Cannabis has been a source of food, fuel, paper, and building materials, a textile fiber, and a folk medicine remedy for thousands of years. THC and CBD are two popular cannabinoids, and have been used medicinally for centuries. But now, science has proven that there’s far more to the cannabis plant than just those two beneficial compounds.

Cannabis also has terpenes. Terpenes are can be thought of like the essential oils of the cannabis plant. These oils emit scents and flavors which contribute to the plant’s efficacy. 

According to P.M. Dewick in Medicinal Natural Products: A Biosynthetic Approach. 2nd. Edition (2001): Medicinal plants contain a variety of bioactive compounds such as terpenes, which are composed of essential oils.

Terpenes are found throughout the the plant world. Every single plant, herb, flower, vegetable and fruit possess terpenes; and each terpene serves a very specific purpose. Terpenes contribute to the characteristic odor and flavor of any plant.

Here are a few of our favorite cannabis terpenes:

  • Phytol: This terpene is naturally found in green tea, wild lettuce and citrus. The presence of phytol could account for the alleged relaxing effect of wild lettuce (an edible plant commonly found in Florida). Phytol constituents have a mild, light floral, tea scent. This study reported that “phytol produces antinociceptive activity in mice, suggesting central and peripheral effect, without changing the motor function of animals.”  
  • Myrcene: This is a common terpene which is also found in lemongrass, bay leaves, basil, thyme, hops, parsley and tropical plants such as mangos. Hops, for example, traditionally offer anti-inflammatory and metabolic properties. Myrcene has potent anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anxiolytic properties, and has benefit in muscle relaxation, and prominent sedation/hypnotic, helpful in sleep. This report published by the International Hemp Association states that Myrcene is the most prevalent Terpene within the Cannabis plant.
  • Limonene: The terpene limonene is prominent in the rinds of citrus fruits, and the second most commonly occurring terpene in nature. Nutritional Neuroscience published an article which detailed the health effects of Limonene including the analgesic and anti-depression properties. Additionally, limonene has anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant effects. A 2014 study published in the journal Anti-inflammatory and Anti-allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry found limonene to be an anti-inflammatory agent and it possessed tissue-repair properties.
  • Caryophyllene: The terpene Caryophyllene is commonly found in spices and plants including cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, hops, rosemary, oregano and basil. It is also found in carrots. It has analgesic effects in inflammatory and neuropathic pain. It’s because of Caryophyllene that clove essential oil offers the health benefit of pain relief and local anesthetic properties especially for mouth and tooth ailments.A 2016 article titled Cannabis sativa and Hemp by Joshua A. Hartsel, Alexandros Makriyannis, et al. published in Nutraceuticals states that “Caryophyllene has the distinction of being the first known ‘dietary cannabinoid,’ a common component of food that has GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status and is approved by the FDA for food use.”

Up next: Cannabis Terpenes, Part Four: Strains

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