Q: How do you fight, if you have no arms, no legs, and are literally planted in one, immovable position?
A: The Law Of Attraction And Repulsion.
One way cannabis and other plants fight predators, is by emitting a fragrance that:
(1) deters herbivores; and
(2) attracts predators and parasites of those herbivores.
Terpenes signaled this plant’s defense.
Volatile terpenes were released from its leaves, after it was attacked by caterpillars. Those terpenes attracted parasitic wasps, which are natural enemies of the caterpillars. (Photo by Ted Turlings)
Volatile Aromatic Molecules
Terpenes -- sometimes interchangeably called terpenoids -- are the essential oils of a plant, flower, fruit, and even occasional insect (such as termites and swallowtail butterflies).
In order for something to have “a smell” it has to be degradable; therefore organic in some way. Terpenes are what give plant-based matter, its smell and taste. They are produced and secreted in cannabis’ glandular trichomes.
Terpenes are a plant’s natural, almost intelligent, protection from pest, predators, and any other environmental hostilities. Research has even shown that the terpenes found in a plant’s upper leaves can differ from those found in lower leaves. Why? Because what repels flying insects up higher, might not repel roaming woodland creatures down lower.
And it’s THAT SAME evolutionarily-adapted-to-survive beasts-and-heat resinous goodness that makes cannabis-derived terpenes smell so dank, AND heal us with such force. It is a marvel of nature -- and efficiency -- when considered.
Appreciating Different Terpene Types And Varieties
Do you enjoy Italian cuisine? Consider: Pesto, Marinara, and Alfredo. These popular Italian sauces are served over pasta, and each gives an incredibly different taste and experience. Pesto is made with a base of pine nuts. Marinara is primarily tomato. And Alfredo is made of a cheese base.
Plant terpenes function similarly. The different sauces, are like the different therapeutic/psychoactive effects, and qualitative smells and tastes, we experience with terpenes.
At a minimum, most terpenes are anti-inflammatory and many analgesic (pain-reducing). But beyond that, each is so distinct, not only in smell and taste, but also in therapeutic quality. Let’s review some of the most popular terpenes found and enjoyed in cannabis:
Smells like the spice of black pepper.
Many scientists find this terpene to be of the greatest pharmacological interest, because it activates the CB2 receptor sites, which chiefly govern our immune functions. B-caryophyllene greatly reduces inflammation and pain.
According to Leafly: “In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, β-caryophyllene activated CB2 and PPAR-γ receptors and reduced hallmark features of Alzheimer’s such as the accumulation of brain plaques. These actions also protect against the cognitive decline that characterizes this model of disease.”
In a rat model of Parkinson’s disease, β-caryophyllene protected against neuroinflammation.
- Also found in cloves, hops, and rosemary.
Smells like zesty-citrus.
Counters bacteria and fungus, depression and anxiety, oxidation and stress.
Shows an acid neutralizing effect, which is powerful in fighting GERD and other expressions of reflux.
Also shows gastroprotective effects “in acetic acid-induced gastric ulcers in rats, a model that reproduces human chronic ulcers.
Exerts an anti-osteoarthritic effect (as does pinene).
Also found in mint, juniper, rosemary, pine, and, of course, the peels of citrus fruits, like limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruits.
- The oil can photosynthesize, so take care with any topical application.
Smells like lavender.
Found in more than 200 different species of plants.
Counters anxiety, depression, convulsions, seizure disorders, insomnia and bacteria.
- Has a calming effect on body, mind, and even skin and muscles.
“Inhibits cigarette smoke-induced acute lung inflammation, by inhibiting infiltration of inflammatory cells” (in conjunction with pinene).
- According to this study: “In a genetic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, linalool reversed many of the behavioral and cognitive impairments associated with the disease. Further, it reduced the number of brain plaques and cellular tangles that define the disease and contribute to brain degeneration.”
Smells like earthy-musk.
Counters microbes and carcinogens.
Counters inflammation, mutagens, and depression.
Calms the nervous system, promotes sedation, and relieves pain and spasms.
“Potentiates the effects felt from THC and helps with absorption.”
- Also found in basil, hops, lemongrass, mango, and thyme.
Smells like pine trees.
“Many studies have shown meaningful physiological effects of forest atmosphere on people (2,7,8). These effects are believed to be achieved by inhaling the forest atmosphere, which includes various phytochemicals mainly produced by trees.” In Japan, this practice of forest-bathing is called shrinrin-yoku.
A 2013 study showed pinene inhibits the growth of cancer cells.
Supports memory, focus, and alertness.
Bronchodilator promoting respiratory health.
- Also found in conifer trees (juniper, fir and cypress), turpentine, rosemary, and peppermint.
The therapeutic value of whole plant medicine is far greater than isolated and synthetic compounds ever could be. Secret Nature’s flowers retain their full cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles.
FUN FACT: Did you know that amber is a fossilized terpene?!
Most physical illness is the result of prolonged inflammation.
Cannabinoids and terpenes are both heroic in their handling of inflammation.
And terpenes have shown an anti-tumorigenic effect that suggests “their potential uses as chemotherapeutic agents for treating tumors.”
As little as is known about cannabinoids’ therapeutic potential, even less is known about terpenes. But
Three simple things you can do, to better understand and enjoy terpenes:
Trust your nose. What aroma are you most strongly attracted to? Be like a pollinator, and start with that one! Study it. Consume it. Wear it. And notice whatever stands out in your experience. You may even want to journal some of your observations, because olfaction is strongly tied to our emotional centers and memory. Memories can be powerfully triggered just by a whiff of a scent. That is your rabbit-hole warning.
If you do, in fact, find yourself drawn into the under-appreciated world of scent, then aromatherapy and essential oils are two good paths for further study. And botany if you really want to geek out, and dive deep. The dominant reality is disconnected from nature, and smell effectively helps restore that relationship.
Terpenes are synergistic compounds that enrich an already-complex phytocannabinoid environment. They complement CBD, THC and every other cannabinoid. They work in union with the other medley of compounds that nature itself ascribed.