Terpene Guide

Scent is a strong sense which also evokes powerful abilities to help us heal. We’ve given an overview of terpenes and what they can do. Now we can delve into details on how they may work in specific situations. In general, terpenes serve three primary benefits: 

  1. Fight pain

  2. Reduce systemic inflammation

  3. Lower anxiety

Terpenes For Pain Management

Linalool commonly appears in perfumes and is naturally found in mint, citrus, and lavender.  It has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties, and has the potential to treat inflammatory pain. More specifically, linalool: 

  • Reduces the excitability of spinal cord cells that transmit pain signals to the brain.

  • Targets acetylcholine, a brain chemical responsible for muscle movement.

  • Increases the brain’s levels of adenosine (a central nervous system depressant), thereby aiding in pain relief and sleep. 

  • Lavender aromatherapy may decrease the demand for opioids immediately after surgery. Linalool inhalation used in conjunction with morphine was found to decrease morphine use post operatively. 

Myrcene (Beta-myrcene) is the most prevalent terpene in cannabis chemovars in the United States and Europe.  Myrcene is found in hops, lemongrass, bay leaves, eucalyptus, wild thyme and is responsible for the spicy fragrance in beer.  Its aroma is musky, earthy, and reminiscent of cloves. It has demonstrated analgesic (pain relieving) properties: 

  • Myrcene has been shown to be blocked by naloxone, suggesting an opioid-like mechanism of action. 

  • Myrcene causes TRPV1 activation. TRPV1 belongs to a group of receptor channels that are targets for treating pain. 

Alpha-Pinene is the most widely distributed terpene in nature. Pinene is responsible for the distinctive aromas of pine and fir. There are two structural isomers of pinene that occur naturally: α-pinene and β-pinene. Both forms are important physiologically in both plants and animals.  The pain relieving properties of pinene have been demonstrated in preclinical studies (animal or cell cultures only):

  • A Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) oil dominant in pinene was found to have higher anti-inflammatory and anti-analgesic effects than that of water extracts in a mouse model. 

  • Pinene has been shown to alleviate tooth pain in mice. It also decreased inflammation via GABA and μ-opioid receptors (responsible for modulating inflammatory and pain response in the body, among other things).  

Limonene is frequently found in nature, especially in citrus rinds, although not as common in cannabis as other terpenes. Cannabis predominant in this terpene is often described as having a fruity flavor and an uplifting experience.  Several preclinical studies showed that limonene: 

  • When inhaled, limonene reduced pain intensity, nausea, and vomiting in pregnant women. 

  • Reduced sensitivity and widespread bone and muscle pain in mice. 

Beta-caryophyllene is the most common terpenoid in cannabis extracts. Beta-Caryophyllene has the distinctive flavor that gives black pepper its kick. You can also find it in hops, cloves, and rosemary. It was the first non-cannabinoid compound found to activate cannabinoid receptors. It works as a powerhouse to reduce inflammation and pain. 

  • Beta caryophyllene binds to CB2 receptors but not CB1 receptors. Substances targeting CB2 receptors have been proposed as therapies for the treatment or management of acute, chronic inflammatory, and neuropathic pain. The selective activation of CB2 may be considered part of BCPs analgesic properties. In addition, the activation of CB2 receptors does not produce psychotropic effects. 

  • Beta-caryophyllene oxide, a plant compound resulting from the oxidation of beta-caryophyllene, does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors. When one says beta caryophyllene, one is referring to the family of compounds including trans-caryophyllene, iso-caryophyllene, alpha-caryophyllene (alpha humulene) and beta caryophyllene oxide. 

  • Beta caryophyllene oxide is what the drug sniffing dogs are trained to find when searching for cannabis. 

Alpha Humulene is also known as alpha caryophyllene. It is found in hops and is what gives the plant its bitter taste. Humulene’s aroma is subtle, with earthy, woody tones with a little bit of spiciness. It can be found in hops, black pepper, cloves, cannabis, rosemary, basil, cinnamon.17 Alpha Humulene has been found to reduce inflammatory pain when applied topically. 

