and flavor. Unlike other botanical species, each strain of cannabis has a unique terpene profile. Terpenes and cannabinoids work together to develop a strain’s particular flavor and resulting high, a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.

Cannabinoids and terpenes develop in the resin glands, or trichomes, on the flower and leaves of cannabis plants. Today, growers aspire to breed strains with high concentrations of both compounds due to their prized therapeutic effects.

 
 
 

CANNABINOIDS

What are cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds derived from hemp and cannabis that interact directly with the cannabinoid receptors found throughout the human endocannabinoid system. The medicinal benefits of cannabis can be attributed to the phenomenon of cannabinoids activating the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and body. When CB1 and CB2 receptors are activated, we can improve how our body’s different systems and organs function.

Cannabinoids and terpenes develop in the resin glands, or trichomes, on the flower and leaves of cannabis plants. Many other plants produce cannabinoids, but they are found in the highest concentration in cannabis. Terpenes and cannabinoids work together to develop a strain’s particular flavor and resulting high, a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.[1] The different compounds interact synergistically to amplify the benefits of the plant’s individual components. Essentially, the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts. Today, growers aspire to breed strains with high concentrations of both compounds due to their prized therapeutic effects.

[1] Russo, E. B. (2011, Aug). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/

How do cannabinoids work in the body

The majority of medical cannabis research focuses on the study of cannabinoids. They are similar in structure to the neurotransmitters in our peripheral and central nervous system. When we consume cannabis, these compounds can communicate on a cellular level with these neurotransmitters, which we call “endocannabinoids”. The network of these endocannabinoids in our bodies is called the endocannabinoid system. When this nervous system falters, the compounds derived from cannabis can help our bodies regain their natural balance and stability.[1] This concept is the foundation of cannabis as medicine.

You might have heard of the high CBD strain, Charlotte’s Web. It was developed for a young girl named Charlotte who suffered from Dravet’s syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. A tincture derived from this strain helped reduce the hundreds of weekly seizures Charlotte endured to only a few. This was an unbelievable feat that catalyzed the medical cannabis movement. It is also a prime example of how impactful cannabinoid therapy can be.

[1] Zou, S. (2018, Mar). Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 19(3): 833. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877694/

 
 
 
 

Most Common Types of Cannabinoids

Different types of cannabinoids have different effects. Certain ones can provide pain relief while others have anticonvulsant properties. The benefits of these chemical compounds are diverse, but more scientific research is needed to truly understand their versatility and therapeutic effects.

 

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THC-A) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. THC-A is the most abundant cannabinoid in raw cannabis. When THC-A is heated to a high enough temperature, it immediately converts to THC. This process also occurs naturally as fresh cannabis dries and cures.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most well-known cannabinoid and the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.

Cannabinol (CBN) naturally occurs when THC is exposed to heat and oxygen. It’s typically found in amounts of less than 1%.

Cannabigerol (CBG) is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that is found in minimal amounts (less than 1%) in medical cannabis. CBG has indicated potential in chronic pain management.[1]

[1] Russo E. B. (2008, Feb). Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, 4(1), 245–259. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2503660/#b42

Cannabidivarin (CBD-V) is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid with significant anticonvulsant and antiseizure effects.[1] It is being researched for its potential in treating epilepsy.

[1] Hill, T. D., et al. (2013, Oct). Cannabidivarin-rich cannabis extracts are anticonvulsant in mouse and rat via a CB1 receptor-independent mechanism. British Journal of Pharmacology, 170(3), 679–692. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3792005/

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THC-V) is a potentially potent psychoactive cannabinoid. Research studies are examining its effects upon certain psychological conditions such as PTSD. Limited studies have indicated that THC-V can decrease appetite.[1] It may have anxiolytic-like properties[2] and has also shown promise as an effective treatment for certain types of psychosis.[3]

[1] Wargent, E. T., et al. (2013). The cannabinoid Δ9-tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) ameliorates insulin sensitivity in two mouse models of obesity. Nutrition & Diabetes, 3(5), e68. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671751/

[2] Englund, A., et al. (2015, Nov.) The effect of five day dosing with THCV on THC-induced cognitive, psychological and physiological effects in healthy male human volunteers: A placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover pilot trial.

Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30(2): 140-151. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881115615104

[3] Cascio, M. G., Zamberletti, E., Marini, P., Parolaro, D., & Pertwee, R. G. (2015, Mar). The phytocannabinoid, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabivarin, can act through 5-HT1A receptors to produce antipsychotic effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 172(5), 1305–1318. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4337703/

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a versatile cannabinoid with multiple therapeutic effects. The non-intoxicating properties make it more applicable to those who need and want to stay clear-minded. CBD has antispasmodic and antiseizure properties, along with powerful anti-inflammatory properties.[1]

[1] Maroon, J., & Bost, J. (2018, Apr). Review of the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids. Surgical Neurology International, 9, 91. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5938896/

 

IN SUMMARY

Understanding the different types of cannabinoids is essential to using cannabis as a treatment. Scientific research shows that the current proven medical benefits are vast. From pain relief to anti-inflammation to antispasmodic, it’s clear that the cannabis plant has many properties that can help alleviate a range of symptoms.

 
 
 

TERPENES

Understanding terpenes is key to navigating cannabis for beginners; they are as important as cannabinoids when it comes to self-medicating. Research shows us that we can no longer just consider the potency of THC and CBD in a strain. The concentration of terpenes can provide as many benefits as potency and cannabinoid content.

Terpenes are responsible for the scent and flavor of cannabis. Tangerine Dream and Super Lemon Haze have distinctive citrus aromas, while Blackberry Kush and Strawberry Cough have sweeter, fruitier notes. Take a whiff of Sour Diesel and you’ll see why people love strong, skunky buds. To date, researchers have identified over 100 different terpenes, but below is a list of the most common ones.

Terpenes or terpenoids are aroma compounds produced in the flower and leaves of the cannabis plant. Understanding terpenes is key to navigating cannabis for beginners; they are as important as cannabinoids when it comes to self-medicating. Research shows us that we can no longer just consider the potency of THC and CBD in a strain. The concentration of terpenes may provide as many benefits as potency and cannabinoid content.[1]

[1] Baron, EP. (2018, July). Medicinal Properties of Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids in Cannabis, and Benefits in Migraine, Headache, and Pain: An Update on Current Evidence and Cannabis Science. Headache, 58(7):1139-1186. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30152161

WHY DO CANNABIS PLANTS SMELL?

Terpenes are the primary elements of the essential oils in plants. They are responsible for the cannabis plant’s unmistakable flavor and aroma. Unlike other botanical species, each strain of cannabis has a unique terpene profile. Tangerine Dream and Super Lemon Haze have distinctive citrus aromas, while Blackberry Kush and Strawberry Cough have sweeter, fruitier notes. Smell some Sour Diesel flower and you’ll see why people love strong, skunky buds.

Interestingly, many botanists and scientists believe that terpenes originally developed in plants as a deterrent to pests and animals. Some aroma compounds, like linalool, are even used in insect repellents. Though they were intended to be a protective mechanism, terpenes are ironically one of the most attractive aspects of the plant. Today, many medical cannabis patients rely on how their body gravitates to certain terpene profiles to help identify what strains may work for them.

WHAT EXACTLY ARE TERPENES?

Terpenes are organic hydrocarbons that occur naturally in the essential oils of plants. Technically, terpenes are a combination of carbon and hydrogen. Though the names are used interchangeably, terpenoids are actually terpenes that have been altered through a drying process.

Terpenes are produced in the trichomes. Trichomes are the mushroom-shaped, crystal-like resin glands that cover the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. Terpenes are volatile and evaporate easily which is why the cannabis plant is so easy to smell. Many terpenes, like camphor and menthol, found in the botanical world have medicinal benefits. If you’ve ever had a cough drop, you’ve experienced the soothing properties of menthol. Though there are thousands of terpenes in existence, there are at least 100 aroma compounds that have been identified in the cannabis plant.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN FUNCTIONS OF TERPENES?

