Marijuana terpenes and their effects

The genetic diversity of marijuana

Piechart of cannabis flavours (source: GreenHouse)

Pie chart of cannabis flavours (source: GreenHouse)

Each marijuana plant coming from seed has a cannabinoid profile, unique taste and olfactory molecules, which are not found in the same way in any other plant. This combination of possibilities creates countless variations in the flavours and effects of marijuana, and are highly valued by growers, who can discover new emotions when growing different strains, or may start breeding projects in order to select the plant that best suits their needs or priorities.

The wide range of flavours and effects offered by the different strains of marijuana also helps you to avoid developing tolerance to its effects: when you have a single variety, the user and his or her body will develop a resistance – tolerance – to the properties of the plant consumed.

For a long time we have known that THC and THC-V are primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana. Other cannabinoids (CBD, CBN, CBC, CBG …) have little effect of this type. In this case, how can we explain the variations of the effects that can be observed from one plant to another?

Terpenes, aromatic molecules in plants

Black Somango marijuana from Philosopher Seeds

Black Somango marijuana from Philosopher Seeds

Let’s take a look at one of the components that make up the smell of marijuana. Between 10% and 30%  is composed of terpenes, which are aromatic molecules produced in the resin of the plant. Most of the scents and smells that we associate with plants are the result of terpenes (and flavonoids). Conversely, cannabinoids do not have any aroma or smell.

Because plants can not move, can not escape predators or flee when neighbouring plants overwhelm their territory, they have developed a very efficient defence strategy, primarily based on chemical warfare.

Terpenes ensure several functions: for example, some of them keep predators away, others kill them, others slow their maturation, and others affect their metabolism somehow. Plants use other aromatic molecules to attract pollinating insects -thus ensuring reproduction – or to attract predators of their enemies. Apart from these, there are also other terpenes that can develop because of stress of the plant(excess heat, etc).

Terpenes are a major component of the so-called essential oils from plants. Aromatherapy uses the medicinal properties of these terpenes to regulate mood, sleep problems, acuity and overall health. For example, the essential oil from lavender is calming and relaxing, while rosemary increases concentration and produces a feeling of well being.

It is possible to make essential cannabis oil through steam extraction. It is used in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, candles, and also as a flavouring agent in cooking, such as candies and beverages (beer flavoured with marijuana …)

Once marijuana has been harvested it contains about 1% essential oil, composed mostly of very volatile monoterpenes (80-90%), that evaporate very quickly. Once the weed is completely dry, the amount of essential oil is only 0.1%, and about 50% of this is made of sesquiterpenes, which are far less volatile.

What are marijuana terpenes?

More than 100 different terpenes have been detected in marijuana, and there are many more if we consider the different variations of each one. For example, the typical smell of citrus fruits comes from terpenes called limonenes, but these can vary in concentration. The limonenes of a lemon are identical to the limonenes of an orange, but each variety is defined by a different smell, resulting from tiny differences in the proportions or the form of the limonenes that it contains.

Here we list the main terpenes found in Cannabis Sativa and its effects on our health. You will see that percentages can vary widely from one variety to another,:

Terpenes and marijuana

Terpenes and marijuana

Myrcene

Hops

Hops

Myrcene is the most common terpene in marijuana strains (up to 60% of the essential oils of certain varieties) however, it is not found in hemp textiles. It is also found in large quantities in hops or in the West Indian wood (Saint Thomas Bay). Its smell is very similar to cloves (girofle). Myrcene is a potent analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic. It blocks the action of cytochrome, aflatoxin B, and other pro-mutagenic carcinogens. It also has a relaxing, calming, anti spasmodic and sedative effect. Acting in synergy with THC, myrcene increases its psychoactive potential.

