The rise of CBD and other cannabinoids has exposed the importance of all compounds derived from cannabis. Experts believe terpenes could play a significant role in delivering benefits alongside CBD, Delta-8, and other cannabis compounds. The extent of the influence terpenes have on the effects is still debated within the community; however, the general consensus is that terpenes do benefit these products. Identifying which terpenes are sedative, uplifting, and have the potential to deliver benefits, is essential when choosing a cannabis product.
We will discuss cannabis terpenes, how our understanding is consistently evolving, and profile the significant terpenes found in cannabis.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic oils derived from the flowers of plants to attract or deter predators. They are essential in the evolution of every plant. Folk medicine has featured the use of terpenes for thousands of years. Terpenes aren't exclusive to cannabis, but few plants are more abundant in or influenced by these plant compounds than cannabis.
The Entourage Effect
First described in 1998 by Professor Raphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat, the phenomenon known as the 'entourage effect' states that cannabis compounds perform better together than alone. Several studies support the idea by observing a cannabinoid isolate vs. a full-plant extract in treating inflammation.
Like many of the terms and beliefs in the cannabis industry, there is a disconnect from science. Companies often oversimplify and take information from research that helps them sell products, without giving the entire picture.
What Does the Industry Claim?
Cannabis companies selling full spectrum or full plant extracts are usually very much in favor of the entourage effect. While the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes is a better product than an isolate, no one really understands the extent.
What Cannabis Researchers are Saying
Cannabis experts disagree on the subject. A recent study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research found that the terpenes alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, beta-caryophyllene, linalool, limonene, and beta-myrcene didn't activate cannabinoid receptors.
A 2020 research article entitled "The Entourage Effect, or: Hodge-Podge Hashish" is also critical of the phenomenon. The paper concludes, "claims of a cannabis entourage effect invoke ill-defined and unsubstantiated pharmacological activities which are commonly leveraged toward the popularization and sale of ostensible therapeutic products. Overestimation of such claims in the scientific and lay literature has fostered their misrepresentation and abuse by a poorly regulated industry."
While there are plenty of critics of the entourage effect, one of the most highly regarded cannabis scientists in the community, Dr. Ethan Russo, is on board. In an interview with CannabisMD, Russo is questioned about the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research study, and he states, "I'm very critical of this study; I think it was very misleading." He goes on to explain, "This study doesn't disprove synergy or the entourage effect; it just shows that four didn't have the effect they were looking for. People tend to overgeneralize results, and in this case, the study is being widely misinterpreted."
Russo argues that even if those terpenes don't activate CB receptors, the "mechanism of action could come from other places." CBD works similarly; it doesn't bind with CB1 or CB2, but inhibits enzymes that decrease endocannabinoid production.
Terpenes and the Entourage Effect
The relationship between terpenes and cannabinoids isn't understood. We have CBD companies with a clear motive, willing to claim anything to help sell products. Calling the entourage effect "hodge-podge hashish" may be a bit bold. Still, the current CBD industry is rampant with exaggerated health claims supported by insufficient evidence.
Research like the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research study is also misleading. There was a clear motive that was supported by a narrow analysis. Dr. Russo points out that terpenes could have a much more complex relationship with the ECS than simply binding with receptors.
Additional Benefits or Mysterious Cannabis Synergy
No one in the industry debates that cannabis terpenes are or aren't beneficial. Adding or including terpenes to a CBD or Delta-8 product clearly adds value. The debate lies in the relationship. Do terpenes have their own benefits, some of which are shared with many cannabinoids, or do terpenes act as a helper molecule to other cannabis compounds?
The idea that terpenes help CBD perform is a challenging position to prove definitively. Regardless of your position, it is essential to understand the different terpenes and their unique properties when choosing a cannabis product.
Common Cannabis Terpenes
Terpenes are essential to the essence of cannabis. The different feelings, complex aroma, and unique tastes of different strains are all thanks to terpenes. Cannabis is a unique plant packed with compounds. Below are some of the most common and influential terpenes found in CBD and Delta-8 products.
Limonene is one of the most abundant terpenes in nature and possesses a wide array of health benefits. Research shows that limonene has anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidant effects, and even the ability to boost heart health. Lemon peels and the famous cannabis strain Super Lemon Haze both have high concentrations of limonene.
In Dr. Russo's famous research paper, Taming THC, he credits limonene with sharing a property associated with CBD in reducing the adverse effects of THC.
Most people associate linalool with lavender. The terpene is believed to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Several in vivo studies suggest linalool has various effects on the central nervous system.
In Dr. Ethan Russo's interview, he uses alpha-pinene to support his argument against the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research study by demonstrating the terpene's ability to reduce the short-term memory side-effects of THC. Russo says alpha-pinene accomplishes this because it "is an acetylcholine inhibitor, which means it inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter in the brain involved with memory."
The most common form of pinene observed in nature is pine needles. The terpene functions as a bronchodilator by naturally helping open up airways.
While the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research study claims that beta-caryophyllene didn't have the affinity to bind with CB receptors, other studies suggest it does have this ability. Cannabis strains high in beta-caryophyllene are sought out by users looking for pain and inflammation relief.
Experience the Benefits of Terpenes
While the medical benefits of cannabis are far from understood, the industry agrees that terpenes are beneficial. The interaction between terpenes and cannabinoids is complex. Each school of thought does recognize that a CBD or Delta-8 product with terpenes is more valuable than an isolate. While the details have yet to be worked out, and we don't fully understand the mechanism, terpenes are essential. Whether you believe they unlock CBD's true potential or if you think they have their own benefits, it is beneficial to know what terpenes are featured in cannabis products and make a purchasing decision based on your particular needs.