Terpenes are the organic chemical compounds that are responsible for the smell and flavour of every plant organism – including vegetables, flowers and of course, cannabis. There are more than 20,000 terpenes in known existence, and at least 100 of them are produced in cannabis – in trichomes found on the plant’s surface.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are the essential building blocks in the elements that make up a cannabis plant. There has been limited research on the effects of any specific terpenes in combination with cannabinoids, but it is known that higher terpene levels are seen as a sign of quality in hemp and cannabis.
Terpenes give hemp and cannabis its unique flavour profile, just like they provide the aroma of every other plant and they can be extracted from the plant material using steam distillation or vapourisation.
In some cases, scientists can manipulate the compounds in hemp to achieve particular terpene profiles, or ratios. The production of terpenes is increased with light exposure and they are mostly found in unfertilized female cannabis flowers, providing the plant with a natural protection from bacteria, insects and fungus.
They act on receptors and neurotransmitters and will either enhance or inhibit other drugs, so be wary before mixing CBD infused with terpenes with other current medication. Terpenes are known to have a unique effect on the endo-cannabinoid system because they promote different sensory experiences, so varied terpene profiles could provide broader effects.
What’s the difference between terpenes and terpenoids?
Terpenes and terpenoids are similar in their effects but are crucially different. Terpenoids are actually terpenes that have been dried out in a process that alters their fundamental properties.
Although we know that terpenoids are most often used outside of cannabis for their aromatic qualities (in essential oils and perfumes) they also play a significant role in the reported medicinal properties of cannabinoids. Terpenes, on the other hand, influence the smell and flavour of plants and can also change the duration and intensity of the effects on a plant.
What are the benefits of terpenes?
A report from 2011 in the British Journal of Pharmacology covered what the potential therapeutic benefits of terpenes could be, with results showing that they could contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based extracts.
When terpenes interact with cannabinoid receptors they can assist or hinder the effects of cannabinoids. CBD products that are high in terpenes have recently increased in popularity because of their ability to change the effects of CBD, and some hemp breeders and extractors can enhance flavour profiles by maximising and preserving terpene levels.
By mapping out these terpene profiles, scientists are able to predict and manipulate the effects of each variety – creating the different strains that you are able to buy today.
How do terpenes impact the entourage effect?
The entourage effect explains how different cannabinoids and terpenes work together with receptors in the brain for a more holistic effect. When you combine terpenes with cannabinoids, the entourage effect comes into play and the effects may end up being greater than the sum of their parts. The entourage effect is one of the reasons why full spectrum CBD products (ones that contain a full range of cannabinoids and terpenes rather than just selected ones) are growing in popularity.
Terpenes and CBD
There are several terpenes that are highly prominent in cannabis plants, namely monoterpenes, diterpenes, and sesquiterpenes. Hemp flower contains the most effective natural cannabinoids and the most terpenes, with up to 120 varieties available depending on the quality of the plant.
So called ‘CBD-only’ products that neglect terpenes might be missing out on the potential added benefits of extracting these organic compounds too. If you want to try a CBD product that has a full spectrum of terpenes, our Canavape Complete range is a high strength terpene infused CBD e-liquid that contains CBG too.