Any patient or fan of cannabis who has spent any considerable time trying different strains of cannabis flower has most likely noticed that each strain has a unique smell and taste, and often, unique (sometimes subtle) variations in their effects and medicinal benefits. Some flowers smell like gasoline, while others smell like pine forests, and still others smell like a bowl of fruit.
But why is this? Why does the same species, cannabis, have seemingly endless variations and strains? What causes these variations that result in such a wide variety of smells, tastes, and effects from flowers that can look very similar visually?
The answer boils down to the concentration of various terpenes, which are organic compounds produced by a large number of plants and even a few species of insects. Terpenes are present in just about any natural fruit and many vegetables; they are a large part of what gives these foods their smell, taste, and nutritional benefits. Cannabis is no different – those same terpenes present in the food we eat, are present in the cannabis we use. If you’ve ever come across a strain of cannabis that you could swear smelled and tasted just like fresh lemons, it probably did – your cannabis likely had a higher concentrate of the terpene called limonene, which is also largely present in the skins and peels of many citrus fruits.
Now that we understand the concept of terpenes and how they affect our cannabis, what are the most common cannabis terpenes; more importantly, how can these cannabis-derived terpenes be medicinally beneficial to us? We’ll review some of the most common terpenes and delve a little into the terpene profiles of some of the flower strains currently available to us in Florida.
Since we’ve already mentioned limonene, we’ll review it first. Limonene is a terpene commonly found in citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges; it’s what gives these fruits their characteristic “citrus” smell when we cut them open. Limonene is also abundant in many cannabis strains, and likewise, usually results in the strains with “lemon”, “lime”, “orange”, or other citrus fruits in their name.
Limonene’s most well-known medicinal benefits are the ability to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety, making it a great choice for patients looking to treat mental and emotional symptoms. Limonene has also shown promise as an antibacterial and anti fungal.
Some strains available to us in Florida that have high concentrations of Limonene are: Sour Diesel, OG Kush, Super Lemon Haze, Trainwreck, and Bubba Kush. Patients looking to maximize the stress-relieving properties of these strains may consider eating citrus fruits while medicating; the limonene from both sources may work to produce an overall more beneficially effect.
As the name suggests, pinene is the terpene responsible for the smell we often associate with pine trees. Alpha Pinene and Beta Pinene. Some other fruits that are rich in this terpene include rosemary, basil, and orange peels to name a few.
Like many other cannabinoids and terpenes, Pinene has well-known anti-inflammatory properties. Perhaps more importantly for cannabis users, however, is pinene’s potential to block short-term memory impairment and other annoying cognitive side effects that THC can sometimes cause. Pinene can actually sharpen memory recall, which means that strains rich in this terpene may ironically improve mental clarity and memory. Pinene also shows some promise in alleviating respiratory inflammation, which may make strains rich in this terpene a considerable option for cannabis patients looking to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Strains rich in Pinene include Jack Herer, Blue Dream, and OG Kush.
Humulene is a terpene often attributed to hops; it produces woody, earthy, and spicy smells/tastes. It’s commonly found in cloves, hops, and black pepper.
Humulene has shown some promise in possible proliferation (inhibition) of cancer cell growth, making it worth researching for use in cancer patients. It also has been known to have appetite-suppressant qualities; patients who do not desire the appetite-stimulating effects that cannabis often induces may find it worth researching strains that are high in Humulene. As with many other terpenes and cannabinoids, it is also an anti-inflammatory.
Strains with higher concentrations of Humulene include White Widow, Girl Scout Cookies, and Headband.
Linalool is a terpene commonly found in lavender; like Lavender, linalool has a spicy, “clean”, floral smell.
Another thing Linalool and Lavender have in common is their sedative and relaxing qualities – patients looking to find relief from depression, insomnia, and even arthritis may find value in strains rich in linalool.
Strains with high concentrations of linalool include Skywalker OG, Headband, and (not surprisingly) Lavender.
Myrcene is often the terpene with the largest percentage of the total makeup of most cannabis strains, and cannabis tends to be the main source of this terpene in nature. It gives off the signature earthy, musky smell we commonly attribute to cannabis. Myrcene is also found in higher amounts in mangos, which leads some to believe that eating a mango while medicating with cannabis can potentiate, or increase, the overall “high”.
Myrcene is known for its sedative properties, and also for its ability to reduce pain and inflammation. Strains with high amounts of this terpene may induce more relaxation than strains without it.
Some strains that have high amounts of myrcene: Green Crack, Northern Lights, and Grandaddy Purple.
Like humulene, caryophyllene is known for spicy, woody, and earthy tones. It’s also particularly abundant in food items like black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon; it’s what gives them their “spice”.
Caryophyllene is known to have anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic properties, but perhaps the most interesting potential medical benefit has been the ability to reduce the voluntary intake of alcohol in mice. In other words, caryophyllene has the potential to make humans want to drink less alcohol, which makes it a promising potential treatment for patients who suffer from alcoholism or otherwise are unhappy with the amount of alcohol that they consume. (Besides, cannabis is way better on all accounts!)
Strains with relatively higher amounts of caryophyllene include: Chemdawg, Bubba Kush, and Girl Scout Cookies.
This terpene is found in plants like rosemary, bell peppers, and pine. It’s known to create a fresh, floral, earthy scent, and sometimes a lemon-esque taste.
The most medically significant potential benefit of Delta-3 Carene is its ability to heal broken bones, making it potentially useful for patients suffering from muscle and bone diseases/disorders like osteoporosis, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Delta-3 Carene has also shown promising benefits relating to memory recall and retention, making it worth researching for patients looking to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease and/or other related conditions. Delta-3 Carene may also be responsible for the “dry mouth” side effect common with many cannabis strains.
Strains with high Delta-3 Carene content: Super Silver Haze, Super Lemon Haze.
As we can see, treatment with cannabis is a highly customizable option with hundreds of variables. The preceding list is only scratching the tip of the iceberg of terpenes; there are so many more that we know about and probably an even higher number of terpenes that we haven’t discovered yet. We are only just beginning to understand the medicinal benefits of terpenes, and how they work together with cannabinoids to provide the therapeutic effects that cannabis induces.
As cannabis continues to be normalized and recognized for the highly valuable medicine that it is, our ability to research it and understand it will only continue to grow and improve. The next 25-50 years are going to see many new treatments and cures for diseases and ailments as we truly unlock the potential of these terpenes and cannabinoids.
We’ll continue to provide more articles like this that give more insight into the building blocks of cannabis, and help give patients a better understanding of these compounds that will lead to better selection of strains to treat their unique medical ailments. A helpful infographic from Leafly for use in future strain selection can be found here.
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