Terpenes are volatile hydrocarbon molecules that are ubiquitous in the plant world. They are commonly used for culinary purposes and aromatherapy. Cannabinoids are not the only chemicals in hemp; terpenes are also abundant. They confer important benefits and may play a critical role in the entourage effect .
At least 150 distinct terpenes have been identified in hemp . Terpenes give hemp its aroma and flavor. They secrete from the same glands that produce cannabinoids and serve protective and regulatory functions . Hemp terpenes generally align to one of two chemical structures:
- Monoterpene: C10H16 (two isoprene units)
- Sesquiterpene: C15H24 (three isoprene units)
Here are some of the top terpenes in full spectrum hemp products:
β-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene that may have evolved in hemp to protect against insect herbivores. It is commonly found in black pepper .
This is the only known terpene to act on the endocannabinoid system directly; it is an agonist of the CB2 receptor [2,4]. For this reason, researchers in 2008 gave it the moniker, “dietary cannabinoid” . In mice, β-caryophyllene was shown to act as an effective local anesthetic .
β-myrcene is a monoterpene most notable in hop and used in brewing . This terpene is associated with sedative effects as demonstrated in mice . It may also have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects .
Linalool is also a monoterpene; it is famous for its presence in lavender . Linalool has demonstrated anxiolytic effects in several murine studies [7,8]. It is thought to be an anticonvulsant, and plant species with linalool are part of the traditional medicine in the Brazilian Amazon . Lavender oil, which is high in linalool, shows potential as an adjunctive therapy for mild depression .
D-limonene (or limonene) is a monoterpene that effectively repels insects; in fact, it is used in commercial insecticides . Limonene is commonly found in the peels of lemons and citrus fruit .
Potential clinical applications of limonene include dissolving cholesterol-based gallstones and relieving heartburn. This terpene has also been investigated for anti-cancer properties .
α-pinene is another monoterpene with a unique aroma and distinct therapeutic properties. Not surprisingly, it is predominant in pine needles .
α-pinene has been found to possess significant antibacterial properties; in one study, it matched the effectiveness of an antibiotic against MRSA and other resistant bacterial infections . This terpene also appears to be a mild bronchodilator in humans , and may even boost short-term memory via inhibition of acetylcholinesterase .
This is just a snapshot of the many terpenes present in full spectrum CBD. The specific ways that these terpenes synergize with cannabinoids is unclear, but the individual benefits are evident. Like cannabinoids, terpenes are part of nature’s great reservoir of healing compounds.
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