Why terpenes should be utilized like their phytocannabinoid cousins.
When we think of the medicinal value found inside the cannabis plant, we often think of the value of THC or CBD.
For the layperson, they may be the only two cannabis-derived compounds that they know. However, there are hundreds of compounds found within Cannabis plants, and many of them have medicinal properties.
While those who are familiar with terpenes associate them with flavors and tastes, it’s a little-known fact that terpenes play a significant role in delivering Cannabis’ medicinal value.
For years, researchers have suggested more research into terpenes and their medicinal properties. While it’s been difficult to study them since cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, there has been some interesting research into how they may help.
Let’s take a close look at some of the intricacies of terpenes.
Most importantly, terpenes are found in plants all over the world, not just cannabis. From pinene-heavy evergreen trees to limonene-laced citrus plant to myrcene-generating geraniums, the terpenes in cannabis are also found in other plants.
Interesting, the role of terpenes in plants is not to provide health benefits to humans. In fact, terpenes play an important role in the survival of plants by:
- Dissuading herbivores from eating them.
- Attracting mites that eat the plant’s insect predators.
- Protecting them against their harsh environments.
- Encouraging insects, birds, and other animals to engage with them to help them spread their seeds.
- Acting as antibiotics and antifungal compounds against a wide array of plant diseases.
- And more.
Of course, for humans, we can clearly smell the overpowering limonene in lemons and the abundant pinene in pine trees, but they’re more than simple, organoleptic compounds.
Terpenes offer humans a substantial number of health benefits.
The Benefits of Terpenes
To begin with, even the terpenes outside of cannabis have positive effects for humans. When the journal, Toxicological Research, looked into terpene research across the world, they found that in many countries there are healthcare practices that involved exposing people to forests to ‘bathe’in the terpenes and other plant compounds. In Japan, Germany, and the United States, for example, doctors are known to prescribe time in nature as a route to better health state marijuana laws.
Earlier this year, a report in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry laid it out plainly by stating, “Terpenes’ medicinal properties are supported by numerous in vitro, animal and clinical trials and show anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, anticonvulsive, antidepressant, anxiolytic, anticancer, antitumor, neuroprotective, anti-mutagenic, anti-allergic, antibiotic and anti-diabetic attributes, among others.” Since terpenes have been well-documented in their medicinal value to humans, it’s important to consider any negative side effects they may induce. According to the same report, terpenes have a very low level of toxicity and are frequently used in foods, essential oils, and more. Essentially, “they have been proven safe and well-tolerated.”
Let’s look at a few of the specific medicinal properties that terpenes offer to humans.
For starters, certain terpenes interact with GABA receptors and operate as anticonvulsants. In 2016, Pharmacological Reports put out a study that identified how terpenes not only offer anticonvulsant properties, but that the same terpenes combat anxiety, insomnia, pain, and other ailments.
According to Dr. Russo, who published his findings in a paper in 2011 in the British Journal of Pharmacology, terpenes could interact with phytocannabinoids to “produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections (including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).” In other words, the entourage effect of terpenes and cannabinoids may be important to how they produce their medicinal properties.
More specifically, we can look at the medicinal value of terpenes on their own.
In 1995, a paper in Neuroimmunomodulation spoke to the value of one terpene that we’ve briefly mentioned: limonene. According to the paper, simply inhaling limonene impacts human health in a positive way. “The treatment with citrus fragrance normalized neuroendocrine hormone levels and immune function and was rather more effective than antidepressants,” the researchers said.
However, the antidepressive effects of terpenes are nothing compared to their more valuable medicinal properties, like their ability to combat cancer. According to the World Journal of Hepatology, terpenes have chemopreventative and therapeutic abilities against liver cancer. The 2011 paper outlined how terpenes are a necessary compound for many liver cancer patients. This is mostly because “the cure rate among [liver cancer] patients who undergo resection is not very high and for those patients who are not eligible for surgery or percutaneous procedures, only chemoembolization appears to improve survival.” In other words, liver cancer treatment is lacking in its efficacy and available treatment options.
Terpenes for Good Health
Not only do they smell and taste good, but terpenes are also remarkably healthy compounds. With few negative side effects, incredibly low toxicity levels, and the ability to be consumed in food, through the skin, or through inhalation, terpenes should be a compound that the cannabis industry promotes more.