What’s with all the hype about terpenes these days? Is the efficacy – and appeal – of cannabis about more than simply tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid responsible for much of the plant’s medical efficacy and most of its psychoactive properties?
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are special odor molecules that are produced by thousands of species of plants. The intense aroma that hits one’s nose when entering a room full of cannabis is produced by terpene molecules.
They are manufactured in the nearly microscopic resinous trichomes of the plant. Terpenes account for about 10-20% of the weight volume of the resin in the trichomes of the flowers.
While more than 20,000 varieties of terpenes appear throughout nature, about 200 types are found in cannabis (compare this to 111 different cannabinoids). Cannabis plants release more terpenes when temperatures are higher.
Because the cannabinoid THC carries no aroma, it is undetectable to drug dogs. Thus, pot-sniffing pooches are trained to seek out terpenes instead (most commonly smelly caryophyllene oxide).
Terpenes deliver a wide array of medical benefits, including antimicrobial, antiseptic, and even anti-carcinogen effects. In terms of efficacy, terpenes are proving themselves to have as much medical value as cannabinoids such as THC and CBD (a cannabinoid that has proven to reduce seizures and reduce pain).
For example, a study conducted in 2011 at Northeast Forestry University in China revealed that one common terpene, pinene, helps in the treatment of bacterial and viral infections.
Limonene, another common terpene, has been shown to exhibit both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer characteristics. It has also been shown to help sufferers of depression and to aid in digestion (good for diseases like Crohn’s).
Most common = myrcene
Myrcene (pronounced “mur-ceen”), the most common terpene in cannabis, produces odors that are earthy, spicy, and balsamic.
It is the most common terpene in cannabis and, in many ganja strains, may constitute up to 50% of the terpene volume of the plant.
Myrcene also aids in the production of other terpenes, although more research is needed about this topic. This aromatic element is also produced in high amounts in mangos, hops, and other plants.
The amount of myrcene in a particular strain of cannabis determines if it is categorized as an indica or sativa. According to Steep Hill Labs in Berkeley, California, cannabis that features more than 0.5% myrcene qualifies as an indica. Samples with less than 0.5% are considered to be sativa.
Mangos to the rescue
The urban legend that eating a mango before smoking cannabis will enhance the psychoactive effect of cannabis is actually true.
Mangos are full of myrcene, a terpene that helps regulate the permeability of cells within the body. Simply put, myrcene-packed mangos helps THC reach brain cells.
Rabinski crafts compelling educational media that focuses on the science of the cannabis herb, patient advocacy, and eliminating the social stigma that has existed for more than a century in the United States. His photography is available on Instagram at gooey_rabinski and he Tweets from @GooeyRabinski.
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