By Richard S. Gubbe
For cannabis to be utilized to its fullest potential, understanding the interaction of cannabinoids and terpenes is essential for those seeking a remedy instead of just a high. Now reaching the kindergarten level, the process of educating Nevadans and everyone else on the planet is slow, confounded with erroneous claims, inferior products and most of all, a lack of information.
For the past couple years in Oregon and 18 months in Las Vegas, access has been open to the public with 24-hour dispensaries selling an array of products, all with ingredient labels held to high standards. The list of ingredients on Nevada labels is given by percentage that usually includes the top three cannabinoids and the top three terpenes.
Education of terpenes is at a snail’s pace with most concerned with the psychoactive THC percentage. But for those familiar with the entourage effect that claims every particle of every strain matters in healing. Just like the term rose describes many types and hundreds of basic varieties, so does the word cannabis. Each variety or strain has its own fragrance, color and texture. In cannabis, terpenes can aid in the absorption of THC and other cannabinoids to help them find their way into receptors to deliver what scientists and researchers are calling building blocks to better health. How to find what mix of terpenes is right can pose a challenge.
Do you know what a terpene is and how it can affect your high? Does your cannabis have the terpenes you need? Nevada leads the way in telling consumers what is in the cannabis they smoke or ingest, but now there are web sites that give strain recommendations from symptoms and a few web sites that give product referrals with what may or may not be the proper terpenes for each individual.
The lack of education begins with the numbers on containers and packages. You don’t have to be a medical card holder to be medical in your thinking and purchasing. While all the hardcore smokers seek the high THC content upward of 30 percent, not many know what is a good terpene percentage and different testing labs come up with high terp counts than others. Growing techniques have increased terpene volume.
Some terpene profiles boast high numbers, often as high as 5 to 10 percent for myrcene and limonene, the two most prevalent terpenes in West Coast strains. Myrcene percentage is often the key to determining whether the strain is indica-dominant or sativa-dominant. Myrcene percentages can range from 1 to 12 percent, limonene less prevalent. A strain that has 7 percent myrcene and 3 percent limonene produces different effects than a strain with 7 percent limonene versus 3 percent myrcene. When myrcene is at a high level, the result is better pain management and sleep time.
Color can matter and be a guide, not a rule. A dark, purple color denotes myrcene and other sedative effects while light green and orange can produce high quantities of limonene. When limonene is dominant, a sativa strain is most likely, with hybrids often boasting colorful plumes of orange and yellow.
Take A-Dub for example, with its bright green leaves speckled with orange and full of oversized terpene glands. Many citrus strains contain a lot of limonene and so does A-Dub. The result is energy, focus, happiness and ever euphoria. The Afghani descendants often are musky and more sedative. Purple strains are usually indica strains, which also can be darker buds with a musky scent.
When the oil is extracted with a full-spectrum method, terpenes stay intact while terpene and cannabinoid blends go through separation in the distillate process.
Leafly.com can be used by searching strains to see which strains are best by strain name. Some desired affects are listed as well and location for purchase. Another is the use of a web site to pick which terpenes are best by matching symptoms to terpenes. But whether or not the strain is sold as flower or used in oil creates two challenges. The choice remains whether to use the full spectrum approach that preserves the entourage effect or use of mix of terpenes from the plant or synthetic terpenes created in a lab. Many consider the man-made way inferior while others claim there is not difference in mixing synthetic terpenes together.
Buried in the same glands that produce cannabinoids, terpenes are essential oils that flavor and enhance cannabis. Researchers have found nearly 200 distinct terpenes in cannabis plants and various claims have been made. Scientists are now out to prove they’re important rather than abstract speculation.
Terpenes are volatile (see turpentine), aromatic oils that affect receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain. Researchers want to determine exactly how each terpene works and how they play off each other. Such knowledge will help treats specific illnesses with pinpoint dosage. A medical patient with an autoimmune disorder might need a different strain than a migraine-sufferer, while those with too much energy would benefit from a far mellow strain than someone lethargic.
The Israeli Agricultural Research Organization claims to have performed terpene research under the title “aromatic compounds” for the last 50 years.
“Our station delivers multidisciplinary approach, doing research in agricultural, biochemical, ecological, analytical and genetical subjects. This great experience enables us during these years to work on plant breeding, agro-techniques and physiology,” the organization states. “We study the factors affecting essential oil yield.”
This research and other studies help profilers formulate mixtures.
