Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Terpinenes occur naturally in many essential oils and are often added to products to add a pleasant scent similar to citrus or pine.
They are a group of hydrocarbons with the same molecular structure but differ in the placement of double bonds. Terpinenes have many health benefits and are currently being studied for possible antibiotic and anti-tumor capabilities.
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What Is Terpinene?
Terpinenes can be divided into four types: alpha-terpinene, beta-terpinene, gamma-terpinene, and delta-terpinene, shortened to α, β, γ, and δ-terpinene. Except for β-terpinene, terpinenes are found in the essential oils of many aromatic plants such as cardamom, eucalyptus, cannabis, tea tree, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper. β-terpinene is synthesized and occurs in nature very rarely.
Although all terpinenes are currently being studied for various health benefits, recent studies show α-terpinene and γ-terpinene significantly affect the strength and type of “high” that users experience when they consume cannabis products.
Cannabis contains various similar compounds that affect the taste, smell, and sensation that cannabis provides. Terpinenes (often confused with terpineols) work together with the other compounds in the entourage effect, including CBD, THC, and a wide range of terpenes.
Strains (cultivars) high in α-terpinene, γ-terpinene, and δ-terpinene are more likely to have a sedative effect, making them possible treatments for anxiety and insomnia. Strains high in δ-terpinene alone are more likely to have a euphoric effect. However, it is worth considering that other cannabinoids and terpenes in flower will also impart their influence. For example, a cultivar high in myrcene and linalool alongside α-terpinene may be more sedative, whereas one high in limonene and pinene alongside δ-terpinene may be more uplifting.
Free Cannabinoid and Terpene Guide
- Used for a pleasant pine, floral, spice, or citrus scent.
- Cannabis strains high in terpinene often have a sedative effect, but this can depend on the subtype of terpinene.
- Most terpinenes are effective at reducing anxiety when inhaled.
- Terpinenes have a strong preservative effect, being both antioxidants and antifungals.
The Curious Case of Terpinolene (Delta-Terpinene)
Terpinolene is an interesting terpene in cannabis.
Many studies suggest that it has a sedative effect, and this may be true. However, these sedative effects of terpinolene in cannabis may be influenced by other cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabis strains (more accurately cultivars or varieties) low in myrcene but higher in terpinolene, limonene, beta-caryophyllene, and/or pinene are often described as more energetic and uplifting, making such varieties of cannabis potentially very useful for managing depression, fatigue, and ADHD. Add some tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabigerol (CBG) in low to moderate doses, and you may have a very stimulating cannabis varietal!
On the other hand, a combination of myrcene, humulene, and linalool alongside terpinolene and THC and you may have a more relaxing, sedating cultivar of cannabis on your hands. Higher doses of CBD can also have sedative effects, as can the aged byproduct of THC, cannabinol (CBN).
PubChem also lists alpha-terpinolene as terpinolene.
Health Benefits of Terpinenes
Both α-terpinene and γ-terpinene have been shown to have a sedative effect on mice when inhaled. Research on humans is more limited, but most experienced cannabis suppliers agree that cannabis products high in terpinenes also tend to have more of a “couch-lock” effect, meaning they cause you to become tired and relaxed.
All terpinenes have a pleasantly aromatic scent to them. In particular, α-terpinene is often added to industrial fluids to a pleasant smell, and δ-terpinene is used to add a fresh, floral-pine scent to soaps and perfumes. Oils high in terpinenes, such as eucalyptus and tea tree oil, are often added to aromatherapy products for their pleasant smell and relaxing properties.
Although studies on humans are limited, oils from plants high in γ-terpinene tend to have anti-inflammatory effects. Studies on mice have also shown that γ-terpinene prevents pain and inflammation. So there is good reason to assume that these findings also apply to humans.
Several studies suggest that terpinenes might be an effective anti-cancer treatment. However, all of these are still in the trial phase, and no terpinene has been conclusively proven to treat cancer in humans.
Plants with high levels of terpinenes, such as eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree, and cardamom, have all been shown to have strong antimicrobial properties. In particular, α-terpinene has been shown to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.
Similar studies have also shown γ-terpinene to have both antiviral and antifungal properties. Although most treatments are still in the trial phase, there is good reason to predict that terpinenes will be used in future antibiotic treatments due to their low toxicity.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
While ingestion or exposure to large amounts of terpinenes can lead to severe health consequences such as kidney pain, blisters, inflammation, and tachycardia, these are only observed in cases where significant amounts of essential oils have been consumed or inhaled. Exposure to the quantities found in household products, foods, or cannabis is unlikely to cause any issues.
Although terpinenes are nontoxic, α-terpinene can break down into irritants when exposed to UV, heat, or oxygen. Data is not available on whether this is true for other terpinenes.
Cannabis Strains High in Terpinene
- Sentinel (α-terpinene)
- Warwick #1 (α-terpinene)
- Ultra-Sour (γ-terpinene)
- Lemon OG Kush (α-terpinene and γ-terpinene)
- Orange Cookies (δ-terpinene)
- Blue Dream (δ-terpinene)
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Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Terpinene Found In?
- α-terpinene is found in various spices and is commonly used to add a spicy scent or flavor to foods, medicines, and perfumes. In nature, the most concentrated source is tea-tree oil, but it’s also found in cannabis, cardamom, marjoram, and eucalyptus.
- β-terpinene hasn’t yet been found in nature and has only been synthesized in a laboratory. It doesn’t have an approved usage, so you’re not likely to encounter it.
- γ-terpinene is found in many plants, including lemon, cumin, cannabis, and coriander oils.
- δ-terpinene, also called terpinolene, is in cannabis, nutmeg, and cumin and is used to add a fresh scent to perfumes and soaps.
What Does Terpinene Smell Like?
Although each terpinene has a slightly different scent, they all smell similar to turpentine. Each terpinene also has floral, spicy, citrus, or woody aromas. α-terpinene, in particular, is often used to give a pine or citrus smell to fluids, while δ-terpinene has more of a fresh, floral pine scent.
What Does Terpinene Do?
Terpinenes have various applications, including perfumes, flavors, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and sedatives. Cannabis strains high in terpinenes often have relaxant and pain-relieving properties.