Terpenes form the main component of a plant’s essential oils and account for its characteristic smell and taste. Terpenes also appear to be important for the precise regulation of cannabis pharmacology by e.g. modulating GABAergic neurotransmission. Preliminary results indicate that cannabis terpenes could play a significantly greater therapeutic role as initially presumed, however more research is still required. Here is an overview of the most commonly-occurring terpenes in cannabis and their postulated medicinal effects.

Terpenes form the main component of a plant’s essential oils, and over 8,000 different terpenes have been identified to date. They account for the characteristic aroma, taste and the diversity of different flavours in various types of cannabis and wine. Terpenes appear to be important for the precise regulation of cannabis pharmacology.1 It is well-known outside of cannabis research that e.g. the aroma of limonene (a terpene that occurs in cannabis and citrus fruit) is mood-enhancing and pinene (a terpene that occurs in cannabis and conifers) has antiseptic properties.

The medical relevance of terpenes in cannabis

Research regarding the efficacy of terpenes and the role they play in the human organism as well as their synergetic effects with phytocannabinoids is still in its infancy. However, preliminary results indicate that cannabis terpenes do indeed play a significantly greater therapeutic role as initially presumed.2 The interaction of terpenes and cannabinoids, i.e. all active contents of the cannabis plant (“entourage effect”), has not yet been sufficiently let alone dose-dependently researched. What is certain however is that cannabinoid isolates work differently than the full spectrum of the entire bud / plant. This can also explain the different effects various cannabis genetics have: Cannabis varieties and extracts that demonstrate a similar concentration of CBD and THC can nevertheless show different effects due to their variant cannabinoid and terpene profiles – something that could be exploited for differential therapy.

The medically-relevant contribution that terpenes make to the entourage effect lies in a grey area, where almost none of the anecdotal claims have been confirmed in dose-dependent clinical studies. However, scientific hypotheses on the possible effect mechanisms for the anxiety-reducing and sedative effects of some terpenes do exist; most of these involve the GABAa receptor.3,4-17

Terpene (group) Occurs in, e.g. Aroma Possible medicinal benefits
Carophyllene Black pepper, Cloves, Cinnamon Spicy, Citrus Antioxidant / protects from aging, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-coagulant, Supports immune function, Protects the kidneys (especially when damage has been caused by chemotherapy medication), Analgesic, Protects the digestive tract
Humulene Basik Earthy, Herbal Antibacterial, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-carcinogenic
Limonene Citrus, Juniper, Peppermint Citrus, Fresh spice Anxiety-relieving, Antibacterial, Antidepressive, Antifungal, Anti-inflammatory, Anticarcinogenic, Stress-relieving, Appetite inhibiting, Counters acid-reflux (heartburn), Protects cells
Linalool Lavender, Mint Flowers, Lavender, Citrus, Fresh spice Anaesthetic/ numbing, Anxiety-relieving, Anti-inflammatory, Promotes memory, Supports immune function, Relieves cramps, Analgesic, Restores pulmonary function after infections
Myrcene Hops, Eucalyptus, Mango Flowers, Spicy, Earthy Antibiotic, Anti-mutagenic, Antioxidant / protects from aging, Calming, Relaxing, Anti-inflammatory, Muscle relaxant, Promotes sleep, Analgesic
Ocimene Thyme, Blue Alfalfa Wood, Citrus, Tropical fruits Decongestant, Antifungal, Antiseptic, Antiviral, Bactericidal, antibacterial, Anti-inflammatory
Pinene Pine trees, Rosemary, Parsley Pine, Earth Antibacterial, Antiseptic, Anti-inflammatory, Promotes memory, Anticarcinogenic, Supports concentration, Dilates the bronchial tubes (bronchodilator), Counters the THC effect
Terpineol Mugwort Lilac, Citrus, Wood Antibacterial, Antifungal, Anti-microbial, Antiviral, Calming & promotes sleep, Supports immune function
Terpinolene Coriander Pine, Herbs, Aniseed, Lime Antibacterial, Antioxidant / protects from aging, Calming, Anti-carcinogenic, Strengthens stomach, Analgesic, Promotes digestion

[1] E.B R, Russo EB. Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effects. Vol 163.; 2011:1344-1364. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x

[2] http://profofpot.com/thc-psychotomimetic-gaba-terpenes/

[3] http://profofpot.com/sedative-anxiolytic-effects-cannabis-terpenes/

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[10] Kasuya H, Iida S, Ono K, Satou T, Koike K. Intracerebral Distribution of a-Pinene and the Anxiolytic-like Effect in Mice Following Inhaled Administration of Essential Oil from Chamaecyparis obtuse. Nat Prod Commun. 2015;10(8):1479-1482. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26434146. Accessed October 4, 2018.

[11] Yang H, Woo J, Pae AN, et al. α-Pinene, a Major Constituent of Pine Tree Oils, Enhances Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep in Mice through GABAA-benzodiazepine Receptors. Mol Pharmacol. 2016;90(5):530-539. doi:10.1124/mol.116.105080

[12] do Vale TG, Furtado EC, Santos JG, Viana GSB. Central effects of citral, myrcene and limonene, constituents of essential oil chemotypes from Lippia alba (Mill.) n.e. Brown. Phytomedicine. 2002;9(8):709-714. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12587690. Accessed October 4, 2018.

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[14] Costa JP, de Oliveira GAL, de Almeida AAC, Islam MT, de Sousa DP, de Freitas RM. Anxiolytic-like effects of phytol: Possible involvement of GABAergic transmission. Brain Res. 2014;1547:34-42. doi:10.1016/J.BRAINRES.2013.12.003

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[17] Kessler A, Sahin-Nadeem H, Lummis SCR, et al. GABA(A) receptor modulation by terpenoids from Sideritis extracts. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014;58(4):851-862. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201300420