Terpenes: Our Conclusive Guide to The Aromatic Compounds
When we think of strong scents, such as lavender, lemon or, the distinctive and uniquely strong scent of the cannabis plant, the word 'terpenes' doesn't come to mind as often as it should.
Terpenes are responsible for the intense set of smells that plants and herbs give off, but did you know that they actually possess other qualities that can make them a real asset to a self-care routine? More aptly (and scientifically), terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbon compounds which emit flavours and scents, but also have a long history that is intertwined with the use of botanicals in various circumstances.
Different cannabis strains have their own wide variety of terpenes; each strain gives off subtly different odours. The difference in odour also depends on factors like light exposure, temperature, and nutrition. Delving deeper into the science of it all, terpenes are created within the glandular trichomes (the little hairs on the surface of a plant, responsible for producing all sorts of chemicals) of the cannabis plant. Hemp trichomes have a gooey, sticky resin from which terpenes are produced.
How Are Terpenes Used?
So, can extracting terpenes- or, rather, vapourising them at a cosy 157 degrees Celsius- help us in any way?
The answer is yes: terpenes hold a wide range of aromatherapeutic benefits. When we combine the sensory benefits that terpenes have to offer with other components, or cannabinoids, in the cannabis plant (such as CBD oil, also known as cannabidiol), we get what's called an entourage effect. If you find yourself shopping around for CBD products, you will probably want to search for a brand which honours the 'entourage effect’ to its fullest degree.
Long story short, the deep effects of terpenes are truly enhanced when used with other compounds belonging to the cannabis plant, such as CBD. The entourage effect provides a symbiotic approach to holistic healing, amping up the balancing qualities of each compound. As a result, terpenes, when used appropriately, can have a broad spectrum of centring effects.
How Are Terpenes Extracted?
Terpenes are pretty delicate when it comes to chemical compounds. So extracting them means taking care not to lose their individual scents and properties. While terpenes evaporate at the same temperature as THC, extracting them from the cannabis plant takes more care and time.
Aside from trying to ensure that terpenes are extracted in the most cost-effective manner, there is also a matter of ensuring that a high concentration of terpenes is extracted, and any accompanying impurities (fats, plant matter, chlorophyll) are successfully eliminated. It’s harder than it sounds! So, as a result, efficiency and efficacy have ensured the extraction process falls under two categories.
1. Solventless extraction
Also known as distillation of steam, solventless extraction is placing the cannabis plant over a container of boiling water. The steam from the boiling water passes through the plant, the terpenes, in the form of essential oils, are drawn out, liquified via a cooled container, and distilled as the oils rise above the water.
This method can also be done via the plant being placed directly into the boiling water.
2. Solvent-based extraction
This usually involves using lower boiling points, resulting in less wastage of sustained heat. A solvent (like liquid CO2) is passed through the plant resulting in a goopy resin, which is then filtered out to separate the terpenes from the rest of the resin matter.
One new breakout method of extracting terpenes, known as ethanol extraction, has been catching some steam. As ethanol molecules have two opposing ends (capable of attracting polar and nonpolar molecules), they are much more likely to bind to a range of substances.
The ethanol molecules are effective at drawing out terpenes from the plant (as well as other cannabinoids and impurities). The terpenes are extracted from the plant under freezing (we’re talking cryogenic) temperatures, which removes a higher concentration of terpenes from the plant. This is more efficient, as heat has a tendency to lower terpene concentrations.
The Different Types of Cannabis Terpenes
There has been much research into the properties of terpenes and their potential balancing qualities and harmonizing effects, however it is likely that in order for many of the effects mentioned here to have any significant impact on your wellness routine, a far more concentrated product than what is contained in any MANTLE product (as we prioritise the centering properties of CBD over all else). However, it is still good to know what terpenes are out there, and what they just might be able to do for you. So, without further ado, let’s take a deep dive into these delightful aromatic compounds:
Pinene is the aromatic compound found in most strains within the Indica-Sativa belt, which smells like- surprise! - pine.
Pinene is not particularly dominant within these cannabis strains. Still, it is a pretty abundant terpene- widely considered the most common terpene- and found in a range of different plants such as pine needles, dill and rosemary. So, while it can be sparsely found in cannabis, pinene is a pretty common in other plants, trees, herbs, and flowers around the world.
