Important Prefacing Terms
What is a terpene?
Terpenes are the volatile aromatic molecules that a plant or flower emits. While there are over 200 known terpenes present in cannabis, there are over 80,000 other terpenes that exist in the remainder of the plant world. In fact, there is an entire sector of science surrounding terpenes called Olfaction, which has been the basis of Nobel Prize research. Olfaction science has proven that terpenes have incredible effects in reaching biological targets (receptor groups) in the brain and body – turning on or off different regions responsible for a variety of physiological and psychological events. The inhalation or ingestion of specific terpene blends can create a calm, relaxed state while a different terpene set can create an aroused, energetic state. Similarly, any aficionado of smoked cannabis knows that certain terpenes present in flower can create the munchies (hunger), but they might not have been aware that other terpenes can create satiety (fullness). Terpenes are used extensively as the basis for pharmaceutical medications, as well as being commonly found in cosmetics, bath and beauty products, perfumes, cooking ingredients, essential oils, commercial household products, etc. The cost of terpenes can range from $10 a kilogram (1000 grams) for common Pinene to $500,000 a gram for a rare medically desired terpene like Ferruginol. Ferruginol is the terpene many believe will unlock the treatment protocols for most cancers, incurable viruses, and even untreatable bacterial infections. Comparatively speaking, Ferruginol is 50 million times more expensive than Pinene or the literal difference between a cup of coffee ‘Pinene’ and a quarter of a billion dollars ‘Ferruginol’.
What is a Cannabinoid?
Cannabinoids are a diverse set of chemical compounds found in the Cannabis Sativa plant. Their main physiological effect on the body is to act on cannabinoid receptors in cells that repress neurotransmitter release in the brain. It is fair to say that cannabinoids are critical in the process of communication between neurons in the brain. Cannabinoids are one of the most active areas of medical research today with thousands of clinical studies underway exploring cannabinoids for the treatment of a wide range of medical conditions including inflammation, acute and chronic pain, gastrointestinal diseases and conditions, metabolic issues, neurological problems including epilepsy, cancer, soft tissue and musculoskeletal problems, allergies, skin disorders, infections, viruses, glaucoma, circulatory impairments, nausea, AIDS wasting, spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, depression, migraine, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorder, decreased appetite, sexual dysfunction and drug dependency and withdrawal syndromes, among many others. Common cannabinoids include THC, CBD, CBN, CBG, etc. Cannabinoids can be subclassified as phytocannabinoids which are derived from cannabis sativa plants including the marijuana and hemp plants or endocannabinoids which is where the real story of health starts for mammals and other living organisms.
What is an Endocannabinoid?
An endocannabinoid is a cannabinoid compound that the body makes by itself, naturally. All living creatures make their own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, inside their own bodies. The reason we make our own endocannabinoids is simple; to bind to receptors in the ECS to maintain homeostasis and improve health and happiness. When our body makes less endocannabinoids than it needs to stay in balance, our health suffers unless we satisfy the ECS with cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. What the elementary school textbooks do not tell you is that all around the clock, every day, every living organism is involved in the absolutely life essential process of creating endocannabinoids, like anandamide which is our body’s natural THC molecule or 2-AG which is the natural analogue of CBD.
What is Homeostasis?
What the school science textbooks do tell you is that Homeostasis involves keeping a balance within the body. There is another interesting name for homeostasis in science. It is called The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and we know today that it is centrally responsible for homeostasis. When imbalances are detected within our internal environment, our body releases endocannabinoids which then interact with cannabinoid receptors to stabilize the situation. As is often the case, our bodies cannot keep up with the needs of the endocannabinoid system and when that occurs phytocannabinoids from nature are there to help. Just as you would put gas in your car to continue driving, most everyone should add cannabinoids to their lives to keep moving.
Is Cannabis a Breakthrough for Health or Just a Way to Get High?
Ok, still not convinced that cannabis and terpenes are basic and critical to life; then do not read this. To understand the breakthrough of how deeply integrated the plant world is in our actual human DNA, you need to look no further than the literal exact beginning of life. The events that led up to the moment that we truly took our first step to where we are today. That moment is conception. Conception (typically) occurs when one single sperm from a male finds one single egg of a female. Young people learn that in their first biology or health sciences class. We all understand this basic fact of human (and most other animals) life, correct? Or do we?
If we look a little more closely at the actual events leading up to the moment of conception, we realize that these hold the key to a series of breakthroughs to overcome the barriers and challenges that continually force us to regress rather than progress in our physical, mental, and emotional lives.
First, we need to look at one half of the conception equation – the egg. An egg produces highly specific odors called (wait for it!!) terpenes, one or more of which can attract or repel a sperm. Like a hummingbird following a fragrance to a flower, the male sperm follows terpenes to find the female egg. Conversely, a female egg can release a different terpene called undecanal which repels the sperm from the egg. The process of the sperm being attracted via olfaction (scent) to the egg is a process called chemotaxis. Even more interestingly, on the flip side, during Fall of 2019, scientists found endocannabinoids in male sperm samples, as well as cannabinoid receptors and the enzymes necessary for the receptors to utilize those endocannabinoids.
Taken together, these two facts preceding human conception point to undeniable mechanisms to effectively process terpenes and create and utilize cannabinoids BEFORE the conception event occurs. In other words, terpenes and cannabinoids must be part of the actual universal building blocks for the creation of life itself. It is shocking that given these facts, we have lived our lives believing terpenes simply allow us to differentiate a rose from a honeysuckle and that the world has spent decades ostracizing and incarcerating people who recognized the value of cannabis.
The good news is that as a society we are finally becoming evolved enough to recognize and understand the incredible health and lifestyle benefits of terpenes and cannabinoids. What we are about to see an unprecedented advancement of the entire heath equation – unequivocally, an enormous breakthrough.