How cannabis terpenes affect the body

 

Awareness of the aromatic properties of terpenes is not new. Humans have long harnessed the vibrant scents associated with terpenes to formulate essential oils for practices such as aromatherapy. 


For example, anyone who’s dabbed lavender oil—which contains linalool—behind their ears knows that it can potentially help you relax you. Similarly, terpenes in certain cannabis strains can add to its effects.


However, the effects of terpenes appear to extend beyond feel-good benefits and stress relief. Terpenes have also been identified as a new frontier in cannabis medicine. Until recently, the spotlight has been focused almost exclusively on the therapeutic qualities of cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, but as our understanding of terpenes grows more sophisticated, it’s becoming apparent that these aromatic compounds are medicinal powerhouses too. 


All terpenes boast unique combinations of therapeutic properties. Unsurprisingly, some of the effects terpenes have on humans are evocative of their function in cannabis and other plants—like helping to fight off unwelcome microbes and pathogens. 


Preclinical studies on animals and in vitro studies—in test tubes—have identified a range of therapeutic benefits associated with terpenes. It should be noted, however, that terpene research is in its infancy and has not been widely performed on humans. More research needs to be done to solidify our understanding of these compounds.


Antiviral 

Researchers are always on the hunt for new antiviral compounds. Many terpenes could show strong abilities to help kill viruses, including alpha- and beta-pinene, caryophyllene, camphor, and carvone.


Anticancer 

Rising rates in many forms of cancer are driving the quest to find compounds that can help suppress it. Some terpenes, including those found in cannabis, can exhibit anticancer activity, helping to inhibit the activity of growth of cancer cells. 

Limonene could represent a particularly notable anticancer and anti-tumor agent, along with other terpenes such as pinene, camphor, terpinene, and beta-myrcene. One potential unique benefit of terpenes is that they may be unlikely to affect healthy cells or cause side effects—something important for cancer treatments.


Antidepressant

Twenty-five percent of antidepressant drugs are formulated using herbal extracts that contain terpenes. Linalool and beta-pinene are common among many plant extracts used in antidepressant medication.


Antimicrobial

A vast array of terpenes may display antimicrobial activity, or the ability to halt a harmful microorganism in its tracks. Terpenes that may help in killing or stopping the progression of microorganisms include alpha-bisabolol, geraniol, menthol, eucalyptol, and terpinolene.


Pain relief

Researchers have found that some cannabis terpenes may mimic cannabinoids by creating a pain-relieving effect. In one study that combined terpenes with cannabinoids, pain-relieving effects were amplified without an increase in negative side effects. This interaction could indicate the entourage effect.


Terpenes that may promote pain-relieving activity include humulene, geraniol, linalool, and β-pinene. Fascinatingly, the study above also found that these terpenes activate the body’s CB1 receptors, which form part of the endocannabinoid system and influence pain perception. 


Learn more about cannabis terpenes at Leafly

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