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What Is Myrcene, and What Does It Do?

mango sliced into halves and crosswise cuts in the flesh next to cannabis leaves on green background

Myrcene is a terpene — a compound that is found naturally in some plants, including cannabis, that delivers distinctive smells and flavors. It is often the most abundant terpene found in the cannabis plant and is known for the musky, earthy aroma it yields.

In addition to its aromatic profile, myrcene also serves numerous therapeutic purposes and is one of the main compounds that give cannabis its sedative effects. Due to these effects, cannabis varieties high in myrcene may be particularly useful for anxiety and insomnia.

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What Is Myrcene?

Myrcene — also called beta-myrcene or β-myrcene — is one of the most common terpenes found in cannabis. It is a compound that is responsible for giving cannabis an earthy scent. It also works with different terpenes and cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to maximize the synergistic entourage effect — the theory that cannabis compounds work together in a way that produces unique effects and benefits. Most notably, strains high in myrcene usually provide their users with sedative effects.

Myrcene also plays a role in the beer-making process as a component of hops, where its earthy scent and taste are often transformed into a spicy or peppery profile.

Sources of Myrcene

Food sources that contain myrcene may offer some of the same nutritional and health benefits as cannabis strains with high myrcene levels. Aside from cannabis and beer, other food and beverage sources of myrcene include:

  • Mango
  • Guava
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Bay leaves
  • Lemongrass
  • Cardamom
  • Sweet basil
  • Ylang-ylang essential oil
  • Juniper essential oils

What Are the Effects of Myrcene?

High doses of the myrcene compound have several reputed health benefits. Here are some potential therapeutic benefits that may occur with high levels of myrcene content.

Anti-inflammatory

In high concentrations, it appears that myrcene may reduce inflammation in the human body. This ability may be useful in combating numerous diseases linked to inflammation, including autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease.

In addition, myrcene may help reduce inflammation linked to the progression of osteoarthritis, a painful condition involving the degeneration of joint cartilage and bones. Along with the terpenes limonene and beta-caryophyllene, myrcene was found to potentially slow down cartilage destruction in one scientific study. As such, myrcene may prevent disease progression in people with osteoarthritis.

Anti-tumor 

If a terpene has anti-inflammatory effects, it is likely also to have anti-tumor effects. As tumors, both benign and cancerous, are linked to inflammation, myrcene may have the ability to counteract them.

Korean scientists studied human breast cancer cells and found that myrcene may discourage these cells’ metastasis (spreading). While it is not yet proven that myrcene can prevent cancer from reaching a more serious stage, the terpene’s anti-tumor effects are encouraging.

Analgesic (Pain-Relieving)

Could myrcene be an alternative to morphine? Myrcene may offer significant pain relief benefits, according to one scientific study. Researchers found that myrcene has pain-relieving properties without dependency that often develops with continued morphine use.

In the study, rats received an oral injection of myrcene in the form of lemongrass leaves. While the study was performed on animals, researchers noted that myrcene-rich lemongrass tea has a long history of use in folk medicine.

Whether or not there will be an intersection between traditional and modern uses of myrcene for pain relief remains to be seen as only animal studies have been conducted thus far.

Antioxidant

Antioxidants protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals or harmful molecules that can lead to many diseases, including cancer. Antioxidants also have a beneficial effect on external health, contributing to a youthful appearance through glowing skin. One study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine revealed that myrcene might protect against skin aging.

Study results indicated that myrcene could specifically target skin damage from ultraviolet rays. These findings could potentially make myrcene a beauty aid or ingredient in sunscreen products.

Sedative

According to research published in the journal Phytomedicine, myrcene can produce a sedative effect in large quantities. In this study conducted on mice, the subjects became lethargic and moved less when administered high doses of myrcene.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

In the raw, undiluted form, negative myrcene effects include severe irritation if it comes into contact with the eyes or skin. Directly inhaling or swallowing myrcene may be harmful or fatal. Some research has linked myrcene with higher cancer risk, but the evidence is inconclusive. Furthermore, other research has shown the opposite effect, that myrcene may shrink tumors and offer cancer-fighting properties.

The side effects of myrcene include sleepiness or a stronger psychoactive response when consuming the terpene through cannabis.

Cannabis Strains High in Myrcene

Since myrcene is the most common terpene found in cannabis, there is no shortage of myrcene-dominant weed strains to choose from. Myrcene is one of the dominant terpenes in the following strains:

Some of these cannabis strains, like OG Kush, are known for producing the “couch lock effect” or sedative effects making them excellent sleep aids for those who struggle with insomnia. (If you’re in need of some sleep-inducing cannabis flower, meet with a Leafwell physician today to register for your medical marijuana card. Once in hand, ask your local budtender about the most popular strains for your individual needs.)

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does myrcene make you high?

Myrcene in weed alone will not get you high, but individual strains with high total terpene content are associated with stronger psychoactive effects.

Is myrcene illegal?

While the FDA has banned synthetic forms of myrcene as food additives, the terpene itself is not illegal.

How common is myrcene in cannabis?
Does myrcene interact with other cannabinoids?

There is a lot of debate surrounding the entourage effect and to what extent a strain’s terpene profile influences the behavior of cannabinoids and the impact they have. Some studies suggest that the presence of myrcene has a synergistic effect with THC and CBD, enhancing their individual effects, while others say that terpenes like myrcene do not affect cannabinoids at all.

How terpenes and cannabinoids interact with the body is complex. The endocannabinoid system contains plenty of different signaling pathways to communicate with, so just because terpenes don’t always work on one line of communication, that doesn’t mean they won’t work on another. There are also plenty of other receptor systems that terpenes can exert upon, such as dopamine and serotonin.

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