Terpenes are compounds found in most plants that produce their distinct flavors and aromas. For example, they give lavender its powerful floral scent, and they are the reason pepper smells so crisp and spicy. Terpenes are also abundant in cannabis, which is why weed smells so wonderful and intoxicating. Lesser known is that terps also contribute to the effects we feel when we use cannabis. There’s a heavy focus on cannabinoids in consumer products, but if it wasn’t for terpenes, cannabis would not get us as high the way it does, nor would we experience all of the numerous health benefits the plant is known for.
Cannabis is one of the best and safest ways to manage pain. It’s all-natural and there are many different compounds within the plant, like cannabinoids and terpenes, that help reduce symptoms of pain in different ways. To learn more about cannabis therapeutics, make sure to subscribe to The Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter. Or check out The Delta 8 Weekly Newsletter for exclusive deals on Delta 8, Delta 10, THCV & THC-O.
More about Terpenes
Terpenes are a very large and diverse class of organic compounds that are produced by a wide variety of plants including herbs, trees, flowers, and fruit. In cannabis, they are secreted by the same glands that produce some of the most prominent cannabinoids including THC and CBD; but their role and effects are vastly different. Terpenes are aromatic plant oils that, when combined with other plant compounds, create a limitless palate of scents and flavors. In nature, terps serve as a defense mechanism by deterring herbivores who are turned away by the smells, and by attracting predators and parasites that attack herbivores.
Chemically, terpenes are hydrocarbons and they are the major component of rosin, a waxy type of sap that is produced and developed throughout the life cycle of the cannabis plant. There are curing processes that can improve the final quality and content of the terpenes, but other factors that impact their development are climate, weather, age and maturation, fertilizers, soil type, and light cycles.
As far as cannabis goes, terpenes – not classification (sativa/indica) – are the key to differentiating between effects and flavors of a strain. Some terpenes are relaxing, like those found in lavender, while others are energizing, like the terps abundant in citrus fruit. Some smell fruity, some are piney, and others are musky. The possible variations are endless. So far, over 100 different terpenes have been discovered in cannabis plants alone, and each strain typically has its own unique blend and composition.
Terpenes have long been known to hold great therapeutic value, and some of the more common ones – like limonene, pinene, and caryophyllene – have been studied more extensively since they’re found in many different types of legal plants. More research is needed to determine the extent of their medicinal effects when combined with other cannabis plant compounds.
There are numerous studies on this subject, but the most recent is a paper titled “Cannabis sativa terpenes are cannabimimetic and selectively enhance cannabinoid activity,” published in Scientific Reports in April of this year. Researchers found that cannabis terpenes were effective at relieving pain without an increase in negative side effects. And that applied when they were used alone and alongside other cannabinoids.
“It was unexpected, in a way,” said study lead and Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Dr. John A. Streicher. “It was our initial hypothesis, but we didn’t necessarily expect terpenes, these simple compounds that are found in multiple plants, to produce cannabinoid-like effects.”
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Behavioral analysis of the mice revealed that numerous different terpenes, either administered individually and combined with cannabinoids, were able to reduce pain sensation and lower body temperature. According to the study, “When terpenes were combined with WIN55,212-2, researchers saw a greater reduction in pain sensation compared with either the terpene or WIN55,212-2 alone, demonstrating a terpene/cannabinoid interaction in controlling pain.”
Dr. Streicher’s research is heavily focused on the effects of combining terpenes with opioids for cancer-related pain. His long-term goal is to “develop a dose-reduction strategy that uses terpenes – generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – in combination with cannabinoids or opioids to achieve the same levels of pain relief with lower doses of drugs and fewer side effects.”
Best Terpenes for Pain Relief
All plant terpenes have their benefits, but some are less effective at treating pain than others. If you’re looking for pain relief, aim for products and flower strains that are high in the following terps:
Caryophyllene – Known as the spicy terpene, it’s the dominant flavor compound found in pepper, cloves, and other spices. It gives cannabis a bold, earthy, tangy flavor and is found in many common strains like bubba kush, sour diesel, and chemdog. In studies conducted on mice, caryophyllene successfully reduced feelings of pain via activation of the CB2 receptors. Additionally, caryophyllene was found to a very effective anti-inflammatory. Caryophyllene products are best vaped at around 266 ºF, or 130ºC.
Myrcene – This musky, herbal terpene is the most common one found in cannabis plants. Roughly 40% of strains on the market today have relatively high levels of the myrcene terpene. Myrcene has a myriad of health benefits, one of the most promising being pain relief. Early animal studies have found that it can reduce inflammation as well as work as a potent muscle relaxant. Myrcene can be found in many different products and vaporizes at 332ºF, or 167ºC. s
Limonene – This is one of more popular terpene that exists. As the name suggests, it’s the dominant flavor compound in citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and limes. It’s the terp that gives certain strains that sweet, fruity flavor that many consumers are quite fond of. Limonene is well studied and is a known anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial. Numerous studies have also found that limonene functions as an antihyperalgesic, making it a suitable treatment option for neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain. Limonene vaporizes at 348ºF (176ºC).
Linalool – Floral, tangy, and fresh, linalool-dominant strains have a unique and very pleasant flavor. Linalool is said to be sedating and relaxing, which can be helpful for pain, along with depression and anxiety that may stem from it. This terpene is a bit less researched than others, but existing studies suggest that it also has anti-inflammatory. Linalool vaporizes at 388ºF or (198ºC). Additionally, it has been discovered to have anesthetic properties due to reducing excitability of cells in the spinal cord.
Inflammation and Pain
In case you didn’t notice, the common thread here is that terpenes help manage pain largely by way of their anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is one of the body’s many existing mechanisms in place to help fight against harm. Various immune irritants can trigger inflammation such as injuries, pathogens, and damaged cells. People often confuse the symptoms of inflammation with infection, when in reality, inflammation is the body’s response to infection.
“The saying too much of a good thing applies to much of life, but especially to inflammation,” says Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, medical editor of Understanding Inflammation from Harvard Health Publishing and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“People think inflammation needs to be stomped out at all times, but it plays an essential role in healing and injury repair to keep your body safe and healthy. Some inflammation is good. Too much is often bad. The goal is to recognize when inflammation is simply doing its job, and when it can potentially cause problems.”
Pain is one of the most common symptoms of inflammation. Both chronic and acute inflammation can cause pain of varying types and severity. It can be constant and steady, sharp and intense, throbbing, pulsating, stabbing, or pinching; and it can occur all over the body. That is why, when dealing with pain, one of the best ways to find relief is often to treat the inflammation.
Terpenes & Pain – Final Thoughts
Terpenes are incredible. If it weren’t for these flavorful, aromatic compounds, let’s face it, weed would be straight up boring. Not only do terps give cannabis its irresistible taste, but thanks to the entourage effect, they work synergistically with cannabinoids in the plant to offer us a better high and multitude of therapeutic benefits. If you’re suffering from pain and your current regimen just isn’t cutting it, see if some different cannabinoid and terpene combinations can do the trick.
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