How Do Terpenes Affect The Human Body?
What do the ripe aroma of an orange, the spicy tang of wine, and your favorite pungent strain of cannabis all have in common? Terpenes! What do terpenes do? They give cannabis and other plants their distinct smell and differentiate among the various strains.
At Sava, we make buying cannabis online an elevated experience. We ensure our shelves are continually stocked with the best terpene-rich cannabis flower for your individual needs. Our delivery service is safe, smooth, and discreet, so you can enjoy the terpene benefits of this marvelous plant.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a class of organic compounds made mostly by plants for the purposes of enticing prowling pollinators to spread their genetic code all over the biosphere. They are responsible for the aroma of many flowers and fruit, including cannabis. It’s what makes lemons smell so lemony and pine trees smell so…pine-y.
Basically, they smell good to attract animals, like bees, to pollinate them. Plus, evolution threw in the added terpene benefit of repelling predators (a two-for-one special!). If you go crazy over the heavenly aroma of lavender (rich in Linalool) or your favorite Blue Dream (rich in myrcene, caryophyllene, and pinene), imagine how you might feel if you were a bee.
Terpenes protects the plant from invading bacteria, parasites, fungi, or other germs. They’re important to plant metabolism and protection from the sun’s UV radiation. They are also important for disease resistance in plants and plant-to-plant communication.
As the primary component in perfumes, essential oils, and many food additives, these hearty little organic compounds are as versatile as they are numerous. Let’s dig a bit deeper, shall we?
If you want the organic chemistry definition, terpenes are a class of hydrocarbons (an organic compound consisting of…hydrogen and carbon. Go figure!) with the formula C5H8.
That means terpenes have 5 carbon atoms for every 8 hydrogen atoms. They can also exist with that same ratio; for example, a molecule with 10 carbon atoms will have 16 hydrogen atoms. There are over 30,000 terpenes, and they are classified by their carbon to hydrogen ratio.
So terpenes are aromatic, organic compounds found in numerous plants—not just cannabis. Indeed, cannabis has high concentrations of terpenes, which is why many people associate terpenes with the cannabis plant. In fact, myrcene, the terpene that gives cannabis its distinct smell, is unique to our special flower, and it’s not found in any other plant.
Photo: Moon Made Farms
Terpenes in Cannabis
What do terpenes do? You’ll often hear people say that cannabinoids (like THC, CBD, etc) are like the key that turns on the car, but terpenes are the steering wheel that guides the journey. What they mean by that is while a compound like THC may make you high, it is thought to be terpenes that dictate whether that high is sleepy or energizing; felt more in the body or mind; or a number of other characteristics of the experience. All of these compounds—terpenes and cannabinoids—work in concert to create your experience. This is referred to as the “entourage effect,” in which a set of compounds work together to maximize their therapeutic potential.
One of the many benefits of cannabis legalization is being connected to your farmer more closely. Many growers choose to share their terpene content so you can choose specific terpene profiles you want to try or know that you like. Some edibles are made to highlight specific terpenes and match those flavors to other flavors in the product, like a fruit that pairs well with a specific terpene’s scent or flavor.
Understanding and playing around with terpenes is like getting to know the various scents in wine and what grape varietals are more likely to produce a specific end product. It adds another element to appreciating the plant.
Most Common Terpenes in Cannabis
We break down in-depth the five top terpenes in our Terpenes 101 post, but here’s a quick overview of some of the more common terpenes found in cannabis.
Myrcene. This terpene has an earthy, musky smell, reminiscent of cloves. Associated with calming effects, myrcene is the most likely cannabis terpene to be dominant in whatever strain you have in your hand.
Beta-caryophyllene. This terpene has funky, spicy, and peppery notes. The only terpene to interact directly with the endocannabinoid system, this compound is associated with stress relief.
Limonene. With a strong, lemony aroma, this terpene is associated with an energetic and therapeutic effect such as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral. This compound is found in many sativa strains.
Linalool. A hint of citrus with strong floral notes gives this terpene its signature smell. With a pleasant, relaxing feeling, it’s no coincidence that it’s prominent in lavender.
Pinene. A spicy, piney scent is associated with a focused experience. Early research on this terpene suggests that pinene can help combat short-term memory impairment associated with THC.
How Do Cannabis Terpenes Affect Our Bodies?
Since they’re organic compounds, terpenes interact with our bodies in a surprising number of ways. With an increasing amount of research, scientists are discovering terpene uses. They can help regulate our mood and happiness, promote general well-being, and have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Terpenes, since they can alter our perception and mood, terpenes can be said to be psychoactive. However, they will not get you lifted like THC will. First, when you smell cannabis, tiny molecules travel through your nose into your sinus cavity. There, the molecules are dissolved in a layer of mucus. That causes tiny hair-like structures in the sinus cavity called cilia to be stimulated. Then an electrical signal is sent through olfactory nerves and travels directly to the brain, where the information is processed.
When we smoke terpenes (along with CBD or THC), the molecules travel from the sinus cavity into the lungs. Eventually, they reach tiny air sacs called alveoli where oxygen and hitchhiker compounds such as terpenes, CBD, and THC enter the bloodstream. The blood goes to the heart, where it then spreads to the rest of the body, including the brain. Once the molecules pass the blood-brain barrier, they then interact with neurotransmitters, the brain's chemical messengers.
Uses and Benefits of Cannabis Terpenes
Some studies published in peer-reviewed journals suggest that there may be benefits to the human body from terpenes found in cannabis. Two main theories exist: psychological and pharmacological.
The psychological theory of terpene uses goes like this: terpenes smell good, and we associate the smell with positive emotions. So smelling pleasant odors boosts our mood because they smell so darn good, not because they directly affect the molecular structure of our brain chemistry (as THC does).
However, there is also evidence that terpenes may, in fact, alter our body’s chemistry. A new study suggests that terpenes, in conjunction with THC, may increase levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are two famous neurotransmitters that help regulate mood and emotion, boosting our levels of happiness.
Two specific terpenes found in cannabis may pharmacologically affect the body’s chemistry: linalool and limonene. Linalool is also found in lavender, which has sedative, analgesic (pain-relieving), and anti-inflammatory effects. Linalool decreases activity in the sympathetic nervous system, increases the activity of opioid receptors, and inhibits the production of certain inflammatory proteins. That’s why we recommend Midnight Blueberry Camino Gummies for their linalool, myrcene, and beta-caryophyllene. Also made with lavender and chamomile extract, these 1mg CBN and 5mg THC gummies will ease you into a restful night’s sleep.
Limonene may also contribute directly to the increase of positive neurotransmitters in the brain. More specifically, limonene may have antidepressant effects. In a 2013 study with mice, researchers found an increase in serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in mice who were given lemon essential oil (composed of 70% limonene).
Cannabis has so much more to offer than just an altered state. At Sava, we strive to provide a wide array of terpene-rich cannabis products so you can enjoy the health benefits. We carry Sparkling Pear Prosecco Camino Gummies, which contain a CBD to THC ratio of 3:1 and the terpenes limonene, beta-caryophyllene, and linalool, which are great for anxiety relief . These delightful cannabis gummies are great for easing social worries and providing a euphoric headspace.
A Terpene by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet
Shakespearean references aside, check the research if you would like a more technical explanation of cannabis terpenes, so the next time you're hanging out with your fellow cannasseurs, you can whip out your specialized knowledge when someone asks, “What are terpenes?” Better yet, just pass around our quality, hand-selected flower (such as White Runtz flower, full of myrcene, limonene, ß-caryophyllene) and know exactly why it smells so good.
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