Introduction to Terpenes

As legalized cannabis becomes more of a norm throughout the US, enthusiasts grow increasingly familiar with much of the related terminology. Terms like indica, cannabinoid, and sativa have become commonplace alongside legalized distribution and possession. 

This steadily expanding knowledge base contributes to a more diverse understanding of cannabis and its many beneficial properties. It also speaks to the destigmatization of the magnificent plant. After all, the more we know about something and understand it, the less we demonize it.

To the above point, long gone are the days when Reefer Madness was our primary source of cannabis education. 

Most adult users have begun to grasp cannabis through a more scientific and sophisticated lens. Instead of reducing the plant to stereotypical terms like “the munchies” and “getting stoned,” adult users apply a more suitable nomenclature to cannabis products.

One lesser-known term in cannabis nomenclature is terpene, a compound in the cannabis plant.

In this guide, we’ll examine the nature of terpenes, discussing the background of these compounds and their overall impact on cannabis.

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are found in plants and various animals. They are naturally occurring chemical compounds that help generate a vegetation’s associated flavors, aromas, and colors.

Cannabis’s relationship with terpenes revolves around the taste and smell of each strain. 

It’s not uncommon for terpenes to be processed into products like dyes, pesticides, cleaning solvents, and more. Terpenes can also have therapeutic components.

Generally, you’ll find terpenes in all plant forms. However, the most typical places you’ll encounter terpenes are in cannabis and in sage, thyme, and other aromatic herbs. You’ll also come across terpenes in citrus fruits.

What’s The Purpose Of Terpenes?

The prevailing belief is that terpenes shield plants from predators and harsh weather. Yet, their effect on humans remains something of a question mark. Nonetheless, cannabis researchers and well-informed consumers often use terpenes to help categorize cannabis products and predict how they impact the user experience.

Experts hypothesize that a strain’s dominant terpenes–or its terpene profile–interact with the cannabinoid content (i.e., THC and CBD) to generate a given strain’s specific effects. For instance, terpenes could help decipher why two separate strains with equal THC levels offer vastly different experiences.

Do Terpenes Get You High?

Terpenes–in and of themselves–won’t get someone high, despite some being considered psychoactive due to how they interact with our brains.

Many experts believe that terpenes can impact the potency of THC in a given strain. THC is the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant and is what’s responsible for its inebriating results.

A growing sentiment among budtenders and connoisseurs is that too much importance is placed on THC content when purchasing adult-use cannabis. These industry experts believe assessing a strain’s terpene profile will help adult consumers find a cannabis type that offers the desired psychoactive response.

Additionally, while research is only in its infancy, there’s evidence that some terpenes can help bolster mental health conditions (e.g., bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression). This speaks further to the psychoactive response terpenes can help trigger.

What Is The Relationship Between CBD, THC, And Terpenes?

Cannabis has over 100 cannabinoids–THC and CBD are the most prominent. They’re also the most studied and researched.

Terpenes and cannabinoids can help formulate expectations surrounding a given cannabis product. Nonetheless, they are entirely different compounds, but they interact with one another due to the “entourage effect.” 

The idea behind the entourage effect stems from the “full spectrum” of cannabis. This entails all terpenes, cannabinoids, and other compounds in a given strain. They all work in harmony to generate cannabis’s effects and sensations. Another way to put it is a strain with a bit of everything is better than a strain with lots of one thing.

A study from 2010, for instance, provided evidence that combining THC and CBD seemed to offer improved pain management versus THC alone. Research from 2018 indicated that breast cancer tumors respond better to pure THC.

That said, all synergistic effects appeared to stem from other cannabinoids and not so much from the terpenes. 

Consider the above factors if you’re contemplating CBD usage for therapeutic reasons. Growing proof suggests that CBD-only products (or CBD isolate) can’t match the results of full-spectrum CBD products. Full-spectrum CBD would contain trace amounts of terpenes and other cannabinoids.

What Are Some More Common Terpenes, And How Do They Affect Cannabis Users?

A grand total of 400 terpenes (that we know of) can be found in various types of cannabis. However, researchers can only connect a few to specific responses and effects. Below is a list of these more well-known terpenes and their impact on cannabis users.

  • Beta-pinene generates an aroma you’d be familiar with if you’ve ventured through a coniferous forest. This terpene may have anti-cancer and anti-depressive effects.
  • Humulene is a terpene present in ginseng–a common component in folk medicine that gives users a jolt of energy.
  • Linalool will be appreciated by people who use lavender for aromatherapy. Cannabis containing this terpene may find it helps them alleviate stress.
  • Limonene is one of the more frequently present terpenes in cannabis products. It has prominent notes of citrus. There’s also a prevailing belief in this terpene’s anti-cancer properties. Research on mice has also shown that limonene can help reduce anxiety.

Terpene research is relatively fresh, and much more work must be done before anything definitive can be said about them. Still, even this early-stage information can help adult cannabis users make more informed purchasing decisions.

Getting The Most Out Of Terpenes With These Helpful Tips

We all know how wine connoisseurs go about their business. They do little things to maximize the flavor. From product research to proper storage and owning a suitable decanter, these enthusiasts optimize their tasting experience.

Cannabis is much the same. Many factors can impact your overall enjoyment of the smoking (or general consumption) experience. One factor is the environment in which you partake in a given cannabis product. Another is the method of consumption (e.g., papers, blunts, pipes, edibles, dabs, or bongs).

Really, we could keep going for days about the intricacies of the cannabis use experience–but the main point we want to touch upon is getting the most out of your chosen strain’s terpene profile. So, here’s what you can do to optimize terpenes:

  • Examine the packaging date on a given cannabis product because terpene concentration can dwindle over time. The fresher the cannabis, the more robust its terpene profile. Also, fragrant cannabis flower is a sign of high terpene content. Give your cannabis a whiff before purchasing to ensure it’s not stale. 
  • Terpene profiles are often present on labels of lab-tested cannabis products. Generally, one of the three more popular terpenes will be listed, along with the terpene concentration level (which is typically about 2%). So, be sure to read labels for information on terpenes and to help guide your purchasing process.
  • Since they’re often oil-based, synthetic terpenes are typically present in vaping products. Tread carefully with these oils since synthetic terpenes may be less impactful than their natural counterparts. We can say that synthetic terpenes are used in household chemicals and to create solvents–this should be enough to give you a little bit of pause. 
  • Dedicated connoisseurs committed to bolstering the cannabis experience leave no stone unturned in fostering peak enjoyment. For instance, passionate cannabis users will maintain journals to track how they feel after every time they use a given strain. Information worth noting in your journal is your consumption method and the cannabis’s specific terpene profile. As time passes, you’ll develop a keener understanding of the terpene profile that gives you the effects you seek. 

Terpenes, The Freedom Of Choice, And The Power Of Destigimization

Legal adult-use cannabis means many things to many different people. For us, it means people now have the advantage of purchasing cannabis products that offer them the most benefits. In other words, you have the freedom of choice.

In less enlightened times, adult users were relegated to more unseemly methods of purchasing cannabis. These unfavorable circumstances came with severe legal risks. They also limited your choices to whatever was available. If all you could get was low-quality bud with minimal terpene content, you’d have to accept it.

Nowadays, in states where cannabis is legal, you have choices. You can assess factors like terpene content in cannabis products to enhance your user experience. This way, you can avoid cannabis’s potentially harmful properties while harnessing its many healing components.

The world might not be perfect, but these kinds of advancements definitely speak to a future we all can get behind. That we live in a landscape where you can walk into a store (in certain states) and purchase cannabis without fear of repercussions is a gift we should all be thankful for.

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