Terpenes, or isoprenoids, provide cannabis with its unique bouquet. The molecules are quite small and consist of repeating units of a compound called isoprene. Although less well-known than the major cannabinoids, terpenes are instrumental to the physiological and psychoactive effects of cannabis. The relationship between terpenes and cannabinoids, known as the “entourage effect,” ultimately differentiates one strain of cannabis from another.
Terpenes play a vital role in the plant kingdom; they deter insect predation, protect plants from environmental stresses, and act as building blocks for more complex molecules, such as cannabinoids. Many terpenes act synergistically with other varieties of terpenes, and some either catalyze or inhibit formation of different compounds within a plant. Understanding how terpenes function allows scientists to manipulate cannabinoids to desired ratios.
Below are a few of the terpenes found in cannabis.
α-Pinene accounts for cannabis’ familiar odor, often associated with pine trees and turpentine. α-Pinene is the most common naturally occurring terpenoid and acts as both an anti- inflammatory and a bronchodilator.
Linalool has a floral scent reminiscent of spring flowers, but with spicy overtones. It possesses sedative properties and is an effective anxiety and stress reliever. It has also been used an analgesic and anti-epileptic.
Myrcene is the most prevalent terpene and is found in most varieties of cannabis. Myrcene concentration dictates whether a strain will have an Indica or Sativa effect. Strains containing over 0.5% of myrcene produce a more sedative high, while strains containing less than 0.5% myrcene have an energizing effect. Myrcene is also present in thyme, hops, lemongrass, and citrus, and is used in aromatherapy.
Limonene is a dominant terpene in strains with a pronounced Sativa effect. It is also found in the rinds of citrus fruits. Limonene aids in the absorption of other terpenes through the skin and mucous membranes, and has been used to treat anxiety and depression.