What Is The Medical Benefit of Terpenes in Cannabis?
The benefit of terpenes found in cannabis is becoming more widely acknowledged as the medicinal effects of cannabis come to light. Far from only providing psychoactive effects, the cannabis plant also offers a range of therapeutic benefits—some of which can be attributed to terpenes.
Terpenes are aromatic compounds that occur naturally in plants and provide them with their unique aromas and flavors. It’s terpenes that give essential oils their scents. In cannabis plants, the terpene profile of each strain affects its smell and taste and appears to contribute to its effects.
How Do Terpenes Affect the Body?
To understand how terpenes affect the body and mind, it's important to recognize that there is a range of chemical compounds in the cannabis plant. All cannabis strains contain terpenes, flavonoids, lipids, and other compounds in addition to cannabinoids. It's thought that terpenes work in conjunction with major cannabinoids like THC and CBD as well as other cannabinoids to produce the characteristic effects of each strain.
Though many believe terpenes play a role in the way cannabis interacts with the body, scientists have yet to form a consensus on their exact role. However, the theory that cannabinoids and terpenes work together could explain why two strains with the same level of THC or CBD can produce very different effects.
Terpenes and the Entourage Effect
The entourage effect is the theory that the potential health benefits of cannabis are enhanced when the full spectrum of compounds in the plant are present. In other words, patients could experience the most benefits from consuming whole cannabis rather than a CBD or THC isolate.
According to this theory, consuming a little of all the compounds found in cannabis may have more benefits than isolating one compound, as is often done with CBD products and distillates. This is because the compounds work together synergistically to create the sensations and experiences associated with different cannabis products and strains.
Evidence Supporting the Entourage Effect Theory
There is some evidence to back up the idea that consuming the whole spectrum of compounds in a cannabis plant may be more effective than consuming isolated compounds when seeking to treat pain or other symptoms. The following two studies support this idea:
Patients suffering from cancer pain reported less pain when taking a combination of THC and CBD than when only taking THC.
In a report studying breast cancer cells, cannabis extract treatment performed better than pure THC.
It's worth noting that each patient may react differently to different products and compounds. Patients who wish to use a CBD isolate for its therapeutic effects may achieve the result they were looking for only with CBD. However, if only CBD, or any other isolate, doesn't produce the desired effect, it may be worth trying a full-spectrum cannabis product instead.
Antagonist Effects of Different Compounds
It's worth noting that certain compounds in cannabis could also have antagonistic effects on each other. In the case of a patient looking for therapeutic effects from their cannabis products, this would be considered negative. However, it could also be beneficial if this “canceling out” reduces unwelcome adverse effects. For example, pinene, limonene, myrcene, and β-caryophyllene may help to reduce some of the intoxicating effects of THC.
Do Terpenes Get You High?
Terpenes alone won't get you high in the same way that THC does. Though some terpenes might help you relax, they don’t produce the same "high" feeling as THC and won’t impair your coordination or motor skills.
Top Terpenes in Cannabis & Their Benefits
The benefits of terpenes can vary depending on the terpene profile you choose. These are some of the top terpenes for medical patients.
β-caryophyllene is found in several plants including cloves, rosemary, and hops. Its properties and benefits have been fairly widely studied.
There is evidence to suggest that β-caryophyllene may be effective in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. When looking for the best strain for depression or anxiety, check the beta-caryophyllene content.
Scandiffio et al. reported in 2020 that β-caryophyllene offers therapeutic effects as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer agent.
Medical cannabis patients suffering from AZ qualifying conditions like cancer or the agitation of Alzheimer's disease might find some relief from consuming strains high in β-caryophyllene. Existing MMJ patients need to remember to renew their AZ medical marijuana card every two years to continue to purchase cannabis in Arizona without paying the 16% excise tax.
Pinene gives trees their piney scent and is one of the most abundant terpenes found in nature. The potential medicinal benefits of pinene are numerous. There is evidence that pinene can have positive effects both on physical and neurological conditions.
In a review by Weston-Green et al. (2021), pinene was reported to have the following therapeutic and medicinal benefits:
The ability to prevent oxidative stress
Protection against brain damage from stroke and ischemia
Analgesic properties that are effective for inflammatory, migraine-associated, and neuropathic pain
In the same review, the possible benefits of linalool were studied. Linalool is a common ingredient in essential oil blends due to its lavender scent. Like other lavender products, cannabis strains that contain linalool may help alleviate stress and promote sleep.
Among other therapeutic effects, linalool has:
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
Anxiolytic and antidepressant properties
Sedative properties, which can be helpful for insomnia
Protective qualities against brain damage
Limonene is a terpene found in citrus fruits and is known for its lemony scent. Limonene has been studied extensively and found to have the following properties:
Cannabis strains rich in limonene could be a great choice for patients with various qualifying conditions.
Myrcene is found in mangoes. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties as well as sedative effects for relaxation. In addition to these benefits, myrcene could also offer these qualities:
Chronic pain, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and Crohn's Disease are qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in Arizona. A cannabis strain rich in analgesic terpenes like myrcene could turn out to be one of the best strains for Crohn’s Disease or any other qualifying condition that causes pain and discomfort.
Pay Attention to Terpenes
When choosing a cannabis strain to treat your medical condition, it's a good idea to take the terpene profile into account alongside THC and CBD percentages. As well as contributing to the flavor or aroma of the cannabis products you consume, terpenes may enhance these products’ effectiveness in providing relief.
Used as a complement to conventional therapies, cannabis strains that are rich in certain terpenes could enhance the results of taking medical marijuana. Consult a professional about the strains and terpenes that could be most beneficial for your condition.