Limonene

Limonene is often the second, third or fourth terpene found in cannabis resin. This family of terpenes produces the typical smell we all recognise as citrus. Limonene has anti fungal and anti bacterial properties and is also anti

Citrics

Citrics

carcinogenic. It prevents the detioration of the RAS gene, one of the factors that contribute to the development of tumors. It also protects against Aspergillus and carcinogens present in smoke. Limonene quickly and easily penetrates the blood-brain barrier, which increases systolic pressure. During testing on the effects of limonene, participants experienced an increase in attention, mental focus, well-being and even sex drive. Limonene is used sometimes in spray form, to treat depression and anxiety. It also has the effect of reducing the unpleasantness of gastric acid and stimulates the immune system. Plants use limonenes to ward off predators; for example, it repells flies like any insecticide.

Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene can be found in various herbs and spices, particularly in black pepper, which contributes to the spicy flavour. It is a local anti inflammatory and analgesic, and one of the active ingredients of the clove (Giroflé). It is an

Black pepper

Black pepper

efficient remedy to relieve toothache. It also has anti fungal properties. This terpene has the particularity of selectively activate the cannabinoid 2 receptors (CB2), while it is not a cannabinoid. This discovery opens the door to many possibilities in medicinal research.

Pinene

Pinene is responsible for the familiar smell associated with pine and fir trees, and to be more precise, its resin. It is the main ingredient of the essence of turpentine. It is present also in many plants such as Sage or Rosemary. Pinene is used in medicine as an expectorant, bronchodilator, anti inflammatory and local antiseptic. It also crosses the hemato encaphalic barrier very easily, where it acts as an inhibitor of acetylcolynesterasics, preventing the destruction of molecules responsible for the transmission of information, which results in memory improvement. It

Pine branch

Pine branch

is largely due to the presence of pinenes that Rosemary and Sage have been considered to be beneficial plants during thousands of years of traditional medicine. This terpene ca, in part, counteract the effects of THC, which leads to a decrease in the acetylcholine levels. The result is that the memory fails more with pure THC than with THC mixed with pinene. Skunk strains are, for example, recognised for their high levels of pinenes. Because this produces a bronco dilator effect, the smoke of plants rich in pinene give the sensation of sucking more air, which can cause hyperventilation or sometimes cough. Pinene also improves concentration, personal satisfaction and energy, but it may be limited by the effects of the terpinol.

Lilac flowers

Lilac flowers

Terpineol

Terpineol smells of lilac, crabapple blossoms and lime blossoms. During tests on mice, their mobility was reduced to 45%. This explains the sedative effect of some marijuana strains. Terpineol is often found in strains that have a high level of pinenes, the aromas of which can hide the smell of terpineol.

Borneol

Mint

Mint

 

Borneol has  aroma of mint and camphor. It is used in Chinese medicine against fatigue, stress, or to recover from illness. The Super Silver Haze Marijuana strain from Sensi seeds is known for its camphor aromas, and its effect is both relaxing and psychedelic. Hence, we can suppose that it contains a good amount of borneol.

Linalool

Lavender

Lavender

Linalool has a floral smell like lavender and spring flowers. Humans are able to smell it at very low levels, from 1 PPM in air. Linalool is currently used in the treatment of various cancers. It also has a powerful calming action, anti anxiety, and produces a sedative effect. In tests on mice it was discovered that their activity decreased by 75%. Linalool is thus partly responsible for the sedative effects of certain marijuana strains. It also has analgesic and anti-epileptic properties.

Eucalyptol

Eucalyptol (also called 1,8-cineol) is the main ingredient of eucalyptus essential oil. It has the characteristic

Eucalyptus leaves

Eucalyptus leafs

minty smell of this tree and is also found in small amounts in marijuana. Its effects relieve pain and improve concentration and inner balance. Plants containing eucalyptol enhance meditation and concentration.

Nerolidol

Nerolidol, with woody and fresh bark aromas, can be found in ginger, niaouli and citronella. It has anti fungal, anti leishmaniasis and anti-malarial properties. It also produces a sedative effect.

