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Terpenes 101: What Are Terpenes and How Do They Benefit People and Plants?

Terpenes are aromatic compounds similar to essential oils. Found throughout nature, terpenes are still largely associated with the cannabis plant. In the world of marijuana, terpenes are associated with the type of ‘high’ and the style of therapeutic benefits that a strain of cannabis can provide. With that being said, these aromatic and organic hydrocarbons are significantly more nuanced and textured than their public perception might indicate. Let’s take a closer look at terpenes to understand what they are, who they are for, and how they can positively impact the human body.

Understanding the Basics: An Introduction to Terpenes

When discussing terpenes, we should focus on the primary impact that they have in the wild. Terpenes are considered ‘highly aromatic’ forms of compounds that can help to define the smell of plants, herbs, and even animals. Common non-cannabis plants associated with terpenes include rosemary as well as lavender. We understand what terpenes do in cannabis, as evidenced during our brief introduction, but what can they do for the common herb such as rosemary?

Terpenes perform a vital role in the life of a plant, acting as magnets to attract natural pollinators. Terpenes are also important to the defense of plants, as well. Terpenes can act as repellents, utilizing their chemical properties to craft a reaction that repels insects as well as other foraging creatures.

We can see that terpenes are incredibly active in the wild as well as important for the defense and further proliferation of plant life. As terpenes can play both protective and productive roles in the lifespan of a plant, they are relied upon for the very survival of the said plant. More than just an addition to your favorite cannabis or essential oil product, terpenes are one part of a system of life that has been developed over countless years.

Outside the realm of cannabis, terpenes are often found diluted for inclusion in various essential oils. Limonene, a popular terpene, is found in many essential oils based around limes and lemons. You will find beta-pinene in many pine needle-based essential oils, too.

While terpenes are often associated with the cannabis industry, they are a significant part of the essential oil industry, also.

Cannabinoids vs. Terpenes

Marijuana enthusiasts who have done their fair share of research will often wonder how terpenes and cannabinoids intersect in the cannabis world. The truth is that cannabinoids and terpenes are two very different compounds, though they have some overlap.

cannabinoid, such as THC, is a chemical compound found within the cannabis plant. THC is a specific cannabinoid that is known to craft the high that cannabis users are so often in search of. Another popular form of cannabinoid is CBD, a compound revered for its therapeutic and medicinal properties. There are more than 100 cannabinoid compounds within the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids interface with the active receptors located in our endocannabinoid system and it is within that process that cannabinoids impact our overall health and wellness.

While we only touched on two cannabinoids in our discussion so far, they represent a small portion of the known cannabinoids in existence. Further research on this topic will require a closer look at some of the other top cannabinoids on the market. Other commonly sought after cannabinoids include CBDA, CBD, CBGA, and CNB.

Terpenes are not the same thing as cannabinoids and they have very little crossover, though some areas of crossover exist. While THC and CBD cannabinoids can change your high, terpenes will primarily change the smell of a plant.

Popular Terpenes & Health Benefits

As most terpenes are considered bioactive, they can have a direct and potentially dramatic impact on the human body. With that being said, the impact will vary based on the individual as each of us has our own unique bodies and health profiles. Understanding that these terpenes may impact each and every one of us different, we can still look at some defining traits that every user should expect to experience.

To gain a more grounded understanding of terpenes, let’s highlight a few of the most popular terpenes by type as well as what they can impart upon a user when consumed.

1. Limonene – Limonene is one of the most common terpenes in existence thanks to the distinctive and pleasurable citrusy smell that it imparts. Limonene provides a smell not dissimilar to a lemon rind or a sliced orange. In some studies performed, terpenes like Limonene have been shown to modify the way that our immune cells act, potentially helping our bodies stave off a range of potential disorders.

Advantages: Anti-inflammatory, Antiviral, Anticancer, Antidiabetic.

2. Linalool – Found most commonly in the lavender plant, linalool is a common addition to many essential oil products. Thanks to its strong lavender scent, linalool is commonly found in the aromatherapy world. Researchers are split on the efficacy of this terpene, though preliminary research shows a few positive interactions with our bodily health.

Advantages: Antidepressant, Anti-inflammatory, Neuroprotective, Anti-anxiety.

3. Pinene – A natural and abundant terpene, pinene is split between a-pinene and b-pinene. Pinene offers a bright and fresh scent reminiscent of basil and pine needles. Known for a variety of beneficial properties, Pinene is beloved in Japan for its restorative effects when used as a bathing product.

Advantages: Bronchodilator, Anti-inflammatory, Restorative.

4. Myrcene –  A favorite among home brewers, myrcene is found often within hops, thyme, lemongrass, and the flowers of your favorite cannabis plant. A naturally powerful antioxidant, studies have shown that myrcene can work to protect both the brain and heart in the aftermath of a stroke.

Advantages – Antioxidant, Protective Properties.

5. Humulene – Also found within the hop plant, humulene potentially provides anti-allergenic effects to individuals with asthma or an allergy. Humulene has been used in animal tests to reduce allergic reactions which makes it an exciting prospective therapeutic.

Advantages – Anti-inflammation, Anti-Allergen

In Closing

Terpenes are active compounds that exist within plants both large and small. Commonly found within the cannabis plant, terpenes are also revered compounds in fruits, herbs, plants, and all associated essential oil products. Terpenes have been shown via preliminary research to provide actual health benefits in specific instances, though studies must continue going forward to understand the true potential of these hidden wonders.