Cannabis terpenes are responsible for the physiological effects associated with the plant. For instance, beta-caryophyllene is the only known terpene that can bind to cannabinoid receptors, specifically CB2 receptors. This is what makes beta-caryophyllene such a viable treatment for gastrointestinal conditions and auto-immune disorders. The activation of CB2 receptors can also reduce pain and inflammation.

Considered to have a range of medicinal properties, these aroma compounds work with cannabinoids to provide therapeutic relief to patients. Together, they create an “entourage effect” which enhances the singular therapeutic properties of the plant. The entourage effect is key to medicating effectively with cannabis. Patients should embrace the phenomenon of cannabinoids and terpenes interacting synergistically -  always pick products that robust and natural terpene profiles. Every cannabis strain has varying percentages of terpene content. Though each terpene has specific medicinal properties, a diverse terpene profile can create a unique and powerful sense of relief.

HOW DO TERPENES ALTER THE HIGH?

The terpene profile of a particular cannabis strain drastically influences the type of high that a patient experiences. Like CBD, terpenes can alter the psychoactive effect of THC.[1] This ability to mitigate the mental high may mean that terpenes can actually enhance the medicinal benefits of THC.

Different cannabis terpenes can affect your mood, your physical state and sense of relief. Have you ever experienced the uplifting effect of citrus? This is because of a terpene called limonene that is known to have mood-elevating and stress-reducing properties. If you’ve ever used lavender essential oil at night to help you relax and drift off to sleep, you’re already familiar with linalool. The more you experiment with different strains and terpene profiles, the more you will learn what works best for your symptoms.

[1] Russo, E. B. (2014, Jan). Taming THC. British Journal of Pharmacology. Retrieved from https://www.projectcbd.org/science/taming-thc

 
 
 

Most Common Types of Terpenes

Terpenes are integral to how humans experience cannabis. From anti-inflammatory to sedative properties, scientists have only begun to scratch the surface of the medicinal benefits of these aroma compounds. To date, researchers have identified over 100 different cannabis terpenes, but only a handful of them are found in high concentration in cannabis. Below is a list of the most common types of terpenes.

 

β–Myrcene may be used to treat insomnia[1] and pain.[2] It is unique because it allows chemicals to cross the blood-brain barrier more easily, allowing for cannabinoids to have a faster onset. Myrcene may also increase the psychoactive effect of THC, making for a more intense cerebral high. Myrcene is naturally occurring in lemongrass, thyme, and hops.

[1] Do Vale, TG., Furtado, EC., Santos, JG Jr., Viana, GS. (2002, Dec). Central effects of citral, myrcene and limonene, constituents of essential oil chemotypes from Lippia alba (Mill.) n.e. Brown. Phytomedicine., 9(8):709-14. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12587690

[2] Rao, VS., Menezes, AM., Viana, GS. (1990, Dec). Effect of myrcene on nociception in mice.  Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 42(12):877-8. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1983154

Limonene has an energizing, citrus scent. It can be used for combatting gastric reflux and heartburn. Limonene has antifungal, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be powerful for elevating mood and reducing stress.[1] Limonene is often found in common cleaning and cosmetic products, but occurs naturally in citrus fruit, like lemons, limes, and oranges.

[1] UHN Staff. (2017, Dec). D-Limonene: Effective for Lowering Cholesterol Naturally and Much More. Retrieved from https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/heart-health/d-limonene-effective-for-lowering-cholesterol-naturally-and-much-more/

Humulene is found in abundance in its namesake Humulus lupulus, also known as common hops. It is present in ginseng, sage, clove, and basil. Used in ancient Chinese medicine, humulene can be an effective appetite suppressant. It has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antitumor properties.[1]

[1] Petrov, Petar. (2018). Alpha-Humulene. Retrieved from https://terpenesandtesting.com/category/science/alpha-humulene/

Ocimene can have an herbaceous scent, often with citrus or woody undertones. Ocimene has shown significant anti-inflammatory effects[1]. Many believe that this terpene was developed as part of a plant’s defense mechanism. Interestingly, pests seem to be averse to strains high in ocimene similar to how mosquitos avoid geranium. While many other plants have some quantity present, ocimene can be found in hops, basil, bergamot, orchids, and pepper.

