Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Farnesene is a group of chemical compounds in many different plants, including the cannabis plant. It acts as a terpene and is responsible for the fruity, warm, and sweet notes present in many strains of cannabis. Farnesene has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and calming and sedative effects. Farnese could help manage conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
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What Is Farnesene?
The sweet and fruity terpene farnesene belongs to a specific group of terpenes called sesquiterpenes. It comes in six variations, including α-farnesene (alpha-farnesene) and β-farnesene (beta-farnesene), which are isomers of one another, varying only in the site of one double bond. When farnesene exists in fragrance or essential oil products, it is often a mixture of isomers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly to those who have smelled farnesene, it is the major terpene in green apple skins. Β-farnesene production in the coating of apples is responsible for their distinctive sweet and fruity smell. It also exists in nature in many other plants, including:
Farnasene’s presence in such plants gives them distinctive scents, which fragrance and essential oil companies often capitalize on. As farnesene can be contained in hops, many craft beers also have farnesene-like scent and taste profiles.
Although farnesene is not the most common terpene in cannabis, it is present in many strains (“cultivars”) that are heralded for their calming effects. With the presence of farnesene in chamomile, a tea revered for its sleep-inducing properties, this may come as no surprise. When present in chamomile, farnesene has demonstrated sedative properties that can help ease individuals into a deep and restful sleep. This may be an adjunctive treatment for sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Farnesene inhalation has also demonstrated an ability to induce mental calm, as seen in EEG readings showing a calm or “resting state.” Farnesene can also increase subjective reports of mental calm. It’s not just in the mind, as it can also act as a muscle relaxant.
Farnesene can have a profound effect on aphids. Researchers have demonstrated that when aphids are in danger of dying, they release farnesene to warn other aphids of danger. Many studies have investigated the manipulation of farnesene as an insect repellent.
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Health Benefits of Farnesene
Farnesene’s usefulness doesn’t stop at being a pleasant-smelling terpene with sedative and insect repellent effects. It also demonstrates extensive health benefits across many domains.
Improves Gut Health
Farnesene may be a key player in reducing harmful bacteria and improving overall gut health. Thakre and colleagues revealed that farnesene could help settle the bacteria within the digestive tract and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Other researchers have also demonstrated its efficacy in destroying the bacterial cell membranes of food-borne nasties.
In addition, farnesene can be used to reduce bowel cramps, spasms, and painful flatulence. It is also effective in reducing inflammation of the bowels, which can be highly painful.
Reduces the Likelihood of Tooth Decay
A 2013 study revealed the application of farnesene inhibits cariogenic bacteria. Thus, farnesene may be an effective agent in preventing tooth-related disease. Further studies in this area have yielded similar results, reducing the need for future dental work.
Among farnesene’s various health benefits, it can act as an anti-inflammatory. When used topically, studies suggest that its anti-inflammatory properties are equal to or better than other anti-inflammatories.
Oxidative stress due to an unbalance of free radicals and antioxidants can extensively damage many cells, especially neurons. Fortunately, farnesene has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing oxidative stress. As an antioxidant, it can scavenge free radicals, reducing the loss of neurons in many neurodegenerative diseases, and this inhibition of cell death can reduce the extent of such damage.
Specifically, in the case of Alzheimer’s disease (a neurodegenerative disorder), farnesene has proven efficacy as a neuroprotectant. It can reduce neuronal damage due to beta-amyloid toxicity and necrotic cell death.
As previously mentioned, farnesene can have extensive sedative properties, which may play a role in its anxiolytic properties. One particular study demonstrated that inhalation of Anthriscus nermorosa, an essential oil containing farnesene, caused significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and improvements in memory function. This may facilitate the uplifted moods many experience with farnesene-rich cannabis strains.
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Potential Risks and Side Effects
Farnesene is generally considered safe, with the FDA approving its use as a flavoring agent in food. There seem to be no safety concerns when farnesene is ingested in food or the small amounts present in cannabis. However, if farnesene is pure and swallowed in large quantities and enters the airways, it may be fatal.
Cannabis Strains High in Farnesene
The highly beneficial and sweet-smelling farnesene is contained in a few cannabis strains (cultivars), including:
- Cherry Punch
- Gainesville Green
- White Rhino
- Dutch Treat Haze
- Comatose OG
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is farnesene used for?
Farnesene is a common terpene used for its attractive scent, sedative, and relaxing effects. Its effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotectant has also been discovered.
What does farnesene smell like?
Farnesene has been described to have a sweetly fruity and woody scent. It is contained in high amounts in the skin of green apples and is partially responsible for their characteristic smell.
Does farnesene make you high?
Farnesene does have a psychoactive (but not intoxicating) effect. It doesn’t interact with the endocannabinoid system, so it doesn’t necessarily make you high as THC or other cannabinoids do. However, it may affect the brain.