Pinene is often used to soothe imbalances at a basic level. But research has begun to distinguish the two primary compounds in pinene: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Fresh discoveries mean that alpha-pinene has become the researcher’s main focus: recent studies have shown that this particular pinene compound has caught particular interest due to its harmonizing properties.
Alpha-pinene has also been found useful in providing help with cognition, with one study concluding that alpha-pinene is one of the more beneficial terpenes when it comes to aiding cognitive impairment.
Not to leave beta-pinene out, many researchers and scientists are also discovering the illuminating effects of both alpha and beta compounds on the bronchitis virus and the countless therapeutic benefits of pinene on aiding mental health and wellbeing.
One of the most common strains found in cannabis, myrcene is known for its sharp, peppery fragrance, and flavour. Commonly found in lemongrass, parsley and mango, myrcene is a pretty dominant terpene: just take a sip of beer and the distinguishable flavour of hops will alert you to myrcene’s peppery presence.
Typically, myrcene might have some soothing properties. The terpene is known for its sedative effects; many have claimed that myrcene is to blame for the difference between Sativa (which contains less myrcene content), with its energising properties, and indica (which contains more myrcene), which tends to relax the body and mind.
While studies around the medicinal properties of myrcene are less frequent than other terpene compounds, some recent research has suggested that myrcene has some anti-microbial and antibacterial properties.
Beta-myrcene, a compound derived from myrcene, has gained some attention in recent years for its potential to help fight against certain tapeworm conditions.
Beta-caryophyllene is one of the more spicy scents produced by the cannabis plant. Think of refreshingly strong scents like black pepper and peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, oregano and hops: there’s your beta-caryophyllene, with its tendency to hit the olfactory system ‘on the nose’.
Caryophyllene is pretty diverse in its potential properties; extensive research has been done on this terpene compound’s effects on the mind and body. Beta-caryophyllene has proved especially useful in relieving arthritic inflammation in rats, meaning the terpene compound has served helpful in a number of therapeutic situations.
Studies have also shown beta-caryophyllene may assist in helping us find balance after wounding. Beta-caryophyllene has also been known to help regulate glucose levels by preventing insulin resistance and enhance insulin/glucose signalling.
Beta-caryophyllene has provided many strong results in studies on rodents. Tentative recent studies have also suggested that the terpene compound may be beneficial in assisting with unwinding our mental faculties if we find ourselves struggling with adverse emotions.
Many studies have iterated that beta-caryophyllene is unique due to its pleasing aromatic properties, which can leave unwinding effects behind and have one feeling far more balanced, meriting a discussion among many on the potential therapeutic possibilities surrounding beta-caryophyllene. In short, beta-caryophyllene has one of the most pleasant aromas of all on this list.
Known as a third most common terpene, limonene’s zesty, sharp, lemon scent is distinguishable and uplifting. Grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime and other exotic citrus fruits which belong in the citrus family (think kumquats and the bergamot plant) all contain limonene.
For anyone who’s ever smelled a cleaning product infused with the twang of lemony-citrus; or, perhaps, drank a lemon and ginger tea to cure a nasty cold, you might be aware of the range of healing properties limonene boasts. Not only does this terpene contain anti-microbial, antibacterial, antiviral and mood-lifting qualities, it also assists with heartburn, weight-loss, stress. It even succeeds when it comes to repelling insects and mosquitos.
With its main chemical form being referred to as d-limonene, the terpene serves us with a wide range of healing properties alongside its signature refreshing scent.
Current research has started to delve into the specifics of what d-limonene can do for serious illnesses: studies have shown that d-limonene has provided effective chemotherapeutic activity for rodents with tumours. Advanced studies on the effects of d-limonene on patients with breast cancer, in particular, have proven variably effective, with low toxicity. However, there is no question that more research will have to be done on the clear-cut effects of d-limonene on human cancer patients.
D-limonene has also pulled its weight by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels in brain-regions typically associated with depression, anxiety and OCD.
