As the cannabis plant, and medical marijuana, become more mainstream, science is proving what humans have known for centuries: cannabis is a means by which patients can seek and receive holistic wellness. The healing cannabis plant is complex and most notably known for the compounds THC and CBD. As researchers dive into the depths of the cannabinoid system it is becoming clear that cannabis terpenes are just as vital to a plant’s efficacy as are THC and CBD.
Terpenes appear in abundance within nature, and it’s estimated that over 20,000 terpenes exist within our ecosystems. 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.
Hundreds of different terpenes have been discovered within the Cannabis plant, and they are generally classified as primary and secondary terpenes, based on how frequent they occur in cannabis. The odor represents a distinction between cannabis varieties which indicates that different plants can offer different benefits.
The terpenes, or terpenoids, form the largest group of phytochemicals, and account for some medicinal properties of cannabis, as well as many medicinal herbs, plants and essential oils. They are the source of flavors, aromas, and other characteristics that help differentiate cannabis strains. Furthermore, it is thought that the terpenes within plants aid in pest-control and as an antifungal agent.
Paduch, Kandefer-Szerszeń, Trytek and Fiedurek, in their article titled “Terpenes: Substances Useful in Human Healthcare,” established that “Terpenes are naturally occurring substances produced by a wide variety of plants and animals. A broad range of the biological properties of terpenoids is described, including cancer chemopreventive effects, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, antihyperglycemic, anti-inflammatory and antiparasitic activities.”
Additionally, the team stated that “Terpenes are also presented as skin penetration enhancers and agents involved in the prevention and therapy of several inflammatory diseases. Moreover, a potential mechanism of their action against pathogens and their influence on skin permeability are discussed. The major conclusion is that larger-scale use of terpenoids in modern medicine should be taken into consideration.”
In this study, it was concluded that alpha-pinene (α-pinene) exhibits anti-inflammatory activity. A 2015 study determined that pine needle oil from crude extract of pine needles has been used as an anti-cancer agent in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The α-pinene is a natural compound isolated from pine needle oil, and other plants including cannabis, which has been shown anti-cancer activity.
The Journal of Headache and Pain describes the Pinene terpene, or Alpha-pinene (α-pinene), as the most commonly occurring terpene in nature. Author Asakawa Noma wrote in the Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications (2010, CRC Press) that Pinene is responsible for the aroma of fresh sage, pine needles and conifers. It is produced by many herbs such as basil, parsley and dill, as well. It has anti-inflammatory effects in human chondrocytes, suggesting anti-osteoarthritic properties. Additionally, Pinene will boost concentration and alertness. Pinene, naturally, has an aroma of pine.
Some of the strains that possess the Pinene terpene are:
- Jack Herer, Sativa
- Blue Dream, Hybrid
- OG Kush, Hybrid
According to the British Journal of Pharmacology, Pinene is the most widely encountered terpenoid in nature. It appears in conifers and innumerable plant EOs, with an insect-repellent role. and is a bronchodilator in humans at low exposure levels. It also has evidence to be a broad-spectrum antibiotic. This study concluded that Pinene aids in memory retrieval and strength.
When terpenes and cannabinoids interact together, there is a heightened efficacy for medical marijuana patients. Patients should speak with their certified medical marijuana physician to determine which strains and methods of consumption are most appropriate for their medical conditions.
Noma Y, Asakawa Y. Biotransformation of monoterpenoids by microorganisms, insects, and mammals. In: Baser KHC, Buchbauer G, editors. Handbook of essential oils: science, technology, and applications. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 2010. pp. 585–736.