Other Terpenes

Other terpenes that can be found in marijuana resin are, for example, phellandrene, phytol, humulene, pulegone, bergamotene, farnesene, D3-carene, elemene, fenchol, aromadendrene, bisabolene, and many more…

We see then that the endless possibilities of terpene profiles are responsible for variations in taste and effects of marijuana. Some combinations of terpenes can act in synergy (the effects are added), while others are antagonists (the effects inhibit each other). Some terpenes increase the assimilation of THC, while others affect the flow of dopamine and serotonin, two of the main regulators of mood and behavior.

Synergistic effects of terpenes and cannnabinoids. (source: Halent Laboratories)

Synergistic effects of terpenes and cannnabinoids. (source: Halent Laboratories)

We know that some medical marijuana users have noticed that one plant in particular helps them more than others. When analysing these plant cannabinoids we see, however, that they have the same or very similar levels than other plants whose effects are lesser. We can see that some terpene profiles, together with suitable cannabinoid rates, are more effective for patients than other similar varieties. We notice then, through the effects of marijuana, that terpenes do have a role. Unfortunately, current chromatography techniques do not allow accurate identification of all terpenes present in marijuana.

This diversity offered by nature is impossible to reproduce for the pharmaceutical industry, which attempts to isolate the active principles in order to patent its synthetic reproduction. Pure THC causes very different effects than marijuana because it is missing all the terpenes and cannabinoids that modulate its effect.

The plant’s age, maturity, and time of harvest may also modulate the levels and amounts of terpenes. Usually, the smell becomes more intense during flowering, but it can vary depending on weather conditions, environment (fertilizers …), or plant stress. You will notice, for example, the smell of a plant is usually stronger earlier at dawn than at dusk.
Terpenes are responsible for both the flavour and aroma of the plant. It is important to remember that a plant with little aroma will always have little flavour.

Chart of marijuana aromas (source: Big Book of Buds)

Chart of marijuana aromas (source: Big Book of Buds)

Terpenes and their interactions on the brain is a fascinating subject, which opens the way to numerous medical researches and another level of exploration and creativity for seedbanks. Through recognizing the different families of terpenes, we can predict the effects of a marijuana bud only with its smell!

Mango, myrcene and marijuana?

Tropical mango fruit

Tropical mango fruit

According to several sources, eating a good ripe mango 45 minutes before smoking marijuana increases the effect of the herb. This could be explained by the presence of Myrcene in mangos, which acts in synergy with the THC.

But according to our research, we should select a very good variety of mango, because only a few have essential oil rich in myrcene (Cavalo 57.1%, rose 52.4%, Sword 37.2% and Paulista 30.3%), and besides, this myrcene, mixed with other molecules of the same fruit, decreases their assimilation. Also, if the mango is not very ripe the myrcene level will be too low to notice its interaction.

Essential oil of hops can also be used (hydro-distillation of the unfertilized female flower). It contains more than 20% myrcene which can be assimilated very quickly.

Terpenes open the door to numerous scientific researches and investigations, particularly on a medical level. For example, if we add more limonenes, we will have a more stimulating herb, and on the contrary, if we increase linelool levels of a plant, its effect will be much more sedative.

For more imformation visit the links below.

Pure terpenes (Source: Mark Heinrich)

Pure terpenes (Source: Mark Heinrich)

Entourage Effect – Cannabinoids & Terpenes
Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects
Marijuana and the Cannabinoids Forensic Science and Medicine
Aroma Volatile Constituents of Brazilian Varieties of Mango Fruit
Halent Laboratories

June 24, 2014 | Medical marijuana
26 Comments


26 comments on “Marijuana terpenes and their effects

  1. Pichi

    Dear Sir, the author of this compilation, that might have spent months researching on this topic, used plain language that made the difficult scientific verbiage into an easy to read jewel. The knowledge about terpenes is adding a wider dimension to MMJ and other non-cannabinoid cannabinoid receptors (CB 1, 2, and the soon to be found 3) stimulants and inhibitors. Please include more references to give us power to educate our doctors and health practitioners.
    Thank you very much for sharing this topic with us, the severely ill patients.

  2. Joe

    Great article, lots of informative material, and in an easy to understand format. A+!

