Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Terpenes are aromatic compounds, which means they are responsible for the fragrances that we can smell in many plants. The cannabis species has around 200 different terpenes.
However, at least 20,000 other terpenes exist elsewhere in nature.
While cannabis plants are primarily used because they contain delta-9-THC and cannabidiol (CBD), some studies claim that terpenes could also have an impact on the effects of cannabis.
Terpenes are not necessarily intoxicating like THC, but could be considered psychoactive as they do affect the brain and could create a high feeling. Terpenes contribute to the cannabis high through a mechanism known as the entourage effect.
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Types of Terpenes
More than 200 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant. Each plant has different combinations and quantities of these terpenes. Some of the most common terpenes in cannabis include:
Myrcene is found in citrus fruits, lemongrass, carrots and pomegranate. Caryophyllene is present in black pepper and several spices. Humulene is found in many herbs. Limonene is in citrus peels, and linalool is in coriander.
Terpenes do not possess any psychoactive effects, which means they will not get you high on their own. But since these compounds exist within the cannabis plant, many people are still curious whether they have some effect on the body. Given that everyday foods also contain these terpenes, it is unlikely they will make anyone high.
However, it has been suggested that terpenes might enhance the effects of psychoactive cannabinoids such as delta-9-THC. Scientists refer to this mechanism as the entourage effect. So, while terpenes alone cannot make you high, they affect the brain and influence, amplify or dampen psychoactive effects when coupled with specific compounds. Terpenes are not intoxicating, but are technically psychoactive.
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How Terpenes Work in Cannabis
THC and CBD produce effects on their own, but different terpenes enhance those effects. Other compounds within the cannabis plant, such as flavonoids, may also contribute to this synergy.
For example, Cannabis sativa is a strain with higher THC quantities. However, sativa plants with more caryophyllene are said to enhance the high from THC. Furthermore, scientific evidence demonstrates that this terpene can bind to the same receptors as THC, most notably CB2 receptors (not CB1 receptors). Hence, caryophyllene might play an important role in the effect that THC has on the body.
In contrast, Cannabis sativa plants with higher quantities of limonene are said to increase alertness.
Additionally, myrcene might also have a synergistic effect with CBD. High quantities of myrcene can be found within the Cannabis indica strain. This terpene is said to have a calming and relaxing effect. CBD also has these effects, and when combined with myrcene, the anxiety reduction could be more significant. Cannabis varieties with less myrcene and more limonene could be more uplifting, whereas varieties higher in myrcene could be more sedative.
Some researchers also think that terpenes could be used for therapeutic benefits once more evidence has come to light. For instance, some forms of pharmaceutical cannabis and cannabinoid-based medications only contain pure forms of THC or CBD. By adding terpenes to the formula, the therapeutic effects of these compounds could be enhanced. They may not only add to the high sensation, but they could also help with health and wellbeing, as well as reduce the impact of adverse effects.
Overall, terpenes appear to help other compounds by improving their effects. Despite this, they have little to no effect on their own. Future research will investigate this connection in further detail to determine how one particular terpene could alter the effects of THC or CBD.
The Bottom Line
Terpenes are interesting compounds because of their entourage effect, which enhances the effects of the cannabinoids THC and CBD. Terpenes alone cannot make you high; however, they can contribute to a cannabis high due to their interaction. More research is required to understand this process in greater detail. However, it does look promising, and scientists also think terpenes could have therapeutic value.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How do terpenes influence the effects of cannabis?
Terpenes influence the effects of cannabis via a mechanism known as the entourage effect. For example, this mechanism can enhance or facilitate the effects of THC by binding to the same receptors in the body that THC does, or by influencing the behavior of other receptor systems such as dopamine, serotonin and GABA receptors.
Are terpenes more important than THC?
Not necessarily; while THC is the primary compound responsible for cannabis’ psychoactive effects, terpenes could play a significant role in the type of experience associated with each strain. They are important to consider when determining an appropriate strain choice to treat specific health concerns.