CBD companies have used terpenes in their extracts since the industry launched in 2018. These organic compounds are found naturally in every plant in the world.
But while terpenes used to be a term used only by industry professionals, everyday CBD users are starting to become aware of these compounds. However, many people still don’t know exactly what terpenes are, don’t know where terpenes come from or why they matter.
This guide is based on research to help consumers understand more about these organic compounds, explain what terpenes are and how they are used in nu-x® products.
A Natural History of Terpenes
You may not have heard of terpenes, but you’ve most certainly encountered them. Terpenes are organic compounds found in plants or, simply put, natural oils.
Molecularly,terpenes are the building blocks of many compounds found in the human body. For example, some steroids are made up of terpenes, and Vitamin A is a terpenoid.
The name “terpene” comes from the word “turpentine.” That’s because turpentine is derived from tree sap, which is a common source of terpenes in non-CBD products.
Their potent fragrance is used to enhance the scent and taste of things such as food additives or perfume. With more than 20,000 terpenes identified in nature, at least 200 of these can be seen in a cannabis plant. Terpenes are a natural occurrence, and their aroma can help attract animals like bees for pollinating or ward off predators.
The effect of terpenes on humans
Humans can interact with terpenes in numerous ways, but most commonly, terpenes are ingested, applied topically, or even inhaled. As previously mentioned, terpenes can be found in many store-bought products such as cinnamon, lotion, or even essential oils. Terpene's role in these items is typically to act as an aromatic agent and amplify the taste of the spice and the smell of the body product or natural oils. The terpene is a “hidden” gem in most of your beloved everyday products.
An important thing to note, though terpenes are a naturally occurring organic compound and considered safe for humans to use, only β‐caryophyllene is FDA approved. Be cautious of any products you encounter that contain terpenes combined with different chemicals. Alone, terpenes are perfectly fine to consume or apply to your body. They will likely not cause harm when paired with other ingredients, but depending on the product, some of them could be illegal and pose safety issues. Do your research on where the terpenes in certain products are derived from before purchasing them.
How are terpenes different from cannabinoids?
Terpenes are not to be confused with cannabinoids, though both are found in the cannabis plant. The two work together to create what is known as the entourage effect, meaning that they are cool individually. However, they have even better qualities when combined. Cannabinoids can help our bodies interrupt messages from our cells in different ways.
For example, THC, an immediately recognizable cannabinoid and the active ingredient in marijuana, gives some people an overwhelming sense of relaxation when they have smoked it. Others can feel paranoid or giddy. Each person will have a different reaction because of their genetic makeup, but what is a shared experience is that the cannabinoid tells everyone’s cells to respond in general.
How terpenes differ from the cannabinoid is that they provide the aroma and help humans identify scents. The terpenes found in cannabis make people recognize the different strains of marijuana by how intense and varying some of their fragrances tend to be. Terpenes combined with the cannabinoid THC give a euphoric experience to some people. The two work jointly to enhance the other's properties as they were meant to do naturally.
Common Cannabis Terpenes
A large number of cannabis terpenes have been discovered. The total is coming in at 200 so far. Only a few are commonly known. Those five would be Myrcene, Caryophyllene, Limonene, A-Pinene, and Linalool. Let’s discuss the different characteristics of each terpene below:
Myrcene is the most prevalent terpene found in the cannabis plant. Its aromatic traits are earthy and herbal, so it’s no surprise to discover it in Thyme and Lemongrass. Some researchers found that Myrcene has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and even sedative effects on the human body. For example, this research says that Lemongrass can potentially relieve inflammation, especially from the common cold. You can find Lemongrass in a farmer’s market to add to homemade soup or in readymade tea. According to research, Myrcene can even be used as a sleep aid in some herbal medicines. The same research says that it can help the muscles relax and make the body surrender to a deep slumber.
Caryophyllene is the second most dominant terpene found in the cannabis plant. It is also known as Beta-Caryophyllene and is FDA approved. This terpene is seen in food and cosmetic products. Caryophyllene has spicy, peppery, and woody notes, so its aroma and taste are quite potent. It’s found in black pepper, cloves, and Broccoli. This research says that it can help the human body by aiding in digestive relief and being an antioxidant. Broccoli is explicitly known for promoting a healthy digestive system with its high fiber content and antioxidant properties.
Limonene is a well-known cannabis terpene that is also found in citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and even peppermint. This research talks about the antimicrobial and immunostimulant capabilities of Limonene. Lemons are often an ingredient of household cleaners and can even be used alone and sliced in half to disinfect a cutting board due to their antimicrobial nature. Oranges are a natural immunostimulant that is suggested to help boost your immune system ahead of and during the cold and flu season. It is a common ingredient in vitamins that promote immune support.
Alpha-Pinene (A-Pinene), also known as just Pinene, is another terpene found in cannabis. According to some researchers, it’s a Bronchodilator that could help clear the sinuses and open up the airways. It’s found in pine and eucalyptus plants which are well known for unblocking nasal passages by inhaling in the form of vapors that are produced with humidifiers or oil diffusers. Eucalyptus plants continually grow in popularity as a self-care staple to use while bathing. Simply hang a few leaves from the showerhead and allow the steam to activate the oils in the plant. Let the aroma invade your shower session while you reap the benefits of it clarifying your airways.
Linalool produces a floral or sometimes sweet aroma and is usually seen in lavender, mint, and Muscat wine. As this research suggests, Linalool could act as an antidepressant and anxiolytic. It is found in some chewing gum, candles, oils, and other aromatherapy products. For some people, chewing gum is easily one of the first choices to help alleviate anxiety, especially ahead of something like an important meeting or doctor’s visit. People think it’s the chewing that calms one down, but it’s actually the linalool terpene inside of the mint that’s an ingredient in the gum that helps a person relax. Candles and oils are another common practice to help reduce stress and anxiety.