A study conducted by the University of Siena in Italy found “the synergistic effect between cannabinoids and terpenes is often claimed to be the major difference between ‘holistic’ herbal preparations of cannabis and products based on single cannabinoids.”
A 2011 report in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that the complex interaction between terpenes and cannabinoids like THC “could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.”
Researchers are investigating if the reactions between terpenes and cannabinoids produce effects that would be beneficial for cancer patients and chronic illnesses. Scientists also are developing ways to manipulate a mother plant’s terpene profile
All About the Buzz
The most frequently question asked of any budtender at Shango is always going to be, “what is the most potent shit you have?” What the best response should be smoke two joints if you need that much of a buzz but don’t cheat yourself from any of the terpenes and the strongest benefits of the entourage effect. Here are the most prevalent terps:
6 Common Terpenes
- β-Myrcene is known by its earthy smell, Myrcene-rich strains have a relaxing effect. β-Myrcene is a monoterpene and a precursor in the formation of other terpenes. The most prevalent terpene in cannabis, β-Myrcene is found fresh mango fruit, hops, bay leaves, eucalyptus, lemongrass and many other plants. β-Myrcene is known to be anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and used in the treatment of seizures and spasms. It is also used to treat insomnia and pain. In the case of cannabinoids like THC, it allows it to take effect more quickly. β-Myrcene has been shown to increase the maximum saturation level of the CB1 receptor, allowing for a stronger psychoactive effect. For most people, the consumption of a fresh mango, 45 minutes before inhaling cannabis, will result in a faster onset of psycho activity and greater intensity.
- Limonene, formed from a-Pinene, produces a sweet, citrus smell. Research indicates that it has antifungal and anti-bacterial properties. It’s also thought to help with anxiety and depression. Research will soon find it inspires creativity. D-limonene was primarily used in medicine, food and perfume until a couple of decades ago when it became the main active ingredient in citrus cleaners. It has low toxicity, and humans are rarely ever allergic. Medicinally, limonene is known for treating gastric reflux and assists in the absorption of other terpenoids through the skin, mucous membranes and digestive tract. Limonene also may be useful in treating depression.
- Caryophyllene is a spicy, pungent terpene thought to have anti-inflammatory effects. Caryophyllene can help activate cannabinoid 2 receptors and is known for its anti-biological activity against fungus and tumors. It is also anti-oxidant. It may play a part in improving uptake of CBD/CBC in the CB2 receptor.
- Linalool has a floral smell and produces a strong sedative effect. Mice dosed with linalool decreased their activity by a 75 percent. Linalool has been used for several thousands of years as a sleep aid and in the formation of Vitamin E. It has been used in the treatment of both psychosis and anxiety, and as an anti-epileptic agent. It also grants relief from pain and has been used as an analgesic. Its vapors have been shown to be an effective insecticide against fruit flies, fleas and cockroaches.
- Terpinolene is known for being an anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, antibacterial and antifungal agent. It also has been used for hundreds of years in the treatment on insomnia. Terpinolene is found in oregano, marjoram, cumin, lilac, some citrus rind and conifers.
- α-Pinene is one of the principle monoterpenes, used for centuries as a bronchodilator in the treatment of asthma. Pinene also is an anti-inflammatory and a major constituent in turpentine. When you take a deep breath in the woods, that’s pinene.
- Humulene is found in hops, cannabis sativa strains and Vietnamese coriander, among others. Humulene gives beer its ‘hoppy’ aroma. It is anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and an appetite suppressant.
No matter how organic or nonorganic a grower it is, flushing is critical for terpene explosion during the grow. By flushing the cannabis properly at the end of the grow cycle, impurities and growth enhancements can be washed away. Eliminating the hindrances creates the environment for better terpene enhancement. A good way to tell is flushing was done properly is to see if the ash burns cleans or dark.
Proper curing time is vital to securing optimal results. Many growers cut it short. Sometimes burping a jar can enhance terpenes after purchase. And as one grower told elevate, “People who think music doesn’t have an effect on terpene growth are short-sighted.”
For those who wish to delve deeper, the web site Terpenes and Testing Magazine caters to the “science-enthused professional with daily cannabis news, research, and opinions.” Terpenes and Testing Magazine is “the loyal side-kick of the cannabis scientist, helping them on their noble quest to push the boundaries by curating the latest news, technological innovations, scientific research, and newest discoveries for them, pinning down overlooked angles and far-reaching perspectives on the world of terpenes, horticulture, chemistry, and analytical science.”
In the quest for the best terpenes to use, knowledge is power.