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Terpenes: The Essential Oils of Cannabis

Terpenes: The Essential Oils of Cannabis

Posted by April Hatch, MPH, RN on 25th May 2021

My grandmother showed the medicinal value of plants from as early as I can remember. Ginger for this, or mustard seed paste for that, there was always something she was able to whip up for the treatment of any ailment. She was an avid grower of all things until her body forced her to send her grand- and great-grandchildren out to pick the peaches and cherries alone.

I will always appreciate the lessons she taught me and more so now being a nurse. In my earlier days of nursing I quickly learned that not all grandchildren were as fortunate as I was. There were patients I took care of that had never eaten a cherry off a tree or fresh okra from the plant. These patients had no idea that plants could not only help us prevent disease, but could help us cure it. So, teaching patients about the cannabis plant has truly been the perfect fit for me.

Terpenes, or terpenoids, are compounds found not only in cannabis, but all plants.

The most common questions patients ask are about the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, typically THC and CBD. I ensure their questions are always answered and when I get the chance I tell them about the essential oils of cannabis, or terpenes.

Terpenes, or terpenoids, are compounds found not only in cannabis, but all plants. They are produced by the plant to protect itself or promote reproduction. Their smell discourages deer from eating their leaves and invites the bees over for pollination. They are what give lavender the ability to calm the mind and how a forest full of pine trees helps us to take a deep breath.

Here are two of my favorites that are found in cannabis:

Beta-Caryophyllene is a terpene found in cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, and rosemary, all things I either love to eat or smell. This terpene is special because it can interact with our endocannabinoid receptors and is well-known for its ability to reduce inflammation.

My patients are sick and tired of taking anti-inflammatory medications.

Most of the patients I speak with have a condition that is inflammatory in nature. In fact, I could actually argue that most diseases are caused by inflammation, but the inflammation is something they are trying to get under control.

My patients are sick and tired of taking anti-inflammatory medications, so beta-caryophyllene is one I teach them more about. If you have the chance to smell the plant flowers it will most likely have an earthy, peppery aroma, but all products should have lab-testing results or a Certificate of Analysis. This lab test will tell the patients, not only if there are any contaminants in the product, but what terpenes it contains. It won't be much, sometimes the total amount of all terpenes present are as low as 3%.

Myrcene is a terpene I always discuss with patients who say they’ve been drinking beer to help them relax or sleep. Hops are what are used to make beer and hops are full of myrcene! It is the terpene known for its relaxing and sedative effects and is the most common terpene we find in cannabis plants.

Lemongrass, high in myrcene, was always a plant my dogs loved to eat. I never knew why, but dogs must need to relax, too. When someone needs to sleep or manage anxiety during the day, they should look for something with this terpene that is also found in my favorite fruit, mangos.

I could write about many other beneficial terpenes and there are many wonderful resources online, but the best way to learn is to start to smell. Next time you are outside or in the kitchen, smell your favorite fruit or herb and think about how it makes you feel. Does it make you feel refreshed? Happy? Relaxed? Find out what terpenes are responsible for that smell and look for products that will make you feel that way, too. 

Photos by Jabo Elysée and Juan Encalada on Unsplash

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