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Aromatherapy on Steroids: The Power of Cannabis Terpenes

One of the most common and highly prized terpenes is limonene, which is the organic cornerstone of most citrus flavors and smells.
Photo USDA/Wikimedia


Aromatherapy on Steroids: The Power of Cannabis Terpenes

If you like your cannabis “loud,” then you’re already tuned in to the world of terpenes. But terps can do a lot more than just make cannabis taste amazing — they may be a big part of the reason why consuming it feels so good.

While it may seem shocking to more recently initiated cannabis enthusiasts, there was a time not so long ago when nobody talked about terpenes much at all, and definitely didn’t use the word “terps.” For years, the perceived quality of cannabis was largely informed by its THC content, with flavor taking somewhat of a backseat. That isn’t to say there weren’t many among us who cherished certain strains for their flavor profile, we just didn’t talk about it like that. We’d just say “that stuff tastes like pine and citrus.”

We had no idea how right we were: Terpenes — the primary chemical building blocks of most natural flavors and smells — are present in practically all organic material. More importantly, the same terpenes are present, meaning the same terpene that forms the foundation of an actual orange’s smell and taste is present in cannabis that tastes and smells like oranges.

This is why terps are so highly prized by the perfume and food flavoring industries. According to a report by Steep Hill Labs — an industry leading testing and research facility — terpenes represent “the single largest array of different odors and tastes available to a single class of chemical compounds.”

From Steep Hill Labs:

Terpenes make up the majority of components in flavoring agents in food, candy and perfume. No industry has studied fragrance more intensely than the perfume and food industries. For instance, both make large use of three closely related forms of Limonene. One of the forms smells mostly like tangerine, another smells like lemon, and the last like grapefruit.

And with the advent and broad embrace of cannabis concentrates, which offer high potency as a matter of course, the emphasis of informed buyers has shifted towards terps and the flavor profiles they produce.

Around 2011, independent research into terpenes and their role in the “entourage effect” of cannabis began in earnest, with industry pioneer Ed Rosenthal spearheading much of that early exploration.

This in turn has resulted in an enhanced understanding of how cannabis impacts the user, challenging the common wisdom that effects are dictated by the sativa or indica designation of a given strain:

New findings suggest that it’s actually the interaction between cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) with terpenes that creates the varying impacts of cannabis, ranging from sedative to stimulating.

When you consume cannabis, THC and other cannabinoids bind to neural receptors, which produce the psychoactive effects associated with the plant. Terpenes bind to these same receptors and modify their output, which can mean allowing more or less THC to pass through the blood brain barrier and impact neurotransmitters responsible for producing dopamine and serotonin.

In other words, inhaling smoke or vapor containing cannabinoids and terpenes is like aromatherapy on steroids. Found some citrusy weed that elevates your mood? It’s most likely the presence of limonene. Got a spicy, earthy strain that puts you to sleep? It very well may be that the terpene myrcene is informing that effect.

This changes the paradigm for patients seeking certain effects or relief from specific ailments. Because while much of the buzz around terpenes has been focused on the incredible flavors being extracted, what’s even more fascinating about terpenes is the way they can inform the effects of cannabis.

Like much of the emerging knowledge surrounding cannabis medicine, our full understanding of terpenes is still developing. But as people continue to gravitate towards specific terpene profiles that offer relief for certain conditions, our base of anecdotal knowledge expands. Meaning in the near future, real clinical studies will have a strong foundation to work from in establishing the future of cannabis medicine.

TELL US, have you found flavor profiles that correspond to desirable effects?

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