Understanding Cannabis Terpenes
Understanding Cannabis Terpenes
As the legalization of cannabis spreads and allows the industry to grow, it’s imperative that cannabis knowledge grows and spreads with it. One of the key components of cannabis, its flavor, scent, and effects are a group of aromatic compounds called terpenes.
While they are most often discussed in conjunction with cannabis due to their complex and unique terpene profile, terpenes exist in nearly all plants on earth. They are what give each plant its own distinctive scent, color, and flavor.
The total number of identified terpenes on earth is in the tens of thousands. Cannabis contains over 150 unique terpenes, and new compounds are being discovered in different cannabis strains all the time.
Many of these terpenes have been linked to a variety of health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties. While some of these effects can be found in other plants containing the same compounds, terpenes are made more effective when paired with cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). This combined strengthening of cannabinoids and terpenes is known as the entourage effect.
In addition to cannabinoids and terpenes, cannabis also contains terpenoids, which are simply the oxidized variations of terpenes. Terpenes and terpenoids have virtually identical chemical structures, but the lack of oxidation in terpenes has been linked to a higher level of benefit compared to terpenoids.
7 Common Cannabis Terpenes
In order to fully understand how different terpenes affect taste and help cannabis deliver all of its functional health benefits, we’re going to need to look at some specific compounds, many of which are already widely used in the flavor industry.
Beta-caryophyllene, often referred to as just caryophyllene, is the terpene that brings the signature spicy notes to black pepper.
It is the only terpene that can bind to cannabinoid receptors, especially CB2, which is why it is occasionally classified as an atypical cannabinoid. The more accurate classification of caryophyllene is as a bicyclic sesquiterpene.
IUPAC Name: (1R,4E,9S)-4,11,11-trimethyl-8-methylidenebicyclo[7.2.0]undec-4-ene
- Insoluble in water
- Boiling Point: 264ºF
As the name suggests, eucalyptol, also called cineole, is the primary terpene in eucalyptus. It is responsible for the unmistakable minty aroma of the eucalyptus tree and its leaves, and it makes up nearly 90% of the essential oils in most generic eucalyptus oils.
Eucalyptol, a monoterpene, is generally only present in small quantities in most cannabis strains, but its numerous benefits and increasing applications make it a regularly sought-after terpene in cannabis, health, and beauty products.
IUPAC Name: 1,3,3-trimethyl-2-oxabicyclo[2.2.2]octane
- Boiling Point: 176.4 °C
Humulene, also referred to as alpha-caryophyllene, is a monocyclic sesquiterpene and an isomer of the first terpene in our list, beta-caryophyllene. It differs from caryophyllene in that humulene is not able to activate the CB2 receptor and has more earthy and herbaceous notes compared to the spicy pepperiness of caryophyllene.
This terpene gives hops their distinct aroma and flavor, and it was the first terpene discovered in hops. Humulene adds to the characteristic smell and taste of cannabis as well, which is not surprising considering the two plants are both parts of the Cannabaceae family.
IUPAC Name: (1E,4E,8E)-2,6,6,9-tetramethylcycloundeca-1,4,8-triene
- Boiling Point: 106 °C
d-Limonene, a cyclic monoterpene, is the second most abundant terpene across all strains of cannabis, despite there being some strains that don’t have any limonene at all.
While many strains of cannabis contain relatively large amounts of limonene, this terpene is most commonly found in citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges. This means limonene is also a prominent terpene in all citrus-based, as well as many plant-based, essential oils.
As for its role in the entourage effect of cannabis’ complex terpene profile, limonene is the parent compound for all of cannabis’ monoterpenoids. As such, it brings a wealth of benefits to the table. It boosts both serotonin and dopamine as well as acting as an effective antibiotic with chemotherapeutic properties.
IUPAC Name: 1-Methyl-4-(prop-1-en-2-yl)cyclohex-1-ene
- Boiling Point: 176 °C
Linalool, a monoterpene compound, is what gives cannabis its distinctive spicy floral smell as well as contributing to the sedative effects of the plant and many other relaxing aromatic herbs.
One of the most impressive uses for linalool is as an anti-convulsant. It even performs at a comparable level to a common anti convulsion medication, diazepam. Combining this with the well-documented positive effect of CBD as an epilepsy treatment, a linalool heavy strain of cannabis plant can be a major asset for seizure management.
IUPAC Name: 3,7-Dimethylocta-1,6-dien-3-ol
- Boiling Point: 198 °C
The monoterpene myrcene is present in cannabis at the highest levels, making up to 65% of the terpene profile of certain cannabis strains. Myrcene is found in a number of herbaceous plants, but it is mostly found in cannabis.
This terpene helps to increase the effects of THC as it improves absorption rates of the familiar cannabinoid. It adds to the sedative effects seen in the Indica strains where it is seen in the highest levels.
IUPAC Name: 7-methyl-3-methylideneocta-1,6-diene
- Type of terpene: Monoterpene
- Insoluble in water
- Boiling Point: 186.0 °C
Pinene is actually the shared term for a pair of terpenes, alpha- and beta-pinene.
While the two monoterpenes share a number of traits, alpha-pinene holds the title as the most common terpene in nature. Alpha- and beta-pinene both exude strong pine scents, as the tree is where it is most abundantly found.
Both of these terpenes play an important role in the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis as well as acting as bronchodilators, helping to improve respiration and reduce asthma symptoms.
IUPAC Name: 2,6,6-trimethylbicyclo[3.1.1]hept-2-ene
- Boiling Point: 313.2F
IUPAC Name: 6,6-dimethyl-2-methylidenebicyclo[3.1.1]heptane
- Boiling Point: 330.8F