For decades, researchers have pretended that THC was the only compound in cannabis that matters. This has led to important compounds, such as CBD and terpenes, going unnoticed and under appreciated. While THC is a one-cannabinoid powerhouse and can do amazing things all by itself, you wouldn't enjoy marijuana nearly as much without terpenes.
What Are Terpenes
Terpenes are organic compounds (hydrocarbons) that are secreted by plants, specifically cannabis in our case. In cannabis, they're secreted from the trichomes, which look like little thin hairs. The trichomes secrete little balls of stickiness, which are rich in cannabinoids and terpenes. These trichomes and their secretions are what give marijuana it's frosty look, which we correctly associate with potency.
You'd probably also recognize the aroma and flavor of several terpene-rich plants, such as eucalyptus, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger to name a few.
Terpenes vs Terpenoids
A common misconception is that terpenes and terpenoids are the same thing. Plenty of people use the terms interchangeably, furthering the confusion. At one point, I thought they were the same thing because I was reading article by authors who though they were the same. That's one of the biggest problems online. There's tons of misinformation.
What makes terpenes and terpenoids different is their chemical makeup. Terpenes consist of only two chemical elements, hydrogen and carbon, making them hydrocarbons. Terpenoids start off as terpenes, but only become a terpenoid after they have been chemically altered, often times through oxidation.
Flavor Oh My
These little compounds are the main party responsible for the variety of flavors and aromas that we enjoy so much in cannabis. Could you picture Sour Diesel without its amazingly pungent aroma? We would have to come up with a new name for the strain if it just tasted and smelled like green blah. Such is the case with every marijuana strain you can think of.
They all have unique terpene profiles among many other compounds. No two strains are the same, and there's even a bunch of variety within any alleged strain. You may have tried Lemon Haze from one dispensary that had a different flavor and effect than from other dispensaries. This is largely due to the terpenoid profile, among several other things. The genetics and cultivation methods have a large affect on terpenes and flavor.
A cannabis plant rich in terpenes in not only flavorful and aromatic, but also works better. This is known as the entourage effect, which has been generating a lot of buzz lately. Let's define the entourage effect and look at how it enhances the cannabis experience.
Entourage Effect Definition
The entourage effect describes the synergistic relationship between terpenes and cannabinoids. Flavonoids also play a role in the synergism, but have not garnered as much attention as terpenes.
Terpenes are becoming well-known for their supporting role in making your cannabis more effective. They go to work for both marijuana and CBD users, to help you get the most mileage out of your plant. They do this by binding to receptors throughout your body. These are the same receptors that cannabinoids bind to.
While bound to the same receptors, they work like buddies trying to achieve a common goal. They help modify the amount of THC that gets to make its way past the blood-brain barrier, which can greatly enhance the effects of your bud. They also can help regulate the output of chemicals such as seratonin and dopamine.
Without terpenes, your marijuana or CBD would not have as strong an analgesic or anti-inflammatory effect among many other benefits. The potentiating of the effects of cannabis is not something to brush off. It's a huge deal. These effects can be doubled or even quadrupled due to the presence of terpenes and flavonoids (1).
Terpenes are one of the most important compounds found in cannabis. Without them, we would not be able to get the same effects that we've come to expect from our CBD and marijuana. We've taken these organic compounds for granted for decades, but they're finally starting to get some of the spotlight. Hopefully this will result in more research being done on these important little hydrocarbons.
Next time you make a trip to the dispensary, you can smell the bud and thank the terpenes for sticking around and making marijuana awesome.