What are terpenes? Terpenes in hemp

It is true that we are learning more and more about the beneficial effects of the substances contained in cannabis. Yet, still few people know where the secret of the characteristic aroma of this plant lies.

Terpenes, a large class of organic compounds found in many plants, including cannabis, give the plant its unique smell and taste, but recently they have also started to attract scientists’ attention because of their unusual properties.


Let’s start from the beginning.

Terpenes are volatile chemicals produced by many plants, including hemp. They can also be found in cinnamon, pine resin, ginger and tangerine peels—briefly speaking, they are responsible for these plants’ characteristic and intense smell. Similarly, in the case of cannabis, terpenes are responsible for its unique aroma.

The molecular construction of terpenes is no mystery. Terpenes are hydrocarbon compounds constructed from five-carbon isoprene units. The smallest of them—monoterpenes—are a result of the biosynthesis of two molecules. Terpenes are divided into types—namely open-chain and ring terpenes. They can be also divided into groups according to their size—in this way, we distinguish, for example, sesquiterpenes, diterpenes, triterpenes, and even tetraterpenes.

The name of this group of compounds is derived from turpentine, which in nature is a constituent of conifer resins—the sharp, crisp smell of this oily, colourless and water-immiscible substance is certainly known to all painting aficionados.

Types of terpenes occurring in cannabis

Cannabis is extremely rich in terpenes. The structure of these compounds is partly similar (from a chemical point of view) to cannabinoids, and the number of terpenes in cannabis is impressive—specialists can distinguish over one hundred types in hemp. Here are the most important ones:

  • Myrcene – this monoterpenic compound remains the main, most commonly found terpene in most cannabis species. The construction of this terpene (C10H16) deserves attention due to its instability in contact with air, and poor water solubility. Myrcene can also be found in hops, caraway, clover, and sage, among many other plants and herbs. The latest research indicates its analgesic, and relaxing properties, and its affect on the quality of sleep;
  • Pinene – a bicyclic monoterpen, is the most common terpene in nature. It is responsible for the aroma of fresh pine needles and conifers. Besides hemp and sage, it occurs in many herbs, such as parsley, rosemary, and dill. It helps with relaxation, but in recent years, the attention of scientists is also attracted by the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of pinene. It is also used in the perfume industry. All of this is thanks to its unusual fragrance features that are even used as an insect repellent;
  • Limonene – the second most common terpene in nature. It is also responsible for the characteristic aroma of lemons and citrus fruit. It is a valuable flavour additive, and due to its aroma, it is also used in the production of perfumes and cosmetics. Research indicates that limonene has a calming and mood-enhancing effect. Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties are also mentioned in the scientific literature;
  • Linalool – a mixture of likareol and coriandrol with an intense lily of the valley smell. It has pain-relieving properties, and you can find it in lavender in large quantities. The floral fragrance also makes the compound a valuable ingredient in perfumes;
  • Eucalyptol – Terpene obtained from eucalyptus, wormwood, and rosemary oil. It is characterised by a fresh mint fragrance, so—like other terpenes—it is used in the production of cosmetics. Eucalyptol supports memory and cognitive functions.
  • Caryophyllene – has a complex structure, and belongs to the group of bicyclic sesquiterpenes. It is responsible for the smell of cloves and black pepper—it has a characteristic, “peppery” It can also be found in many other spices and herbs such as cinnamon, rosemary, oregano, and basil. Studies confirm that beta-caryophyllene, like cannabinoids, affects the endocannabinoid system. The literature mentions its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, pain-relieving and mood-improving properties.

Terpenes – properties and application

Not only smell, not just taste, not just colour. The number of terpenes found in nature is enormous—scientists estimate there are more than 50,000 different kinds in plants. They help plants protect themselves against bacteria, fungi and pests.

Thanks to their aromatic properties, terpenes are irreplaceable in the cosmetics industry—used extensively in the production of perfumes, they are an essential part of the fragrances we use every day. They are also used in the food and pharmaceutical industries—they appear in food flavours and even in medicines.

Research conducted in recent years suggests that part of the beneficial effect of hemp can be linked to the terpenes and their properties. What’s more, the researchers point out that cannabinoids and terpenes can act synergistically, enhancing or modifying their impact. This phenomenon is sometimes described as the “Entourage effect”.There is no doubt that there are many valuable substances in cannabis—the health benefits of cannabinoids are being researched better and better every week.

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