How nu-x® Uses Terpenes
At nu-x®, we use the same process to extract terpenes from hemp that we use to extract CBD. Our approach, called super-cooled ethanol extraction, involves blasting super-cooled ethanol over plant material to remove the terpenes from the plant matter. Then, we use several vaporization chambers to remove the ethanol and leave nothing but pure terpenes behind. This is a similar process to how some perfumers make fragrances.
Using this process allows us to keep the natural flavors of our hemp plants in our final products. We also don’t use any artificial flavorings or additives in any of our products. As a result, terpenes are the only flavoring that we use for our CBD extracts.
Where are terpenes found in the cannabis plant?
Terpenes are still a new term to many people, but it’s not a new find. They are located in the trichomes of a cannabis plant, which are the glandular “hairs” that appear like frost on the plant’s surface. Terpenes are highly delicate and should be handled carefully when trying to extract them. In the past, many terpenes were destroyed in the process of retrieving due to a rigorous procedure. After determining the substantial loss of terpenes and their qualities, new measures were developed to extract them from trichomes without harm successfully.
Solventless and solvent-based extractions are common practices when collecting terpenes. Solventless terpene extractions use steam distillation and hydrodistillation processes. Steam distillation happens when the contents of the plant are secured in a container then put on top of a pot of boiling water. With hydrodistillation, you put the plant matter right into the hot water. The condensation that occurs in both processes contains the oils captured, cooled, and will ultimately liquify.
The solvent-based extraction uses gases like CO2 and hydrocarbons along with a vacuum at lower boiling points. It lessens the risk of affecting the chemical structure of the terpenes, which can happen with high temperatures. This extraction turns the gas into a supercritical fluid that retrieves the terpenes and is eventually dried out in a vacuum oven to ensure only the terpenes and no other contents remain. It’s said to be the safest and best-performing method.
Terpenes vs. terpenoids
Terpenes and terpenoids differ in that one is unaltered, and the other has been oxidized. Terpenes are organic hydrocarbons which means that they are naturally made up of hydrogen and carbon. Terpenoids are the result of terpenes that have been cured and dried. Terpenes and terpenoids should not be considered the same as they both offer noticeably different flavors and scents to the various strains of the cannabis plant.
Why does the plant produce terpenes?
Plants produce terpenes for several reasons, much like humans have different bodily functions to protect themselves. Some plants produce terpenes as a way to support their immune system. We are well aware of the healing properties of many of these plants like sage or Thai basil as we use them frequently in herbal drinks or broths. The plants rely on those same benefits for their own well-being. Additionally, they can produce strong, offensive smells that become repellent and defend them from insects. Like the human body producing antibodies when you get a cut to reduce the risk of infection, plants have terpenes to survive in the environment.
Other terpene sources and how they compare to cannabis
Terpenes are still being carefully studied to understand more about what makes them differ from one source to another. Simply looking at them or even tasting them is not enough to compare cannabis terpenes with terpenes of other sources. So far, the only factual information available is that cannabis compounds like terpenes and cannabinoids support one another to provide the most promising effects.
Terpenes and Cannabis' Distinctive Effects
Terpenes and cannabis can both provide apparent effects on the human body. We’ve been told or have experienced them and know that how one person reacts to them may differ from the next. How intensely you taste the spice in an herb might be milder for someone else, and the same with how high a strain of cannabis may make each person feel. Still, the effects will vary, but what they affect will not.
When you inhale terpenes, it passes through a part of your respiratory system called the olfactory system, determining how your body processes the terpene. The olfactory system helps get messages to your brain, so you’ll either respond to the scent of the terpene in a physical, mental or emotional way. The inhaled particles also make their way deep into your lungs, where the alveoli are. This means that what you’ve breathed in will now pass through your bloodstream. Then it will be deposited into your heart and sent to any other part of your body that might need it. So as mentioned before with the terpene Myrcene, after it goes everywhere listed above, it will also go to your muscles to help them relax since it has this quality.
When terpenes are found in topical products like lotion, they are meant to penetrate your skin and soothe any issues such as dryness. When terpenes like lavender are added, it becomes a multiple-purpose product as it will have a calming effect on your mind because of this terpene’s anxiolytic capabilities. An antifungal patch that is applied transdermally will not only rid you of a scaly fungus on your skin, but it will also attack the source. It is meant to go beneath all of the layers of skin and stop the fungus from spreading.
Beta-caryophyllene and the CB2 Receptor
CB2 receptors are part of the immune tissues in your body, which help you discern pain. When you are injured, these receptors increase, reducing inflammation and how much pain we feel to avoid the negative effects of inflammation on the brain. Studies show that most times, beta-caryophyllene can help soothe the pain. This means that caryophyllene can amplify the strength of a pain-relieving medicine. There is no guarantee that the CB2 receptors will be activated at all or in what capacity one will feel the effects be it strong or mild, but it is a good possibility that beta-caryophyllene will provide some pain relief.
How growing, harvest, and curing conditions affect terpene expression
Growers who plant their cannabis plants indoors have the luxury of controlling the type of environment their plants grow in. They are aware of the best methods to produce a successful plant to carefully monitor the nutrients and water intake. Indoor growers will reduce the number of nutrients provided in the final weeks before harvesting to preserve the terpenes’ properties. Adding too many nutrients can change how the terpenes express, which means they may not smell or taste how they are supposed to because some of their chemical compounds were lost along the way. These growers will also be aware of the perfect time to harvest the plants, not to interrupt the trichomes production or destroy it by losing potency from taking too long to harvest.
Now that you understand what terpenes do, you’ll be able to decide which CBD products are the best for your specific needs. Click the shop link to discover some of our most popular CBD items.