Terpenes For Sleep

Myrcene is believed to be responsible for the sedative effects in many of the common preparations in cannabis commerce. Myrcene creates the “couch-lock” effect commonly attributed to today’s cannabis chemovars. 

  • A study in 2002 supported “the sedative effect of myrcene and its effectiveness for those suffering with anxiety, insomnia, and other sleep disorders”. 

  • Myrcene has been shown to increase the sleeping time of barbiturate medications. 

  • The duration of its analgesic effect exceeds that of morphine (four hours) and was weakened by Narcan administration. This supports an opioid-related mechanism of action.

Linalool has been used for centuries as a sleep aid. 

  • Linalool lessens the anxious emotions provoked by pure THC, thus making it potentially helpful in the treatment of both psychosis and anxiety. 

  • This terpene was found to have a sedating effect upon inhalation in a mouse study. 

  • Linalool elevates the brain levels of adenosine, a central nervous system depressant that is notably blocked by caffeine. When adenosine levels are elevated, it causes drowsiness. 

Beta-caryophyllene may be beneficial for insomnia because of its relaxing properties. A pharmacology study demonstrated that a multichannel essential oil containing caryophyllene was found to be a potential treatment for insomnia. 

Terpinolene is found in lilacs, nutmeg, cumin, and apples. It is one of cannabis’ least common terpenes. Scientific investigation has established that it has sedating effects, especially when inhaled. Terpinolene was found to be a potent suppressor of the central nervous system. 

Terpenes for Focus and Memory

Alpha pinene has been shown to improve cognitive function and to increase focus and alertness.  Specific studies have demonstrated:

  • This terpene may increase cognitive function due to its inhibition of the neurotransmitter acetylcholinesterase. This action has been shown to improve learning and memory impairment in preclinical studies. 

  • A mouse study in 2017 showed alpha pinene having promising effects for those suffering from memory loss and other neurodegenerative diseases. Certainly, more research is needed. 

Limonene – Poor blood flow to the brain over time is a leading cause of cognitive decline and memory loss. Preclinical studies have shown that limonene can slow this process. Preclinical studies do not always translate to human subjects. 

  • D-limonene substantially slowed cognitive decline and improved behavioral function in an animal model.  

Linalool - Alzheimer's is a difficult to treat condition which currently has no cure. A preclinical study points to linalool as a potential treatment, since it can reduce the brain plaque responsible for causing cognitive decline. 

Anti-Inflammatory Terpenes

Chronic inflammation is long-term inflammation, which can last for several months and even years. Chronic inflammation can eventually lead to several ongoing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, organ dysfunction, and various autoimmune diseases. The reason acute inflammation leads to chronic inflammation is currently unknown. 

Inflammatory pain is due to tissue damage and inflammation (e.g., postoperative pain, trauma, arthritis). With inflammation being the root cause of many ailments, further investigation on anti-inflammatory agents is of scientific interest. The following terpenes have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties in various studies. In general, they are mainly effective in conjunction with other terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids, and other plant compounds.  

Limonene 

  • Preclinical studies show limonene reduced inflammation scores and levels of tumor necrosis factor (a proinflammatory marker) in rat colitis. 

  • In a human clinical study, it decreased a specific inflammatory marker in elderly participants receiving a supplement that was 95% limonene for 56 days. 

Myrcene inhibits the production of certain inflammatory markers. Here are the studies with supporting evidence: 

  • Myrcene is anti-inflammatory via prostaglandin E2 (PGE-2), a proinflammatory substance.

  • It inhibits nitrous oxide production by inflammatory cells. Nitrous oxide is another pro-inflammatory substance. 

  • The terpene was found to lower a specific inflammatory marker in the blood for osteoarthritis by 78%. 

Linalool

  • One study indicated that linalool and linalool acetate may play a major role in anti-inflammatory activity when they are dominant in essential oils. This suggests that these terpenes are potential anti-inflammatory agents. 

Beta-Caryophyllene (BCP)

  • BCP may act in synergy with CBD to impart anti-inflammatory benefits. 

