Terpene Talk: What’s a Terpene?

If you’re new (or even old) to medical marijuana or cannabis, one term you might see on labels or hear floating around is terpene, and if so you are likely to wonder what a terpene is. Well, the interesting thing about terpenes is that even if you’ve never touched cannabis – of which terpenes are a component – there’s every reason to believe you’ve been ingesting them throughout your entire life.

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in a wide variety of plants, not just cannabis. Ever sniffed a pine tree? You’ve ingested a terpene. Ever eaten citrus fruit? You’ve ingested a terpene. Ever wandered through the aromatherapy section at Whole Foods and smelled an essential oil or six? You’ve ingested terpenes. In a perfect world, terpenes would go further to legitimize cannabis as a valuable plant than nearly any other aspect of it, because they’re such an incredibly normal and everyday aspect of what someone once laughably dubbed The Devil’s Lettuce. Cannabinthusiasts have insisted for years in the face of unjust laws that marijuana is just a plant, and terpenes go a long way toward backing up that sentiment.

But what do terpenes do? Well, they don’t get you high, unless we’re talking natural highs – the sort of high you might get from taking a walk on a gorgeous spring day. Terpene effects are more based around your health, both physical and mental. They can have anti-inflammatory properties. Terpenes may combat both anxiety and depression. Anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties are also potential benefits from inhaling or ingesting terpenes. It’s even possible that certain terpenes can be neuroprotective – meaning they could stave off or mitigate diseases of the brain like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Perhaps their greatest potential is to enhance cognitive functions.

To be clear, there are a lot of “ifs” and “maybes” at play here, and the truth is there’s a whole lot of science that needs to be done before the evidence is 100% conclusive. But let’s be clear and basic – that lift you get from the scent of a freshly mowed lawn is not “in your head.” That’s very likely an effect you’re getting from the terpenes released by the cutting of the grass.

So, as you might have guessed, it’s important to figure out which terpenes are in whatever strain of cannabis you are using, and what those terpenes are capable of. Different terpenes will likely have different effects. Two of the most frequent terpenes include myrcene, which is prevalent in your indica strains and limonene, which is more prevalent in your sativas. While myrcene and limonene are the most common and sort of represent dual sides of the terpene coin, they are only two of a wide variety of terpenes found in the many strains of cannabis. Indeed, the world of terpenes is far too complex to even refer to as a coin. In future columns, we’ll dive deeper into individual terpenes and their possible effects and benefits.

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