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What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes is a term that not many of us have heard before, but probably all of us are familiar with, in one way or another. In essence, terpenes are the aromatic compounds that you can find in plants, which give them their characteristic smell. In addition to plants, certain insects (such as the maize weevil) also produce them, to either attract mates or fight off attackers.

If you ever smelled a flower or enjoyed a long walk in the forest just to take in the fresh, aromatic air, then you enjoyed the boosting properties of terpenes first-hand. So, what exactly are they and why do people associate them with cannabis so often? Could it be because every time you walk past someone who smoked weed, you can tell by the smell alone?

In this article, you will find everything you need to know about terpenes, their types, and how they can affect you.

Which Plants Contain Terpenes?

Oftentimes, when they hear the words terpenes or terpenoids, people immediately think about cannabis. But that’s not the only plant with a high concentration of it — conifers and all the other sweet-smelling flowers contain them.

The role they play, however, is much bigger than appeasing humans and making the aromatic plant your next bouquet addition. Just like with insects, plants use terpenes to attract pollinators or to repel certain predators. Some plants might even use them actively, in the healing process or to fight off germs.

Keep in mind that plants can contain more than one terpene. Cannabis is a great example of this, as it is known to contain over 100 terpenes. Depending on the variation, the terpenes present in the plant can even go up to 200.

As for terpenoids, they are not exactly the same as terpenes. Terpenoids are the oxidized version of the compound, which results when a plant dries, while terpenes are naturally found in live plants. Terpenoids are a byproduct of cannabis processing, after the drying and crystallization process of the plant.

Where Do the Terpenes Form on Cannabis?

Have you ever wondered where the terpenes form on a cannabis plant? If the answer is yes, take a seat because what you’re about to learn is going to blow your mind.

You may be familiar with the crystal-like formations that appear on the cannabis plant. Those are the trichomes, and they contain resin glands that are responsible for producing terpenes and cannabinoids. In nature, trichomes are found all over the plant’s surface and form the plant’s defensive mechanism. For cannabis users, they are the best part of the plant.

Types of Terpenes

Scientists have categorized terpenes according to their molecular formation. In other words, each of these categories got their name from the number of terpene units required to form a molecule.

  • Hemiterpenes (prenol, isovaleric acid)
  • Monoterpenes (geraniol, terpineol, limonene, myrcene, linalool, pinene, iridoid)
  • Sesquiterpenes (humulene, farnesene, farnesol)
  • Diterpenes (cafestol, kahweol)
  • Sesterterpenes (geranylfarnesol)
  • Triterpenes (squalene)
  • Sesquiterpenes (ferrugicadiol)
  • Tetraterpenes (lycopene, beta-Carotene)
  • Polyterpenes (natural rubber)
  • Norisoprenoids

Although many of these terms seem nonsense at first glance, you are probably familiar with the majority of them. You might just know them under a different name. For instance, cafestol is the terpene found in coffee, and limonene is found in citrus fruit peels. Pinene is what gives pines their refreshing aroma, and humulene is responsible for the very distinct smell of cannabis.

Depending on the type of terpene, there can be a number of bioactive properties that come along with it. The best part is that we can use those bioactive properties to enhance our lives in a natural way.

The specific smells of the citrus fruits is caused by limonene, and it is great for its energizing, antioxidizing and anti-inflammatory properties. Similarly, the flowery lavender smell of linaool is calming, and has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

The Use of Terpenes in Everyday Life

In your day-to-day life, you can come across isolated terpenes in many items. Did you know that perfumes, body lotions, deodorants, and even certain foods can contain terpenes? Everything that has a specific scent or flavor could contain a specific terpene, derived from fruits or plants.

The most common use would be in essential oils. If you are familiar with them, you should know that terpenes are the main source of their therapeutic properties. Since they are extracted from plants, you can benefit from the bioactive effects of terpenes first-hand when doing aromatherapy.

These properties are extremely potent in essential oils, and that’s probably why they have quickly become a natural alternative to other products. For example, certain essential oils, such as rosemary oil, offer pain relief. The main terpenes in rosemary essential oil are pinene, myrcene, camphor, camphene and terpineol, to name a few.

If you want to better understand the wide world of terpenes, you could begin by using essential oils regularly. You will start to notice various effects, depending on what oils you use. That is a fine example of how you can notice the bioactive effects of terpenes.

Terpenes and Cannabis: They Are Not the Same

The cannabis plant has a very high content of terpenes, with over 100 different types present in it. While terpenes are only the part which affects the smell, cannabinoids are responsible for the actual effects.

Also, don’t confuse the two! Unless you get high from the cannabis smell alone (which is highly unlikely), terpenes will have no effect without THC or CBD.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive compound which you can find in cannabis. The high is usually the result of THC activating certain parts of the ECS (endocannabinoid system). Those can induce various sensations in the body and alter your perception. In other words, without THC, weed wouldn’t be the same.

CBD (cannabidiol), on the other hand, is the part which can help you get rid of pain and anxiety. CBD doesn’t induce a high, although it also affects the ECS. However, the parts of the ECS affected by CBD are different. They work mainly in ways that have a beneficial effect on the human body.

CBD Effects in Humans

The human body can benefit from many effects of CBD, thanks to our ECS. From help with pain relief, insomnia, and even with ADHD, scientists found a wide number of uses for it.

CBD comes in many different forms, but the most widely known one is oil. CBD oil is easy to use and you can benefit from its effects without getting high, because the THC content is extremely low. Below are just a few of the effects CBD has on humans:

  • Offers pain relief;
  • Reduces anxiety and depression;
  • Helps with insomnia;
  • It can help alleviate cancer symptoms;
  • Could help with skin conditions, such as acne;
  • Can help against neurological disorders;
  • Improves the circulatory system;

The use of CBD has only started to grow lately, so there are still many more studies necessary. So far, the potential it has is pretty remarkable, considering that it comes from a plant which many people only see as a drug.

CBD Effects in Animals

CBD works on animals just as well as it does on humans. If you have a dog with anxiety, CBD can help calm it down. If your cat suffers from cancer, CBD can alleviate its symptoms.

Because all animals have an ECS, they can benefit from the effects of cannabinoids too. However, if you want to treat your furry friend with CBD, make sure that the THC content is low, because it is toxic for pets.

Do All CBD Products Contain Terpenes?

No, not all the CBD products that you find contain terpenes. Many of the products derived from cannabis and hemp contain terpenes, as they occur naturally in the plant.

If you want a CBD oil that has terpenes, you should look for full-spectrum products, as they generally contain everything that the plant has to offer — THC, terpenes, and all the other substances. But if you want a pure CBD product, chances are that it will not contain any terpenes.

The main reason some prefer terpenes in their CBD oil, for example, is because of the entourage effect which, according to a study, shows that terpenes enhance the effect of the product.

Also, when you are buying CBD products, you might find terpenes infused in some of the products in order to create unique aromas and effects. That is not uncommon, and many people prefer it because of the benefits of the multiple terpenes.

Final Words

Terpenes are everywhere in nature — they are the part that gives plants their specific aromas. Although most people only associate them with cannabis, lavender and hops are just a few of the many other plants rich in terpenes. Almost every plant surrounding us has them, and they are essential to our daily lives.

Their bioactive properties help us in many ways, vastly increasing our quality of life. From boosting our mood to offering pain relief, terpenes are a great alternative to traditional medicine.

Hopefully you have a better understanding of terpenes after reading this article, and you can see their benefits.



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