Talking Terpenes

Let’s talk about terpenes.  Terpenes are the compounds found in plants that give them their distinctive aromas.  The FDA has given terpenes their highest safety rating, placing them in their GRAS list of ingredients.  But there are so much more to these wonderful plant compounds than simply interesting aromas.  Terpenes are very powerful trigger compounds that act on receptors and neurotransmitters.  For example, some terpenes signal serotonin uptake inhibitors similar to antidepressants like Prozac.  Other terpenes promote norepinephrine activity similar to tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil.  Still others increase dopamine activity in various regions of the brain.  And other terpenes enhance GABA the neurotransmitter that calms while inhibiting excitatory glutamate receptors.  With over 50,000 known terpenes, the effects of these wonderful compounds is near endless. 


The entire world seems to be turned on to terpenes due to their focal point in differentiating strains of cannabis but that is just the beginning.  Basically speaking, terpenes are the volatile aromatic molecules that a plant or flower emits.  While there are over 200 terpenes present in cannabis, there are over 50,000 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 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 can create the munchies (hunger) but they might not have been aware that other terpenes can create satiety (fullness).


Terpenes are organic hydrocarbons found in plants’ essential oils that donate flavor and scent to their hosts. (1) Cannabis terpenes are made in the trichomes or the shiny, sticky crystals that cover the leaves and the buds. Interestingly, trichomes protect plants from the dangers of insects and animals by producing fragrant terpenes to repel them. Scent is nature’s way of saving the lives of plants by fending off natural enemies. Terpenes should not be confused with terpenoids, though the names are sometimes used interchangeably. Terpenoids are terpenes that have been modified through drying or curing which causes a chemical modification and alters the oxygen content of the compound. Terpenes have been used for healing for thousands of years because they can produce particular effects. Focused benefits allow delivery of enhanced functionality, and the potential for more immediate and complete relief. Specialized targeting can deliver both desired health benefits and loyal customer bases. Because grow conditions along with plant genetics determine the value of terpene composition, improved functionality will continue to advance marketplace selections as growers manipulate terpene composition and consumers capitalize on rapid, focused relief with no negative side effects. Add the formulator’s manipulation of terpenes and terpene groupings plus the expanded understanding of the olfactory system to the mix, and the potential benefits of terpenes to produce substantial health enhancement all seem poised to revolutionize how we maintain health. Looking at the role’s terpenes play in “The Entourage Effect” immediately shows how versatile and useful they are, and how widespread their potential wellness benefits can be. Whether capitalizing on one added terpene or a calculated terpene grouping, or the entourage of full spectrum or broad spectrum hemp, terpenes can deliver relief, calm, energy, sleep, determination and focus, or even a general bounce of sociability. Terpenes can be broadly broken down into sweet, spicy, sour or bitter but more detailed classifications would include more specified smells such as fruity and citrus or floral and herbal or earthy, spicy, bitter or woodsy or pine aromas. While there are over 200 terpenes in cannabis, (2) it is a small percentage of the 50,000 terpenes that exist in the larger plant world. (3) Consumers currently guzzle green tea for its phytonutrients, or take herbal supplements and ayurvedic remedies, or eat vegan diets to gain some kind of competitive edge on healthy living, but it is more likely that the people who are suffering in some way and need relief are the ones that have had an introduction to the healing and health filled wonders of aromatic terpenes.