Terpenes! They are all around us, almost all of the time. Maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe you have no idea what we’re talking about. Rest assured that you’ve smelled, tasted, and experienced their benefits and effects, without a doubt.
Have you ever sniffed a rose, and felt intoxicated and relaxed by the smell?
Have you ever eaten a ripe summer strawberry?
Have you ever popped a mint into your mouth to keep it fresh?
Have you ever added lavender essential oil to your bathtub to relax?
These are just a few of the ways you may have experienced terpenes and their multitude of benefits.
What are terpenes?
They are one of the infinite ways plants are magic. If you don’t mind nerding out for a second, terpenes are organic hydrocarbons that smell nice and are known to have therapeutic properties. When we cook with plants for their aroma and taste — garlic, citrus, herbs, black pepper to name a few — we are working with terpenes! When essential oils are extracted from plants, they are primarily made of terpenes.
While self-defense is not their only role, they play an important part in helping plants deter herbivores from eating them with scent and by repelling parasites and insects that could be harmful to the herbivore. Terpenes also protect plants from detrimental fungus and bacteria. Basically, terpenes are plants’ heroes.
What is the difference between terpenes and terpenoids?
We’re glad you asked. The terms terpenes and terpenoids are increasingly used interchangeably, but they actually have different chemical compositions. While terpenes are organic hydrocarbons, terpenoids have been oxidized — oxygen molecules are present. What does this mean? From a chemical standpoint, terpenes are more “volatile” and terpenoids are more stable.
What’s the deal with terpenes and hemp?
Just like the aforementioned botanicals and fruits, hemp is also a plant that creates and contains terpenes. Hemp is thought to produce over 200 terpenes! Each individual strain of hemp has a “terpene profile” — kind of like wine — that accounts for the different smells and effects of the plant.
To be clear, CBD (cannabidiol) is not a terpene or terpenoid — it is a cannabinoid — but when terpenes and cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, and CBN combine, their interaction swells and becomes greater than the sum of its parts. When this supercharged set of benefits occurs, it’s known as the Entourage Effect.
Do terpenes have beneficial effects?
They sure do. Terpenes have been relatively well-studied and are associated with a number of benefits including anti-inflammatory properties, neuromodulating benefits in cases of stress, depression, and anxiety.
What are the best terpenes?
These might not necessarily be the “best terpenes” — terpene beauty is in the eye of the beholder — but they are some of the most abundant terpenes found in hemp.
Associated with an herbal and earth scent, it’s one of the most common terpenes found in hemp plants. Myrcene is also found in lemon grass, thyme, hops (the beer kind), and overripe mangoes.
The benefits: Studies have suggested that it is linked with sedative and anti-inflammatory effects.
Like its name suggests, limonene has a sharp but sweet citrus scent.
The benefits: It’s one of nature’s most common terpenes and is associated with antidepressant, anti-anxiety, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Known for its woodsy, peppery scent reminiscent of cloves, beta-caryophyllene is found in black pepper.
The benefits: In research, it’s been associated with anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and analgesic properties, making it a great option for acute and chronic pain relief.
Rosemary, eucalyptus, and of course pine trees all produce pinene terpenes — it’s that herbaceous “skunk” odor you might associate with some strains of hemp.
The benefits: Research suggests that it’s linked with anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and relaxing effects. It has also been studied as a bronchodilator.
Also found in lavender, neroli flower, rose, and citrus, linalool smells, unsurprisingly, floral. There are more than 200 plant species that contain linalool!
The benefits: In recent studies, linalool has been linked to anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and sedative effects.
We could go on and on, this really just scratches the surface of how and why terpenes are magic. In addition to being an essential component of our full-spectrum hemp oils, they are used in manufacturing, the beauty industry, naturally in food, and more.
Cannabis Essential Oil: A Preliminary Study for the Evaluation of the Brain Effects, Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2018
Reference Module in Chemistry, Molecular Sciences and Chemical Engineering, Elsevier Reference Collection in Chemistry, 2020
‘Hidden’ Terpenoids in Plants: Their Biosynthesis, Localization and Ecological Roles, Plant and Cell Physiology, 2017
The Terpiodic Table, Eybna
Why do plants produce so many terpene compounds?, New Phytologist Trust, 2016