By: Jen Hudyma
There are many compounds within the cannabis plant, but the Terpene compound is what gives the plant it’s unique smell. Meaning cannabis can be judged and enjoyed like a fine wine. As we are able to further understand the ways different compounds in the plant interact with one another, we are able to more fully predict the way various strains will affect the consumer.
Understanding Cannabis Compounds
Cannabinoids, mainly the psychoactive THC and non-psychoactive CBD, are the most widely known compounds within the cannabis plant, however terpenoids are rapidly beginning to garner more attention. Terpenoids, or terpenes, are organic compounds present in the essential oils of all plants, and unique terpene combinations are responsible for each plant’s flavor, colors, and aroma. Secreted in the same glands as the cannabinoids, these terpene combinations determine the same properties in each cannabis strain. Many terpenes have been shown to have therapeutic effects, and over 200 have been identified in the cannabis plant. Differing genetics, growing environments, drying, and curing methods will determine the levels of each terpene in the end cannabis product, whether it’s flower, concentrate, or an extract. Researchers like Dr. Ethan Russo are beginning to study the interaction of terpenes with known cannabinoids to determine how different levels of these compounds interact to give strains their unique properties, in what is called the “entourage effect.” A simple example of this is the way higher levels of CBD counter the psychoactive effects of THC, so a strain with 20% THC and .3% CBD will have different effects than a strain with 20% THC and 10% CBD, and terpene levels will also interact with those cannabinoids to shape the experience with each strain.
Getting the Effects Right
As states that have authorized legal sales of cannabis implement regulations that require testing of cannabinoid contents, some cultivators are also testing their cannabis strains for the terpene profiles. The most reliable way to predict the effects of any one strain of cannabis is to take a look at both the cannabinoid and terpene profiles. While the exact levels will vary slightly from producer to producer, one of the most exciting aspects of cannabis legalization is the wealth of information that will become available as each strain is tested over and over again.This information can be used in many different ways, from creating a more effective approach for patients to medicate, to helping recreational users choose the strain that will most enhance their experience. If using cannabis to mitigate nausea, understanding the entourage effect will help to choose a strain that will be the most effective; or when planning a hike, understanding how to interpret the various aromas can play a crucial role in avoiding a strain that will induce the lethargic effects often called “couch lock.”
Using Scent to Choose a Strain
How does one use basic sensory information to help choose the appropriate strain for the occasion when terpene profiles are not available? The approach is similar to traditional aromatherapy techniques, with specific aromas being associated with certain effects. For example, when trying to calm the mind and relax the body, lighting a lavender, or woodsy scented candle will often do the trick. If the goal is to energize and invigorate, citrus scents like lemon, mandarin, and grapefruit are good choices. These same general principles apply to cannabis, and the scent of your product can be a reliable way to predict the general effects that strain will have. While it is not always simple to pick out the individual aromas, it becomes easier with practice, similar to acquiring a taste for certain flavors in food, or types of wine. When buying flower, squeezing the buds and breaking them open with your fingers is often a great way to unlock the aroma of your strain. Paying close attention to the flavor of any product is another great way to differentiate.
Common Terpene Profiles to Look for
Below are listed some of the most prominent terpenes found in the various cannabis strains, with a brief description of their identifying properties.
Myrcene is exemplified by a musky, earthy aroma with fruity notes of mango, which has high levels of myrcene. This terpene is associated with a sedating, relaxing effect, and may aid in reducing inflammation, suppressing muscle spasms, and inhibiting cancer cell growth. Myrcene is a unique terpene which lowers the resistance of the blood-brain barrier, making it easier for itself and other compounds like THC to cross this barrier. Strains high in myrcene are Pure Kush and White Widow, and these strains are better used for relaxation.
Linalool has a floral, sweet, and slightly citrusy aroma, and lavender is high in this terpene. Associated with a calming, sedating effect, strains that are high in linalool may have antimicrobial effects, aid in reducing anxiety and inflammation, and pain relief. Strains that are commonly high in linalool are also more attune to relaxation, and examples are Lavender, Headband, and Skywalker OG.
α-Pinene is the most widely encountered terpene in nature, and smells like pine. Important effects of α-pinene are it’s association with memory retention and alertness, which counteract some of the effects of THC. In small amounts, α-pinene is a bronchodilator, antiseptic, and aids in regulating activity of the immune system. Strains that are high in α-pinene are the popular Jack Herer, Blue Dream, and Chemdawg.
Limonene is another terpene found in abundance in nature. In high concentration in the rind of citrus fruits, it has a pungent lemony aroma. This terpene has uplifting, mood enhancing effects. Antifungal and anti-bacterial properties have made this terpene a popular one for studying. Limonene has also been associated with anti-carcinogenic effects, and aids digestion. Strains that are high in limonene can be great for active and social situations, and some of them are Lemon Skunk, Sour Diesel, and OG Kush.
β-Caryophyllene has a spicy, peppery aroma, and is highly present in spices like black pepper and clove. β–Caryophyllene has antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial properties, reduces inflammation, and inhibits tumor growth. While β–caryophyllene has not been associated with any noticeable physical effects, it is a common terpene in many cannabis strains, including Girl Scout Cookies, Bubba Kush, and Chemdawg.