An introduction to terpenes

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What are terpenes? Where do they come from? What are the main types and why are they important? In this introduction to terpenes, we look at some of the research behind these minor phytochemicals with big potential, and we get the opinion of a hemp cultivator in the Channel Islands.

What are terpenes?

These are aromatic, oily compounds found in green, leafy plants and trees. Along with cannabinoids and flavonoids, terpenes are important phytochemicals found in hemp. But they can also be sourced from many other plants, even those which are growing in the garden and in the British countryside. 

Often referred to as the essential oils found in hemp, terpenes are associated with cannabis thanks to their often pungent smell. They are responsible for the infamous smell which has long been synonymous with illicit cannabis. However, there is more to discover about these plant extracts than just their impossible-to-miss aromas.

There is a plethora of terpene profiles present in the cannabis plant family, and the same hemp plant from which CBD is extracted holds many of these. According to some estimates, there could be as many as 20,000 different terpenes in existence in the plant kingdom. What’s more, these fragrant compounds have purported benefits of their own, according to an abundance of pre-clinical research, ranging from promoting rest and repair to helping us feel more alert and focused. 

Their main purpose in CBD products, however, is to enhance the CBD consumer’s overall experience. When cannabinoids are consumed with terpenes, and some other components extracted from the plant, the result is called the Entourage Effect. This term was coined by Shimon Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam in 1998 while conducting cannabinoid research in Israel. 

These researchers believed that the variety of chemical elements found in cannabis, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, work better together as an ensemble – or entourage – compared to their isolated forms. Research into the entourage effect continues in 2022. 

Ever since, this synergistic action has been central to the evolution of cannabis-based research and development, placing a firm focus on using quality distillate extracts with a mixture of major and minor cannabinoids for the greatest effect. 

Where do terpenes come from? 

Terpenes aren’t unique to cannabis. 

Have you ever welcomed a freshly cut Christmas tree into your home? Or taken a stroll through a woodland, and wondered where that delightful woody, pine smell comes from? That smell of nature is the result of a terpene called Pinene. 

Terpenes are also present in the skin of citrus fruits, where they are responsible for that zesty scent in the rind. This is the presence of Limonene, another compound which can also be found in hemp. 

Jersey Hemp cultivates and processes industrial hemp into raw materials and end products in Jersey, Channel Islands. The team there utilises organic farming practices and their hemp farm grows free from the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or fertilisers. 

According to Jersey Hemp’s team of expert cultivators, terpenes are key to lavender, roses and even the jam in your kitchen cupboard. 

Terpenes are chemical compounds naturally present in plants that contribute to the plant’s unique taste, smell and colour. Think of the citrus tang of a fresh orange when you squeeze it, or the smell of blueberry jam on toast. Terpenes are what make lavender and roses so memorable, and they are the basic elements in essential oils.”

5 types of terpenes you might find in a CBD product  

These flavoursome and often striking notes of earthy tones make for the perfect accompaniment to natural tasting CBD products. Here are five terpenes you might find in a CBD product. 

Pinene 

Perhaps most famous for its connection to the Christmas tree, the power of pinene goes far beyond its aroma. Hemp-derived pinene – together with another terpene, linalool – has been explored for its therapeutic benefits to brain health and insomnia. Research shows pinene is anti-inflammatory and may support the body’s repair cycle. 

Limonene 

Instantly recognisable, limonene can be found in the peel of citrus fruits, as well as being a prominent terpene found in hemp. Thanks to its citrus fresh scent, limonene has long been used in household items such as soap. Limonene plays an important role in the Entourage Effect and is said to support mood levels. When vaporized in the form of a CBD vape product, limonene has been linked to an increase in serotonin and dopamine levels, leading researchers to believe it may help moderate our response to stress. 

Mycrene 

One of the most common terpenes, Mycrene is said to promote a sense of calm and relaxation. As well as being found in hemp, this dominant terpene can also be found in mango, lemongrass and even in beer (hops). 

Terpinolene 

With its unmistakable woody smell, you’ll find this terpene in everyday household and wellness items. Terpinolene is also said to boost relaxation and has been linked to sedative and anti-anxiety studies. 

Ocimene 

The name of this terpene comes from the Ancient Greek word for basil, Ocimum, so it’s no surprise that basil leaves are rich in this sweet aroma. Ocimene is being researched for its purported antioxidant and anti-fungal effects. 

Why are terpenes important in CBD terms?

Terpenes are a growing area of interest in the research community, amassing research articles every year. 

In 2011, prominent cannabis scientist and author Dr Ethan Russo published a now highly regarded piece of research, ‘Taming THC: Potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects.’ 

Dr Russo uses an analogy of an orchestra, with musicians working independently of each other, while working together at the same time, to explain the synergy of the entourage effect.  

In a 2020 research article, the role of terpenes acting independently and together with cannabinoids and flavonoids were once again examined, utilising gas chromatography – mass spectrometry to analyse their content and abundance. 

The author concluded:  

“Many terpenes have a therapeutic power in their mixtures with or without phytocannabinoids, and can be very useful and sometimes powerful in treatment of diseases. 

“The healing power of cannabis most likely resides in terpenes/terpenoids and phytocannabinoids, of which particular compounds, their amount, and the ratio to each other play the most important role in the treatment of particular diseases.” 

Josh Pereira, Principal Scientist at Jersey Hemp, agrees that the right combination of terpenes could offer an enhanced experience for the CBD consumer. 

“Terpenes are vital for the overall experience for the consumer. They also have various therapeutic actions and I suppose the right combination could offer both an enjoyable experience and the desired positive effect,” he says. “The experience of a food can sometimes be just as beneficial as the nutrients it holds.” 

If this introduction to terpenes piqued your interest, look out for CBD products with terpenes in broad spectrum formulations. 

Related: The Endocannabinoid System

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