[1]  Kim, M.J. et al. (2014, May). Chemical composition and anti-inflammation activity of essential oils from Citrus unshiu flower. Natural Product Communications. 9(5):727-730. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25026734

Terpinolene is present in many cannabis strains, but usually only in small quantities. This terpene has a multi-dimensional aroma that smells like pine trees, citrus, herbs, and florals. It has illustrated antioxidant[1] and sedative[2] properties. Terpinolene is naturally occurring in nutmeg, tea tree, apples, and conifers.

[1] Turkez, H., Aydin, E., Geyikoglu, F., Cetin, D. (2015, May). Genotoxic and oxidative damage potentials in human lymphocytes after exposure to terpinolene in vitro. Cytotechnology. 67(3):409-18. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24590926

[2]  Ito, K., Ito, M. (2013, Jan). The sedative effect of inhaled terpinolene in mice and its structure-activity relationships. Journal of Natural Medicines. 67(4):833-837. Retrieved from http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/23339024.

Linalool has a delicate, floral aroma and is found in hundreds of different plants. Linalool is present in lavender, cinnamon, birch, and coriander. It is an age-old remedy for sleep disorders and can be used in treating depression and anxiety.[1] Linalool can be used as an analgesic[2] and is a great all-natural insecticide.

[1] Guzmán-Gutiérrez, SL., Bonilla-Jaime, H., Gómez-Cansino, R., & Reye-Chilpa, R. (2015, May). Linalool and β-pinene exert their antidepressant-like activity through the monoaminergic pathway. Life Sciences, 1;128:24-9. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25771248

[2] de Cássia da Silveira E Sá, R., Lima, T. C., da Nóbrega, F. R., de Brito, A., & de Sousa, D. P. (2017). Analgesic-Like Activity of Essential Oil Constituents: An Update. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(12), 2392. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5751100/

Pinene has a fresh, pine tree fragrance. It has anti-inflammatory[1] effects. Studies have shown that it could be used as a bronchodilator[2] and may be beneficial to those with asthma. Walk into a pine forest, take a deep breath and see how you feel. It also has antibiotic and gastroprotectant abilities.[3] Pinene is most common in pine needles, rosemary, basil, and sage.

[1] Kim, DS., et al. (2015). Alpha-Pinene Exhibits Anti-Inflammatory Activity Through the Suppression of MAPKs and the NF-κB Pathway in Mouse Peritoneal Macrophages. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 43(4):731-42. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26119957

[2] Falk‐Filipsson, A., Löf, A., Hagberg, M., Hjelm, E. W., & Wang, Z. (1993). d‐Limonene exposure to humans by inhalation: uptake, distribution, elimination, and effects on the pulmonary function. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A Current Issues, 38(1), 77-88. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2255878

[3] Pinheiro, M., et al. (2015). Gastroprotective effect of alpha-pinene and its correlation with antiulcerogenic activity of essential oils obtained from Hyptis species. Pharmacognosy Magazine, 11(41), 123–130. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4329611/

β–Caryophyllene is the only terpene known to directly interact with CB2 receptors. It has illustrated antibacterial and antioxidant properties,[1] as well as promising results n pain management studies.[2] β–Caryophyllene is naturally occurring in black pepper, rosemary, oregano, and cloves.

[1] Dahham, SS. (2015, Jun). The Anticancer, Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Properties of the Sesquiterpene β-Caryophyllene from the Essential Oil of Aquilaria crassna. Molecules. 20(7):11808-29. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26132906

[2]  Katsuyama, S. (2013, May). Involvement of peripheral cannabinoid and opioid receptors in β-caryophyllene-induced antinociception. European Journal of Pain. 17(5):664-75. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23138934

 
 

IN SUMMARY

Terpenes are an integral aspect of cannabis as a plant and medicine. From anti-inflammatory to chronic pain relief, the world of cannabis terpenes offers an impressive variety of therapeutic properties. These compounds define the flavor and aroma of our favorite plant, but can also alter the high from cannabis. Learn how to use terpenes to your benefit by experimenting with different strains and terpene profiles.