The science behind terpenes and their function is vast and complex. There is doubtlessly a great deal more that we have to learn about these fascinating, aromatic compounds that contribute to the positively influential ‘Entourage Effect’ in plants, and they are believed to be notably beneficial to the human body also. The more we learn about the enthusing potential of terpenes, the further intrigued we are.
In this post, we’ll explore one of the best-kept natural secrets of the botanical world - what science has revealed about terpenes so far, how they work and their prospective impact on human health and wellness.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are individual organic compounds that are usually found in plants and are responsible for determining very distinctive aromas and flavours. Consider the unique and memorable fragrances of pine, rosemary, eucalyptus, hemp and lavender; such potent flavours are thanks to the firm presence of terpene compounds. Terpenes are also responsible for that delectable scent and taste of your favourite fruits such as oranges and pineapples. These fragrant compounds can be extracted from plants to generate concentrated solutions such as essential oils and create the perfume of many cosmetics and food products that we regularly use.
Cannabis plants, in particular, have very high concentrations of terpenes. In fact, there are at least 120 terpene molecules that have been identified from the cannabis plant (which is the reason that different strains can vary significantly in terms of their scent). These occur alongside cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, and additional organic molecules.
Terpenes are not to be confused with terpenoids. Terpenes are the organic molecules found within the living plant. If a terpene-packed plant is dried and cured, oxidation occurs and the terpenes become terpenoids.
Why are Terpenes Important?
Terpene molecules provide a protective mechanism for many plants. They can deter predators such as opportunistic animals and insects, whose delicate senses are repelled by highly aromatic plants. Terpenes can also help to fight off undesirable pathogens and microbes, help the plant to repair itself from damage, regulate temperature and attract bees and other pollinators.
Terpenes are also reported to have several health benefits for humans, based on preliminary research. It is important to note, however, that more in-depth human studies are required to obtain conclusive evidence.
How Do Terpenes Affect the Body?
Terpenes can have powerful therapeutic effects on the human body. If you have ever struggled to get to sleep, for instance, you might have tried a couple of drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow at bedtime. We know that terpenes are responsible for lavender’s distinct and potent aroma, and it is a certain terpene known as linalool that possesses the ability to relax you. In fact, the animated fragrances of many essential oils have been used in aromatherapy practices for hundreds of years thanks to a multitude of health benefits.
Terpenes in some strains of cannabis can add to the relaxing effects of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC. While research to date has primarily focused on the therapeutic properties of cannabinoids, new evidence is surfacing which showcases the benefits of terpenes that may expand further than relaxation and anxiety-relief. Furthermore, terpenes may also provide a boost to the immune system by fighting off infection; indicating that some of their botanical functions might be mirrored within the human body.
Terpenes vs Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids, such as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), when extracted from the cannabis plant and ingested by humans, interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) by binding with receptors known as CB1 and CBD2. The endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in many physiological functions such as sleep, appetite, mood and memory. By influencing the activity of the ECS, cannabinoids are capable of creating a change to these functions.
THC, a famous cannabinoid associated with marijuana, is a psychoactive cannabinoid that results in a ‘high’ following cannabis use.
CBD, another well-known cannabinoid, is increasing in popularity in terms of usage for health improvement. CBD can be used for medicinal purposes and is legal to use in the UK, since it is a non-intoxicating substance. CBD interacts with the same ECS receptors as THC but does not cause psychoactive effects.
Terpenes are molecules of the cannabis plant but they differ somewhat to cannabinoids. The pungent aroma and rich pigmentation of cannabis and hemp is a result of unique terpenes; these chemical compounds are also found in abundance within the cannabis plant (more specifically, the trichomes of female cannabis plants – this is the resin shield covering the bud exterior). While terpenes also interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, the body utilises terpene molecules differently to cannabinoids. However, it is believed that the two types of compound can work in sync to generate even greater benefits.
The Entourage Effect
While cannabinoids and terpenes are different chemical compounds of the cannabis plant, it is believed that the effectiveness of these plant compounds is enriched when they work in synergy with one another. This is called the ‘entourage effect’; a complex system which involves many plant components working synergistically (in addition to terpenes and cannabinoids, the entourage effect includes ketones, amino acids, vitamins and many more botanical molecules).
Although more profound research is required, it is now believed that terpenes contribute to the overall effectiveness of CBD in humans in a similar form as within the cannabis plant. As a result, many CBD users seek out full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD oils, which contain a range of beneficial terpenes alongside cannabidiol, to maximise the positive impact on personal health and well-being.
Terpenes in CBD Products
When purchasing a CBD product in the UK, you’ll notice either full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD or pure CBD isolate on the label. This can be confusing; which type of CBD extract is best, and do they all contain terpenes?
Let us summarise the difference:
- Full-Spectrum CBD – this type of CBD extract contains several cannabis compounds including terpenes and additional cannabinoids, in addition to up to 0.2% THC (for lawful use in the UK). Studies have shown that full-spectrum CBD is four times more powerful than pure CBD isolate and may result in greater benefits due to the entourage effect.
- Broad-Spectrum CBD – Broad-spectrum CBD contains multiple cannabis compounds including terpenes, but does not contain THC (although there may be trace quantities) , making it a very popular choice of CBD extract in the UK. Broad-spectrum CBD generally falls somewhere between full-spectrum CBD and pure CBD isolate, providing health benefits such as lowered anxiety and stress, better sleep and joint pain relief.
- CBD Isolate – this is the purest form of CBD and contains absolutely no THC. CBD isolate is a refined form and contains no other cannabinoids, terpenes or botanical compounds. Some people opt for CBD isolate as it is the safest extract to use, but it may not offer the same range of health benefits as broad- and full-spectrum CBD.