What are terpenes and why are they critical components of cannabis?
The enchanting aromas of cannabis are a common way of checking the quality and potency of the strain you’re interested in. In recent times, a lot has been discovered about terpenes in cannabis that further add to the drug's layers of complexity. Terpenes are no strangers to the botanical world, as they’re responsible for the distinct flavor or smell of plants (the sharp citrus smell of orange, and the irresistible aroma of scented leaves, for example).
Terpenes in cannabis provide cannabis connoisseurs - both medicinal and recreational users - with distinct cues as per the strain and possible effects of marijuana leaves. Over 100 different terpenes have been discovered in the plant so far, and each strain comes with certain predominant terpenes.
For instance, the predominance of certain terpenes is responsible for the distinct citric flavor of the super lemon haze or the spicy flowery scent of the lavender strain.
Cannabis terpenes are produced in the glandular trichomes - the hair-like structures that skirt around the edges of the plant’s leaves and flowers. As such, plants processed in a delicate manner that preserves much of the trichomes usually come with remarkable flavours, colours, and smells.
A close look at trichomes where terpenes are produced. Source
More about cannabis terpenes?
The glandular trichomes of a cannabis plant - where terpenes are produced - are also responsible for the presence of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) in the plant. Terpenes originally served to deter predator insects and to attract pollinators.
But given that they’re produced in the same glands responsible for the production of medicinal and psychoactive components, cannabis terpenes have come to serve a much greater purpose than regulating insect activities.
The production of terpenes in cannabis is a function of multiple factors such as weather, soil type, temperature, humidity, age of the plant, and even the time of day. Licensed producers of medical cannabis are usually keen on growing plants in highly optimized conditions that guarantee the optimal production of terpenes and other crucial compounds in the medical strains.
Key characteristics of terpenes
The benefits of some popular cannabis terpenes. Source
Prior to legalization - which has now paved the way for more cannabis knowledge - the physical characteristics and the presence of THC and CBD were the most important factors that buyers considered.
However, recent studies have shown that terpenes are highly critical to the identity of cannabis strains. Besides dictating the characteristic smell and flavour of strains, they also modulate the intensity and duration of a strain’s effects.
Besides their distinct aromas, research shows that terpenes are also associated with distinct effects, such as enhanced relaxation, enhanced focus, and stress-relief. Two popular cannabis terpenes, linalool and limonene, are well known to relax and elevate mood, respectively. Other terpenes are also well-known for various effects, including the inhibition of serotonin uptake, antidepressant effects, and euphoria (stimulation of dopamine).
However, the most intriguing characteristic of terpenes is their capacity to synergize with other components of the plant. Terpenes have also been implicated in the entourage effect, a phenomenon that refers to the ability of cannabis compounds to alter the effects of other compounds in the plant.
While most cannabis strains grown in the past few decades have been THC-dominant strains with just trace amounts of CBD, they have still been associated with a wide variety of effects other than euphoria. This has led many experts to presume that other compounds, particularly terpenes, contribute immensely to the range of effects associated with each plant.
More research is still needed to investigate the role of terpenes in the entourage effect as well as in the overall characteristics of any cannabis strain.
How terpenes interact with the body
Terpenes are believed to influence the mind, body, and behaviors significantly. However, the number of studies in this area is quite scanty. Presently, terpenes are believed to take effect in the body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates a wide array of bodily functions, from appetite to sleep, moods, and homeostasis.
Since the other components, including CBD and THC, also interact with the body via the endocannabinoid system, it’s plausible to think that terpenes modulate the effect of the other compounds on the body.
As such, growers and cannabis scientists are now looking to explore terpenes as a viable measure to counterbalance some of the negative effects of cannabis.
Final words - the future of cannabis terpenes
Terpenes are now being considered as highly potential medicinal substances. They’ve received a nod from the United States’ Food and Drugs Administration as medicinal substances. Producers and medical cannabis labs have recently been preoccupied with looking into how terpenes can be harnessed to produce super strains with excellent medical profiles.
As the legalisation trend continues, as well as the global increase in positive views of cannabis, research will continue to uncover the many mysteries of the cannabis plant. Terpenes are just one of many more to come, and its contributions to the cannabis plant are still being explored.