  • BCP has been found to synergize with THC to relieve itching and protect stomach cells from damage. 

  • BCP was shown to modulate numerous molecular targets by altering their gene expression, signaling pathways, or via direct interaction. It has demonstrated therapeutic promise as a neuroprotective agent for neuropathic pain and metabolic diseases. 

Beta-ocimene is a pheromone important for the social regulation of honeybee colonies. The cannabis industry has taken advantage of this attraction by creating “cannabis honey”. This feature was proposed by law enforcement to train honey bees to smell ocimene in cannabis, with the intention of potentially replacing drug sniffer dogs. Of course that never occurred. This terpene has been associated with anticonvulsant, antifungal, and antitumor activity in essential oil combinations. 

  • Essentials oil rich in ocimene may have the potential to suppress the production of several different inflammatory substances produced by the immune system (when used in combination with other essential oils). 

Alpha-Humulene 

  • Alpha-Humulene has exhibited pronounced anti-inflammatory properties in animal models. In one study using an essential oil extracted from Cordia verbenacea, alpha-humulene decreased inflammation both orally and topically. 

  • Another study found that alpha-humulene exhibited marked anti-inflammatory properties in a mouse model of allergic inflammation in the lungs, providing an antihistamine response. [39] This suggests that alpha-humulene may have therapeutic potential for allergies and asthma. Further research is needed. 

Pinene– Essential oils from various plants (such as frankincense) rich in alpha- and beta-pinene were found to decrease inflammation in various animal models. It appears to do this via the inhibition of COX enzymes, which are responsible for the production of pro-inflammatory compounds within the body (prostaglandins). 

Anticonvulsant Terpenes

An anticonvulsant is a substance used to prevent or reduce the severity of epileptic seizures or other convulsions. The following terpenes have been investigated as anticonvulsants in various studies. As previously mentioned, terpenes are generally most effective when used in combination with other botanical components. 

Linalool 

  • Linalool demonstrated anticonvulsant activity by blocking receptors for glutamate, a chemical in the brain. Glutamate is elevated in seizure disorders. Significant elevations in glutamate initiate the death of neurons.

  • In a preclinical study, an essential oil of Basil (O. basilicum) including linalool blocked the glutamate receptors and reduced seizures.

  • Recent reports support the possibility that small concentrations of linalool found in certain cannabis chemovars may exert anticonvulsant benefits in human patients.   

Beta-ocimene in essential oils is associated with anticonvulsant activity. The effects of cannabinoid and ocimene co-administration remain unclear but warrant further attention.  

Terpenes for Anxiety and Stress

Linalool – A dab of lavender oil on the wrist can reduce anxiety because it is rich in linalool. 

  • Linalool and alpha pinene were combined in an essential oil from Litsea glaucescens (Mexican Bay Leaf) and showed antidepressant-like activity at high doses.

Limonene is known to produce a feeling of well-being.

  • Experiments in mice confirm limonene is strongly anxiolytic (anti anxiety) and boosts serotonin levels— similar to what some antidepressants do.

  • Limonene has been found to increase the permeability of cell membranes, or how easily substances pass into and out of the cell wall. This process may contribute to its anxiolytic effect.

  • One of limonene's significant properties is reducing anxiety that some people experience when they’ve taken too much THC. 

Alpha Pinene 

  • Inhalation of α-pinene in mice produced an anxiolytic effect. 

  • Anti-anxiety effects were maintained in mice that underwent chronic inhalation (90 minutes per day) of alpha pinene for over five days. 

Myrcene is a recognized sedative as part of hops preparations used to aid sleep in Germany. 

Beta-caryophyllene 

  • The anxiolytic effects of this terpene may or may not be mediated through 5HT1A (serotonin) receptors similar to some antidepressant and antianxiety medications. An increase in serotonin levels has a stress relieving effect.

Since anxiety and stress generally coexist with depression, terpenes that act as antidepressants are also worth noting.

