Terpenes are a large class of aromatic organic hydrocarbons (i.e., the only elements present are carbon and hydrogen) produced by a wide variety of plants (and some animals) as part of their resinous essential oils. These terpenes are the compounds that you smell and taste and are used as aromatic and flavoring components. Terpenes also naturally protect plants from bacteria and fungus, insects and other environmental stresses. According to Waxy, "...like amino acids, terpenes are powerful building blocks within the plant’s physiology that aid in the production of vitamins, hormones, pigments, resins and cannabinoids."
There are estimated to be 150-200 different terpenes in the cannabis plant. Research indicates that terpenes
are less than 1% of the total chemicals present in the cannabis plant, but they make up about 10-20% of the trichome content, which is a significant influence. Terpenes interact with our Endocannabinoid System (ECS) much like cannabinoids and can even influence neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
SIDEBAR: Terpenes -versus- Terpenoids
The terms "terpene" and "terpenoid" are often used synonymously, but that's not completely accurate usage.
According to Medical Jane, "Terpenes are referred to as terpenoids when denatured by oxidation.” Simply put, terpenoids are often just modified, oxidized versions of terpenes. The drying and curing of cannabis is a good example of terpenes being converted to terpenoids.
Terpenes List is located at the bottom of the page.
In all my product reviews I've always provided cannabinoid-specific levels that I take from the products' testing labels. And as of 2017, I'm also including terpene-specific levels that I reference directly from the cannabis lab testing reports whenever I can obtain them. All of this cannabinoid- and terpenes-specific information may in theory be valuable to you, but you're probably wondering how as a medical cannabis patient you can actually apply this data in practical ways to better your health? Well, keep reading because I'm going to tell you.
The Entourage Effect
Scientific research now indicates strongly that cannabinoids and terpenes work better together. This complex interplay between terpenes and cannabinoids is referred to as the synergistic "Entourage Effect". The definition of this term has changed over the years, but the Entourage Effect essentially asserts that various combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes (and ideally, other compounds from the whole plant) are more therapeutically effective when working together, in synergy. Terpenes act therapeutically by binding to both neurological and cannabinoid receptors in the body and brain and sometimes regulate the permeability of cell membranes. According to Whaxy, "...this allows terpenes to do things like control the amount of THC that a cell in the body can ingest. Thus, a strain with the right mix of cannabinoids and terpenes could result in a finely tuned medicine for a particular disease or ailment."
With the Entourage Effect in mind, let's take an example to understand how you can use all this information in practical ways. Let's say that you had great success treating your muscle pain with the G6 strain and now you want to try something different that will give you similar relief and results. At this point, you should take a close look at the terpene and cannabinoid profiles for G6 and then find other strains that also offer very similar profiles. In this example, G6 has large quantities of THC, Beta-Myrcene and Limonene with a tad of CBD, which are all known for their strong pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. This indicates that these chemical compounds are very likely the most influential in helping to relieve your muscle pain. There is some trial-and-error involved, but you'll find leveraging cannabinoids and terpenes will result in less guesswork and ineffective purchases than just selecting your meds via some non-specific recommendations based on the general traits of Sativa or Indica.
By applying this process you can begin to identify and hone your own terpenes and cannabinoids profiles that are unique to you. You can start to pinpoint those very specific terpenes and cannabinoids that address your symptoms best. These profiles can act as your personal road map, so to speak, in your journey to better health with medical cannabis.
MORE RESOURCES: Consider using my Patient Medication Log to track your success and use as a reference. Don't forget to check out my Cannabinoids Library too! And I also have supplemental learning doc on terpenes you might find interesting, Introduction to Cannabinoids and Terpenes.
Please click on a terpene to learn more about it.
NOTE: There are 150-200 different possible terpenes in the cannabis plant. This is a partial list that includes the most commonly studied and influential terpenes.