Terpenes have become a regular topic in cannabis discussions over the last couple years, but the vast majority of consumers don’t understand what they are or their benefits. Terpenes are what give different cannabis strains their distinct smell, true, but they’ve also been found to have significant health attributes. If a medicinal patient were to walk into a dispensary and ask their friendly budtender what the health benefits are for OG Fire Lightning Tornado, they’ll tell you it depends on the terpenes.

So, what are they?

Terpenes are basic chemical compounds that act similarly to cannabinoids, but are distinct from them. So far, about 100 terpenes have been discovered in cannabis; several (or all) of these terpenes are also found in many species of plants. Terpenes interact with serotonin and dopamine the same way as THC & CBD, and even affect how the THC is emitted into the bloodstream. Because of their characteristic scents and medically-beneficial attributes, they’re also commonly used in healthcare products.

Terpenes are packed with potential medicinal perks that range from general anti-inflammatory qualities to cancer inhibiting capabilities unique to the liver. While terpenes are not psychoactive, they do influence the cannabis experience. That’s where the “entourage effect” comes in, which you often hear in most terpene conversations. Linalool, for example, is responsible for the calming effect present in many strains. It also has the potential to combat Alzheimer’s.

That being said, we’re not saying that cannabis use can directly improve any medical condition. Using the plant in any form to treat illness has not been scientifically grounded, and the terpene volume varies by strain. This article focuses on certain components found in cannabis as well as other plants that have been found to have beneficial attributes.


Pushing Science Forward

The full benefits of terpenes in cannabis are currently undetermined due to lack of research into the topic, courtesy of the the government’s Schedule I classification of the plant. However, the feds have recently called on researchers to study the various types of both terpenes and cannabinoids to determine the medicinal benefits. For example, some believe that certain terpenes enhance opioids’ ability to reduce pain. If scientists were able to determine this is true, then doctors could incorporate a synthesized version into treatment and lower the prescribed dosage of highly-addictive medication.

What’s interesting about the olfactory distinctions within terpenes– whether it’s an earthy stank or a citrus bouquet– is that they shed light on some potential medicinal benefits. Since terpenes determine both smell and curative advantages, one is an indicator of the other. If you prefer a serene, anxiety-reducing experience, try to sniff out the spicy lavender scent Linalool emits. If you’ve got a project on your hands that requires creativity and focus, look for the piny, mountainous smell of A-pinene.

Budtenders should have a working knowledge of terpenes and their capabilities to help consumers find the product that best fits their needs. There are endless unique combinations within the many available strains, each one with its own terpene profile that varies by degree as well. The healing powers of cannabis are often spoken of, and understanding terpenes is the first step in understanding those powers.

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