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Posted 04/19/2022 in Cannabis

What Are Terpenes in Cannabis and Other Plants and Do They Have Health Benefits?

What Are Terpenes in Cannabis and Other Plants and Do They Have Health Benefits?

Terpenes are the compounds that give cannabis plants, and many other plants and flowers, their distinct aromas, and there are hundreds of them. The cannabis plant has around 110 cannabinoids and about 120 terpenes. Many of these terpenes have yet to be explored. Other classes of terpenes are in animals. These include squalene and sterols.

Terpenes are the organic chemicals that give cannabis its unique smell. These essential oils are produced by trichomes, the tiny protrusions from the cannabis plant that produce THC and CBD -- the active ingredients in medical marijuana. Terpenes are in many other plants and flowers, including hops, rosemary, and even lavender. They also occur naturally in citrus fruits like oranges and lemons as well as in pine trees and turpentine.

Terpenes are the reason certain strains of marijuana smell like blueberries or black licorice, but they also have potential health benefits. They're what make each strain potentially more (or less) effective for specific ailments -- from insomnia to stress relief to muscle spasms.

 Smell is just one way terpenes work with the body's natural chemicals to create a unique experience. Some research indicates that cannabis terpenes may interact directly with receptors in the endocannabinoid system, like THC and CBD. If that's the case, they may reduce pain, inflammation, and have other beneficial functions.

healthy terpenes
healthy terpenes

What Benefits Do Terpenes Have? 

Some terpenes have antimicrobial properties, meaning they fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can invade and cause disease in humans and animals. Terpenes also play a role in protecting animals, plants, and microscopic organisms against stress. Some organisms even use terpenes to communicate. Scientists distinguish terpenes by their structure. The four major types are monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, diterpenes, and triterpenes, each different in the number of terpene units. Of particular interest are diterpenes since studies show they may reduce inflammation and possibly lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Terpenes are in a variety of plants, not just cannabis. For example, plants and herbs contain terpenes. Some of the best known are tea tree oil, thyme, lemongrass, Spanish sage, and citrus fruits, all rich sources of terpenes. You might not know it, but some spices you add to foods may protect against food-borne illness due to their antimicrobial properties. Spices that contain terpenes with antimicrobial activity include rosemary, caraway, thyme, clove, cumin, and sage. A terpene in clove oil called eugenol helps stop inflammation and itching.

Cannabis, Terpenes, and Pain Relief

Studies are looking at cannabinoids from the cannabis plant to reduce pain and inflammation. But research also shows that the terpenes in cannabis plants may be beneficial for pain control. Preliminary research shows that the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis plant may provide better pain control than either alone. Along with reducing pain and inflammation, mouse studies show that terpenes help fight oxidative stress that damages tissues, cells, and the DNA inside each cell.

Studies also reveal that terpenes may have anti-inflammatory activity, blood sugar lowering benefits, and scientists are exploring it as a potential treatment for cancer. However, research into its anti-cancer benefits is still in the early stages.

The Bottom Line 

Cannabinoids may not be the only useful compounds in the cannabis plant. Terpenes may have benefits for pain control and reducing inflammation, as well as other possible health benefits. Plus, terpenes are in other plants including herbs and spices. You're probably consuming them daily if you eat a healthy diet. Hopefully, further research will clarify their benefits for humans.

healthy terpenes

Cox-Georgian D, Ramadoss N, Dona C, Basu C. Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes. Medicinal Plants. 2019 Nov 12:333-59. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-31269-5_15. PMCID: PMC7120914.

"Research finds Cannabis terpenes as a promising new target ...." 14 Jul. 2021, news-medical.net/news/20210714/Research-finds-Cannabis-terpenes-as-a-promising-new-target-for-pain-therapies.aspx.

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