Terpenes: The compounds loaded with health benefits
Cannabinoids are compounds found in the cannabis plant and have been studied for decades around the world. It’s even been reported that the oldest use of cannabinoids dates back to 2500 years ago. And it’s no wonder why our ancestors used them. For starters, they’re packed with a multitude of health benefits that range from promoting sleep to calming anxiety. But there’s another compound found in the cannabis plant that is also creating waves for its potential health benefits: terpenes. They’re responsible for the smell and taste of many different plants, herbs and citrus fruits. Let’s take a closer look at how they can add to your overall vitality and boost the performance of cannabinoids.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are a compound found in aromatic plants, herbs and fruit. If you walked past a lavender, rosemary or orange tree, you’d probably recognise their distinct aromas and know exactly what they are before you see them. That’s thanks to the work of terpenes.
They not only allure us, but pollinators such as bees, too. Terpenes can also have the opposite effect and work to repel predators or foraging animals and insects. They play a vital role in protecting the plant when it’s been injured or to recover from damage by keeping infectious germs at bay.
So far, there are hundreds of different types of terpenes that scientists have discovered. They are studied for their health benefits which include reducing inflammation and managing allergy symptoms.
What are the benefits of terpenes?
If you’ve ever tried aromatherapy, you’ll know how inhaling scents like lavender and peppermint can contribute to your overall well-being. Terpenes can work in a similar way. They can have calming, sedative, mood-elevating effects or alertness and memory retention effects.
Other benefits of terpenes include:
- Reduce pain and muscle soreness
- Acts as an antioxidant
- Antiviral and antimicrobial
Types of terpenes
There are thousands of terpenes that exist, but not all of them have been studied as yet. The most common ones you’ll come across are:
- Limonene: you’re likely to recognise this terpene by its citrusy scent. It’s found in fruits such as lemons and oranges and appears to regulate the behaviour of immune cells. They have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, anticancer and antidiabetic properties.
- Pinene: if you take a walk in a forest, you’re likely to pick up the scent of pinene. It’s found in pine needles as well as herbs like rosemary and basil. It’s known to have therapeutic effects that include acting as a bronchodilator and restoring your psyche and physiology.
- Linalool: this terpene gives lavender its rich scent and is used in aromatherapy treatments as well as many self-care products. It has a calming effect as well as anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties.
- Myrcene: a powerful antioxidant, this terpene is commonly found in plants like lemongrass and thyme. It has been shown to be useful against osteoarthritis due to its anti-inflammatory effects and its role in preventing the breakdown of cartilage cells.
Could terpenes and cannabinoids be a powerhouse therapy?
Aside from giving hemp its unmistakable smell, terpenes can boost the performance of cannabinoids to give you an unmistakable health experience. Cannabinoids provide health benefits by boosting the functioning of the body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is responsible for different functions which include inflammation response, regulating hormones and body temperature. It produces natural cannabinoids that are much like the ones found in the hemp plant. So when you use/consume hemp products, you can boost the productivity of your natural cannabinoids so that your ECS functions optimally.
And terpenes have the potential to take things up a notch. They enhance the effect of cannabinoids and contribute to what’s known as the entourage effect. This is because terpenes have their own health benefits, and when combined with the benefits of cannabinoids, they essentially can become a powerhouse by acting synergistically, creating the entourage effect.
Research is pointing to these synergistic benefits and showing just how influential they can be. During the COVID-19 pandemic, tons of studies were being carried out in the rush to find a treatment for the virus. A cohort of Israeli researchers added to these studies and trials and found positive results suggesting that Cannabidiol (CBD) may help fight against COVID-19 infection.
Their research also suggests that the addition of terpenes can lead to better results with the possibility of outperforming conventional medications like corticosteroids. The researchers say that combining CBD and terpenes together as a treatment was 2x more effective at inhibiting cytokine activity, which can be triggered by COVID-19 and result in multi-organ failure, as compared to dexamethasone.
What does the future of medicine look like with terpenes?
Researchers have been trying to break down how specific compounds from plants interact with receptors in our bodies. Apart from the ECS, there are other systems that can benefit from the boost that terpenes are thought to give. The dopamine system, the serotonin system and the Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system.
In a study, it was found that certain compounds can activate different receptors in the body and some may be contradictory to others. For example, some may be good for promoting sleep, while others are good for keeping you alert. It’s essential to separate each compound from the thousands of others in the plant so that you can target what effects you need.
More benefits of terpenes are being uncovered as more research is being done on them. Their potential as natural remedies and treatments for varying ailments is something to keep an eye on. And together with cannabinoids, they could make a powerful combination.