Terpenes Work with Cannabinoids to Create Entourage Effect

RxLeaf

Terpenes create odor, flavor, and good medicine. 

Cannabinoids are typically the first thing that come to mind when you think about the active ingredients of cannabis; especially THC and CBD. However, there is a large group of overlooked molecules called terpenes that are also produced by this medicinal plant. These are actually hard to ignore in cannabis because they create its complex odor and flavor profile.

Leaf Bud and Oil of cannabis

Image Credit: Flapas

In fact, terpenes are the active ingredient in essential oils and are produced by all kinds of plants.  More than 200 different terpenes have been identified in cannabis, but these comprise a small percentage of the overall chemical makeup of the plant, probably less than 10% (depending on the strain, growing conditions, and preparation).

Image Credit: Roxana Gonzalez

Despite the small fraction of terpenes present, these pack a powerful medicinal punch. In fact, some studies on essential oils have found that a terpene content of just 0.05% is enough to have a pharmacological effect! Interestingly, most terpenes found in cannabis are “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the US Food and Drug Association (FDA), meaning that they can be added to foods without additional rigorous testing.

Close up of cannabis trichomes

Image Credit: Roxana Gonzalez

The most common terpenes found in cannabis that are also found in other plants include:
– D-limonene (also found in Citrus essential oils),
– Linalool (lavender)
– β-myrcene (hops)
– β-caryophyllene (black pepper).

D-limonene and Linalool have a calming, anti-anxiety effect (also called anxiolytic).  β-caryophyllene, Linalool, and β-myrcene all have anti-inflammatory properties. Additional activities attributed to individual terpenes found in cannabis include pain-relief (β-myrcene, linalool), anti-cancer effects (D-limonene), muscle relaxation and sedation (β-myrcene, nerolidol), and even antibiotic effects (α-pinene).

Image Credit: Roxana Gonzalez

In addition to the individual benefits of terpenes, there is also the potential for what is called the “entourage effect”. Essentially, it is thought that terpenes work together with phytocannabinoids and other kinds of molecules in cannabis to create optimal therapeutic benefit.  After all, cannabis and other plants have been used for centuries to treat various diseases; it is only recently that we have sought to isolate one or two active ingredients to use as medication.

Image Credit: Roxana Gonzalez

It has been demonstrated over and over that full extract products have better medicinal benefit than individual cannabinoids. For example, a study determined that full extract cannabis oil was more effective than THC aloneat preventing muscle spasms in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS). Additionally, it is not difficult to imagine that combining the cannabinoids that are thought to reduce anxiety, like cannabidiol (CBD), with the terpenes that are also known to have an anxiolytic effect, like linalool and D-limonene, could improve the treatment of anxiety disorders.

calyx of cannabis plant with visible trichomes

Image Credit: Roxana Gonzalez

Terpenes, while not often the focus of cannabis use or cannabis research, are actually beneficial to our health in their own right. These work together with the cannabinoids to produce a healing effect. As research into the medical applications of cannabis advances, the role of these important molecules should be clarified, and hopefully, included in the future therapies that result.

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