Terpenes are a class of organic compounds found in a variety of plants, including the marijuana (a.k.a. cannabis) plant. They are responsible for the distinct smells of different marijuana strains and even have their own health benefits, in addition to those attributed to cannabinoids. Terpenes interact with all of the cannabinoids (e.g., THC, CBD) of the marijuana plant in a synergistic way known as the Entourage Effect, producing combined health benefits greater than the sum of their separate parts.
Knowing the specific types of terpenes to which you are attracted can help guide your decision-making process at the marijuana dispensary, which can be overwhelming to the rookie medical marijuana patient. This is why I recommend that everyone ask to smell all of the marijuana strains before selecting one to bring home. If the scent of a particular marijuana strain instantly gives you a good feeling or vibe, then that strain is one you should at least give a try.
Some of the most well-known medical benefits of terpenes are their ability to reduce anxiety, stress, inflammation and pain. Linalool and limonene are great at treating anxiety. Myrcene and pinene are the most sedating of the group, which can help promote relaxation, improve sleep and treat insomnia. Beta-caryophyllene, humulene, and bisabolol are the best at reducing inflammation in the body, which can be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis, auto-immune disorders and chronic pain. And, beta-caryophyllene, in particular, as well as limonene and myrcene, are great pain relievers.
On the research front, a growing body of evidence from animal studies suggest that certain terpenes, such as perillyl alcohol and limonene, may be effective in the treatment of various types of cancer. Similarly, linalool has been shown to reduce seizures in animal studies making them a candidate for the treatment of epilepsy. Other terpenes, such as terpineol and caryophyllene oxide, may be effective in the treatment of infections as evidenced by their anti-bacterial properties in the lab.
It’s important to note that the health benefits of terpenes are largely dependent on their concentration and specific combination in a particular strain of marijuana. Different strains of marijuana contain different combinations of terpenes, and the specific combination of terpenes present in a particular strain may be more or less effective in the treatment of a particular condition. A reliable dispensary will have each strain’s terpene profile available for review (see example), which can also be helpful when selecting a medical marijuana strain that is suited best for your medical needs. Unquestionably, understanding the health benefits unique to various terpenes and taking the time to learn which terpenes work best for you, will enhance the health benefits that can be achieved from a tailored medical marijuana program.
Medical marijuana (cannabis) can be administered through various methods, including capsules, lozenges, tinctures, dermal patches, oral or dermal sprays, cannabis edibles, and vaporizing or smoking dried buds.