Most of us are familiar with essential oils. You have likely enjoyed the smell of lavender, sage or eucalyptus essential oil.
Essential oils are basically the juices extracted from plants either through steam distillation, CO2 Extraction or through a press.
The main therapeutic agent in essential oils are the terpenes.
Terpenes are the life force, the quintessential 5th element or the spirit of the plant. – Ethan Russo
They are delicate, organic compounds, known as phytochemicals or metabolites.
Physiologically, Terpenes are involved in Three Crucial Processes.
- Communication between symbiotic organisms
- The Attraction of Pollinating Insects
- Plant Interactions such as creating defense mechanisms for predators. 1
Terpenes are well known for giving the plant, its unique aroma signature. These essences activate the olfactory system, which when inhaled can send messages to the limbic system of your brain, resulting in a cascading effect of positive benefits.
These fragrances may release stored memories, change your mood, calm you down in stressful times, among other physiological and physical benefits.
Dr. Ethan Russo, Neurologist and Medical Scientist, suggests that “terpenes are potent agents for animal and human behavior transformation when inhaled at ambient air level serums.”
Russo mentions that terpenes are a crucial aspect of the entourage effect that is a significant component to the therapeutic qualities of the cannabis plant.
He believes that the crucial connection between cannabinoids and terpenes is what gives cannabis its healing power, for things like: cancer, epilepsy, viral infections, depression, anxiety, and addiction.2
Terpenes are foundational components to a thriving eco-system and optimal human health.
For example, Artemisia was a sesquiterpene used to fight Malaria. Another terpene known as Yew, has been recognized for warding off ovarian and breast cancers. Terpenes extracted from Foxglove were used in over 1 million heart disease cases. 1
Depending on which terpenes are present in each cultivar the essential oil will have a unique essence and signature. I’ve often heard in the industry that there are over 700 cultivars of cannabis! That is some serious medicine available to the human species. That’s why you can smell sweet, earthy, skunky, pine-like, and fruity cannabis among many other essences.
Here are just a few of the main terpenes present in the blossoms of cannabis essential oil and their respective health promoting benefits.
Cannabis Essential Oil Terpene Benefits | Infographic
In order to distinguish which terpenes are in any given essential oil, a lab analysis should be done as there are over 200 known terpenes in the cannabis plant. There are well over 19,000 terpenes in the plant kingdom.
Lastly, terpenes are volatile and vaporize at even moderate temperatures. In the middle of a hot summer day, for example, you won’t smell the aroma as much. However, in the ambrosial hours when things are cool and a dew sets over the plants the pungent terpene aromas can be better experienced making it the best time to harvest medicinal plants – such as cannabis – rich with terpenes.