While there is limited conclusive research on how d-limonene actually works to increase higher concentrations of feel-good hormones (some speculate that it is the lively citrus scent stimulates the brain’s olfactory nerves, or that the limonene itself plays a role in altering brain cells), present research conducted provides a good- if not slightly cautious on the specifics of it all- argument for sniffing that citrus.
Humulene is a herby-scented terpene, one that is, again, found in hops and pines. In fact, humulene seems to often provide that additional strong scent or flavour which ensures that it works well with other terpene compounds.
Unlike its sister-terpene (caryophyllene), humulene is responsible for the herbaceous, bitter taste of beer and is also present in other strong, earthy herbs such as sage, ginseng and coriander.
Humulene isn’t only linked to caryophyllene because both terpene compounds are found in beer: another name for humulene is alpha-caryophyllene. The difference between the two compounds is that alpha-caryophyllene (humulene) doesn’t attach to the CB2 receptor. Alpha-caryophyllene and beta-caryophyllene are isomers: they contain the same molecular formulas, but their atoms are arranged differently.
Humulene, like most other terpenes, is also being extensively researched. It has been purported to have potential balancing properties, often working alongside beta-caryophyllene to provide recentering properties. Much like its sister-compound, humulene has the potential to leave you feeling harmonious when taken topically or orally.
When we look at humulene through the alternative medicine lens, the compound has been typically used in ancient Chinese healing methods. We have touched on humulene being a main component of ginseng, a Chinese herb, but cloves and hops have also been traditionally used (due to their high levels of humulene) in aiding with pain, inflammation, and suppressing appetite.
While not very prolific in many strains of cannabis, ocimene provides a rich, earthy scent with a wide variety of undertones, from herbaceous to sweet to citrusy. Due to the range of different scents this terpene emits, it’s no surprise that this lesser-known compound is often utilised in perfumes. Scented herbs and leaves such as mint, parsley and even mangoes contain ocimene.
For the most part, although this is an uncommon terpene in the cannabis world, it holds its own, providing great anti-fungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. All in a day’s work for most terpenes!
Research has linked beta-ocimene- the chemical name of the terpene- to enhancing memory. Beta-ocimene is also a key player in helping to make us feel more balanced after inhaling its positively divine, earthy scent; whilst it also works with other compounds (such as alpha and beta-pinene) to provide antioxidant properties.
Linalool’s presence in cannabis is not as high as some of the other terpenes. However, this terpene compound is abundant in many different herbs and plants, as well as in certain strains of cannabis. Linalool is pretty common, if you search for it.
If you’ve ever scented the distinct aroma of lavender, you’ve experienced what linalool is. Herbs in the pantry, such as cloves, cinnamon and mint all also contain this terpene. Linalool might have range in scent, but still holds the potential to deliver the same strong therapeutic effects, regardless of whether you’re sniffing lavender or cinnamon.
A quick google search on linalool will show you how extensively this terpene compound is used in skincare products, bath and shower products, as well as within scented products such as perfumes, body mists, bottles of oil and candles. Lavender essential oil is utilised in aromatherapy massages or in small vials to put in your bathwater. The linalool present within lavender oil provides relaxation, and has been proven to reduce stress significantly.
Beyond this, linalool has also been shown to have potential sedative effects (hence lavender being commonly recommended as a non-medical means to relax the body and mind, as well as lighten sleep issues). The terpene compound has also been researched for its potential centering effects on rodents.
Linalool is pretty crucial in assisting with stress and heart-rate, helping to alleviate symptoms of panic attacks, and reversing the signs of general malaise.
While research is still conducted, exclusively, on mice, the effects of linalool in improving learning, spatial memory and risk-assessment of humans with Alzheimer’s is being discussed.
Terpenes are pretty important, in the big picture. With the vast range of cannabis strains out there, the cannabis plant is one of the most important resources for finding these special, beautifully-scented compounds.
Day by day, terpenes are proving that the natural world is capable of helping to balance and uplift. While researchers have yet to scratch the surface on what terpenes may have to offer, the curiosity around terpenes’ potential to increase balance in everyday life.
Whether or not any breakthrough research happens in our lifetimes, terpenes will still retain their refreshing, lively scents and flavours. They are a helpful reminder that the natural world can play a huge part in assisting the invigoration and centering of the mind and body.