Ever rub your finger along a sweet basil leaf and then smell its beautiful aroma on your fingertips? Ever do the same with fresh rosemary in your garden? What about when you are walking outside and you catch the heavenly scent of gardenia wafting through the air? Or when you first cut up a fresh lemon or orange? Simply put, terpenes or what you are smelling-the terpenoids, are the essential oils in every plant found in nature. They provide aromatic scent profile, taste, biological functions, even defense for the plant.
Let us dig into the more complex science of terpenoids for the moment…Terpenes are volatile aromatic molecules that evaporate easily and readily announce themselves to the nose. Various researchers have emphasized the pharmacological importance of terpenes, or terpenoids, which form the basis of aromatherapy, a popular holistic healing modality.
Around 200 terpenes have been found in cannabis, the “parent” plant of marijuana and hemp, but only a few of these odiferous oily substances appear in amounts substantial enough to be noteworthy, or nose worthy, as it were. Among them are monoterpenes, diterpenes, and sesquiterpenes, which are characterized by the number of repeating units of a 5-carbon molecule called isoprene, the structural hallmark of all terpenoid compounds. The terpenes in cannabis have given the plant an enduring, evolutionary advantage. Pungent terpenoid oils repel insects and animal grazers; others prevent fungus.
Terpenes, it turns out, are quite beneficial for people, as well as plants.
“A September 2011 report by Dr. Ethan Russo in the British Journal of Pharmacology discussed the wide-ranging therapeutic attributes of terpenoids, which are typically lacking in “CBD-only” products.” – otherwise known as CBD Isolate products. Once you remove the terpenoids, you remove the efficacy of the plant compound, in this case, CBD isolated extract. Without the synergy with the cannabinoids, CBD becomes far less effective. Cannabinoids + terpenes = entourage effect and healing.
Beta-caryophyllene, for example, is a sesquiterpene found in the essential oil of black pepper, oregano, and other edible herbs, as well as in various cannabis strains and in many green, leafy vegetables. It is gastro-protective, great for treating certain ulcers, and offers great promise as a therapeutic compound for inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders because it binds directly to the peripheral cannabinoid receptor in our body’s endocannabinoid system, known as “CB2. In 2008, the Swiss scientist Jürg Gertsch documented beta-caryophyllene’s binding affinity for the CB2 receptor and described it as “a dietary cannabinoid.” It is the only terpenoid known to directly activate a cannabinoid receptor. And it’s one of the reasons why green, leafy vegetables are so healthy to eat.
Terpenoids, such as linalool – the terpene found in lavender, and cannabinoids both increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity, and kill respiratory pathogens, including MRSA. Dr. Russo’s article reports that cannabinoid-terpenoid interactions “could produce synergy with respect to treatment of autism symptoms, pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.”
Terpenes and CBD also buffer THC’s tricky psychoactivity. Cannabinoid-terpenoid interactions amplify the beneficial effects of cannabis while mitigating THC-induced anxiety. Which is why those utilizing THC for its varied medical benefit often pair it with whole plant hemp derived CBD, to dampen THC’s psychoactivity.
Cannabis strain matters as well. The terpenoid profile can vary considerably from strain to strain. Patients who abandon a suitable strain for one with higher THC and/or CBD content may not get more relief if the terpenoid profile is significantly different.
Cannabinoids and terpenoids interact synergistically to create what scientists refer to as an “entourage effect” that magnifies the therapeutic benefits of the plant’s individual components—so that the medicinal impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts.