Terpenes are naturally-occurring compounds found in living organisms such as plants, some animals, and even fungi. They are known as flora and fauna's concentrated essential oils, and there are a thousand varieties of them. The aroma you get from sniffing an orange peel or a freshly-picked lavender is made possible via the release of terpenes and their aroma.
In the past, terpenes have been widely used in natural folk medicine. For instance, ancient Chinese medicine used pinene terpenes as a cure for inflammation. Meanwhile, Native Americans used the same compound to treat bad cough and for hair care. Pinene terpenes are extracted from pine and eucalyptus trees, as well as sage, rosemary, and frankincense.
As of late, mainstream science has shown increasing interest in the medical benefits of terpenes. Many clinical trials are conducted simultaneously to keep up with the burgeoning trend. That trend is triggered by and results in these organic compounds' slowly but steadily rising in popularity.
Getting deep into terpenes
Plants and some animals use terpenes, also known as isoprenoids, to exude specific aromas. These aromas serve different functions. For some plants, they attract pollinators, thus facilitating reproduction. For others, they repel predators, thus ensuring survival. Terpenes are also responsible for the unique taste of species and flora.
Terpenes are composed of isoprenes, which are repeating units that dictate terpenes' classification. Based on the number of isoprenes present, terpenes can be classified as mono, di, tri, tetra, and sesquiterpenes. Not only can there be a different number of isoprene building blocks, but there can also be different isomers and functional groups, making the possibilities of terpenes endless.
It's also essential to know the difference between terpenes and terpenoids. The former is found in live plants. The latter are terpenes with functional groups, often the result of the drying and curing of plants for terpenes extraction. You smell terpenes if you put a pine needle close to your nose. The aroma you smell upon entering a newly-cleaned room is the effect of terpenoids.
The practicality of terpenes
One of the most popular uses of terpenes today is as a complementary compound to cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). That is thanks in large part to relaxed cannabis restrictions, at least throughout the developed world.
The enhanced therapeutic effect of these compounds in tandem is called the "entourage effect." It is purported to be a better sensation compared to that experienced from a dose of CBD or THC alone. However, it's worth noting that the medical experts' advice for using terpenes alongside CBD and THC should be followed for efficacy and safety.
Terpenes are also used to give fragrance to an array of consumer products, including cosmetics and skincare items, household cleaning supplies, and perfumes and colognes. Aromatherapy oils used in massage spas also contain terpenes. Some of these compounds even find their way to food items like chocolates and candies, as well as beverages like craft beers.
Given its various practical uses, it's safe to say that terpenes will increasingly factor into more product labels in the future.
Health benefits of terpenes
Terpenes have been observed to trigger the brain's production of vital neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These mood-boosting agents are beneficial to people living with depression and other mood disorders. Anxiety is also believed to be reduced upon intake of terpenes. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Limonene - known to have a citrusy and fruity aroma, often associated with lemons. Studies have speculated on its anti-inflammatory capacities, resulting in reduced risk of colon damage, as well as decreased free radicals in leukemia cells.
Limonene ingestion is purported to prevent the onset of cancer. It also has health benefits for those susceptible to heart diseases and diabetes. It's able to curb appetite, making it an excellent remedy against obesity.
Ocimene - These sweet and fruity-smelling terpenes comprise at least 6% of the Citrus Unshiu plant's chemical profile, but it's also found in black pepper. Its health benefits include anti-inflammation and anti-oxidation, potentially benefiting people living with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
Myrcene - This monoterpene is present in a variety of plants, including cannabis, lemongrass, mango, parsley, cardamom, and hops, among others. It has a distinct spicy and peppery aroma. Myrcene has been used as a painkiller for centuries, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Another health benefit is its sedative effect. Studies conducted on mice showed that myrcene is a reliable muscle relaxant and sleep agent, as well as an antioxidant.
Terpinolene - These terpenes have a complex aroma tinged with hints of citrusy, woody, and flowery scents. It is an effective mosquito repellant and has a recognized sedative effect, at least based on tests conducted on animals.
Terpinolene also prevents oxidative damage and inflammation, which is vital to curbing the onset or effects of cancer. Antibacterial and antifungal properties round up these terpenes' medical properties.
Pinene - This originates from pine trees, rosemary, and basil, to name a few. It has several categories, including alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. The former is believed to be an anti-inflammatory, but both types have antimicrobial and antioxidative properties.
Humulene - Cloves, basil, and hops are some of the sources of humulene, which has anti-inflammatory properties. When inhaled or ingested, humulene could fight the onset of allergies. It can also ward off fungal and bacterial infections. Lastly, it is purported to aid the eradication of cancer cells.
Get a dose of the good stuff
Terpenes are a welcome addition to the ever-growing sources of natural health remedies. It is high time that we go back to our roots and take a cue from how our ancestors maximized all the healing agents present in Mother Nature. After all, if it's organic, it's probably good — at least in moderation.
Instead of relying solely upon chemical compounds made in laboratories to cure modern illnesses, now, more scientists are looking into alternative medicine that has the potential to go mainstream via extensive research. And that's something we can all benefit from.
Even if you are not entirely inclined to terpenes' potential health benefits, you cannot deny the fact that you've probably inadvertently interacted with these compounds every day and will continue to do so in the future. Heck, you might be enjoying some eggs with fresh pepper packed with b-caryophyllene for breakfast right now. After all, terpenes are used in a variety of consumer products you can't do without.
Please remember, always get the best quality terpenes available. Always dilute terpenes before using.
Written by Kalki Henrietta
About the Author
Kalki is one of the master flavor chemists at Sauce Terps and Medical Terpenes. He is the director of sales and marketing at Sauce Terps and Medical Terpenes, he is also a major contributor to research and development. Amongst creating new and exciting dank strains, he also manages the quality control of the manufacturing process in an ISO 9001:2015 and GMP compliant lab. He enjoys spice and pungent aromas with a heavy nose.
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