What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a class of organic hydrocarbons based off the isoprene molecule and are found in numerous places within nature. Terpenes are in fruits, trees, plants, and other natural organisms. These powerful compounds are known for their aromatic properties, which is why they have been used commonly in areas such as perfumery, holistic medicine, aromatherapy and even flavorings for decades. They have many roles in nature such as providing natural protection from bacteria, fungus, and other environmental threats. They even aid in attracting helpful predators and pollinators.
Although the average consumer may not know much about terpenes, it is safe to say they likely experience them consistently in their everyday lives. Most people are aware of the delightful smell of a lemon, the soothing aroma of lavender, and even the refreshing smell of pine in a forest. All of those familiar smells are from the terpenes within those natural organisms.
Terpenes don’t just elicit various pleasant aromas from nature, they also contribute to the many benefits within natural ingredients.
Terpenes are known to provide numerous benefits such as acting on neurotransmitters, receptors, serotonin inhibitors, and others to aid in depression, anxiety, and other mental ailments. On top of that, terpenes are known to elicit anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, sedative, and many other effects. When you think about essential oils and all of the therapeutic effects it is used for, most don’t realize that the main components of essential oils are terpenes. They are the main factor in helping to provide those delightful odors as well as the various potential benefits of the essential oils.
A relatively recent discovery, which has led to a significant increase in interest and demand for terpenes, is the discovery of terpene contents within the cannabis plant and how they work synergistically with cannabinoids. The major discovery is something commonly referred to as the ‘Entourage Effect’, which has been shown to enhance the effects of cannabinoids within cannabis such as THC and CBD. This synergistic effect between terpenes and the cannabinoids has been shown to increase the effectiveness of the therapeutic properties of cannabis. A common example to show the relationship that terpenes have within cannabis is to imagine an airplane where the THC, CBD and other cannabinoids are the engines, providing the energy and thrust needed to fly. And then the terpenes as the wings, allowing the airplane to go where it wants, up and down, right and left. Without the wings, an airplane is just a rocket-propelled car, limited in its capabilities.
Terpenes are also the reason for the particular odor that cannabis has. Different strains of the cannabis plant have different smells and effects mainly due to the varying terpenes and their amounts within each strain. Cannabis plants are typically categorized into a Sativa, Indica, or Hybrid type. Interestingly, the reason for each is the terpene content within the plant, and not much else. Soon enough, cannabis strains are going to be solely characterized by their terpene content rather than Sativa or Indica. Many cannabis products are already being categorized by terpene content as more and more research is being done and more consumers are becoming educated on the numerous benefits of various terpenes.
What does all this mean for terpenes as a product? With the creation of many new cannabis products, a lot of the processes involved such as extraction and distillation are causing the cannabis to lose valuable terpenes. Due to terpenes being volatile organic compounds, they are very sensitive to heat and other environmental factors. Common extraction and distillation processes that are utilized to yield a refined cannabis oil cause the valuable terpenes to be lost. These products therefore no longer have the effects that most consumers are looking for. That is why consumers and manufacturers are starting to add back terpenes to their products, in order to produce a product that provides the same effects that the plant does, but with more refined quantities and taste.