Limonene 

  • Human clinical work supports the use of limonene for depression. A study in Japan demonstrated that depressed patients exposed to citrus scent experienced normalization of Hamilton Depression Scores (HADS). This resulted in a discontinuation of antidepressants in nine out of 12 hospitalized patients. 

Alpha-pinene 

  • Studies have shown that beta-pinene acts as a mood stabilizer.  

Linalool 

  • Possesses antidepressant and antianxiety properties and is also said to make antidepressant medications (SSRIs) more effective. This is primarily anecdotal information. 

Antimicrobial Terpenes 

Alpha-Pinene (α-Pinene)

  • An alpha-pinene dominant essential oil acted as an antibiotic that was equally effective as vancomycin against MRSA and other drug resistant bacteria. This is particularly significant as vancomycin is the drug of choice for treating most MRSA infections. 

  • Efficacy was noted for α-pinene for bacterial and fungal diseases such as Cryptococcus neoformans and Candida albicans biofilms. 

  • α-Pinene dramatically increased antibiotic efficacy of three prescription antibiotic medications against Campylobacter, a gastrointestinal pathogen.  

  • The terpene was discovered to be beneficial against a specific form of leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that is found in the tropics, subtropics, and southern Europe. 

  • α-Pinene demonstrated larvicidal activity against one of the strains of mosquitoes that causes malaria. 

Beta-Pinene is commonly encountered in conjunction with alpha-pinene.  

  • The terpene has demonstrated equal antibiotic efficacy as α-pinene above against S. aureus (MRSA), and C. neoformans and C. albicans bio- films.  C. neoformans and C. albicans are the most common causes of yeast infections. 

Ocimene - A study published in 2008 analyzed the antiviral traits of essential oils, where ocimene was the primary ingredient.  Other commonly found cannabis terpenes such as pinene and myrcene were also present, which showed promise in the treatment of the SARS virus.

Limonene demonstrated a potent antifungal effect against T. rubrum in a 2009 study. T. rubrum is a fungus that generally causes athlete’s foot, ringworm, “jock itch”, and nail fungus. 

Caryophyllene Oxide acted as an antifungal in onychomycosis (nail fungus) comparable to ciclopiroxolamine and sulconazole (both known antifungal agents).  An 8% solution of terpene led to an onchomycosis cure in 15 days.

Terpenes that Demonstrate Anticancer Activity

Scientific investigation has examined the anticancer cell activity of cannabis terpenes. In general, most of them are mainly effective in combination with other plant components. These are preclinical studies and shouldn’t be used in lieu of standardized cancer treatments and protocols.

Limonene has demonstrated chemotherapeutic properties by inducing cancer cell death in breast cancer as well as others. There are ongoing trials on limonene for breast cancer.

  • High doses of limonene were used in a Phase II randomized clinical trial.[62] Limonene had a strong safety profile but demonstrated less marked efficacy than anticipated. 

  • A 2013 human study in women with preoperative breast cancer found that oral ingestion of two grams of D-limonene a day led to cell-cycle arrest and lowered cancer proliferation. [63

  • Scientific investigation has examined the anticancer cell activity of cannabis terpenes. In general, most of them are mainly effective in combination with other plant components. These are preclinical studies and shouldn’t be used in lieu of standardized cancer treatments and protocols.

  • Limonene has demonstrated chemotherapeutic properties by inducing cancer cell death in breast cancer as well as others. There are ongoing trials on limonene for breast cancer.

  • High doses of limonene were used in a Phase II randomized clinical trial. Limonene had a strong safety profile but demonstrated less marked efficacy than anticipated. 

  • A 2013 human study in women with preoperative breast cancer found that oral ingestion of two grams of D-limonene a day led to cell-cycle arrest and lowered cancer proliferation. 

  • Myrcene blocks carcinogenic effects of aflatoxin (a toxic compound produced by a mold that can cause liver damage and cancer).[67]

  • Linalool significantly weakens cigarette smoke-induced infiltration of inflammatory cells. 

  • Humulene has been found to hinder tumor growth by encouraging the production of reactive oxygen species, which are chemicals that can help combat cancer cells. 

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