  3. Stash

    Please stop calling it marijuana. That was the demon name given it by the U.S. government when they wanted to fight it.
    Th plant is cannabis. It should be designated as such.

    1. Dani Alchimia

      Hi Stash,

      Normally, people use tens of names to designate cannabis. We think that, if we are to support normalisation, we should use all these names (we often use marijuana and cannabis) so there are no misunderstandings; we would hate people thinking that “cannabis” is a substance used by patients, etc. and “marijuana” is something used by “bad people”. We want to fight against this prejudice, about the idea that “marijuana” is bad and “cannabis” is good. Moreover, from what I’ve always read, the term “Marihuana” comes from Mexican Spanish and then spread to other languages. Actually, we are from Spain, and we usually call the plant marihuana rather than cannabis. If the US government used this term to demonize this plant, then perhaps it is the US government who should apologize for that, who should stand and say “yeah, we took a mexican spanish term and used it to make you think this plant was evil”.

      Neither the names nor the plants hurt anyone, what does hurt is unfairness and prejudices.

      Thanks for your comment,

      All the best!

  4. Shiva

    I am not trying to be mean, but I think this flavor chart is far from realistic. Yes they have the fancy machines to identify what is what and so forth but experience is the best proof of anything and in my own experience I can say half of those flavors are almost non-existent and very rare or totally undesirable to start with, and by far the majority of flavors I have experienced are not even listed here. I love Greenhouse and anyone else who loves the blessed plant, but I just wanted to add my list of smells/flavors:

    54 Main Flavors:
    Sweet – fruit, maple, toffee, candy, bubblegum, berries, peach, plum, guava, banana, pineapple, grape, papaya, melon, blueberry, strawberry, cherry, blackberry, raspberry, watermelon, mango, passionfruit, kiwi,
    Sour – citrus, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, tangy, fermented fruits,
    Spicy – hash, sandalwood, camphor, spices, peppery, incense, cedar,
    Bitter – mint, herbs, astringent, rosemary, fennel, petrol, lavender, floral, soapy, pine
    Savory – chocolate, coffee, nuts, salami, garlic, cheese, musk, creamy,

    1. Dani Alchimia

      Hi Shiva,

      As you know, cannabis tasting can be really difficult, since it all starts with the senses and each of us may have slightly different appreciations. That said, I really like your chart, I can find many flavours that I’ve experienced, thanks a lot for your contribution! 😉

      Best vibes!

  5. Shiva

    Cannabis has the incredible ability to manifest awesome flavors that are often indescribable. I have smelled so many even unnamed ones that are just so insane and exotic it strains your mind trying to identify the crazy good flavors inside. From years of investigation and research I found that SALAMI is the one flavor nobody ever mentions but actually accounts for the “mysterious yet iconic cannabis flavor”. In fact this flavor is noticed in many skunky varieties. I should have added GARLIC and ONION to the list I mentioned but that list was not complete. One strain I experienced literally reeked of GUAVA so perfectly it was like having fresh guava peel stuffed up your nose and rubbed on your gums and tongue. Only problem with the strain was that it grew 2 foot long colas that were half a foot wide, and took up too much space even though under 4ft tall. As insane as it sounds the 2ft cola was so sativa-wispy and airy-budded that the final trimmed and dried weight of it was 7g at best. A literal cupped hand could be filled like a tennis ball size worth of the wispy guava bud and this amount would weight a single gram! Crazy! But its history now, so the ‘guava’ is gone! Cannabis is just amazing. I have also found that fresh onion leaves a savory aftertaste in your mouth that is near identical to another prominent cannabis flavor. There have been times a strain has this flavor so strong and exact that when I ate fresh onion I could almost not tell the difference on my palate in the aftertastes.

    1. Dani Alchimia

      Hi again Shiva,

      I’ve been thinking about what you mention about salami, and it really seems to work for some strains I’ve smoked (as you say, mainly skunks but also some thai lines). I once tried to buy a tasting aroma kit but it was too expensive, although I’d love having samples of certain smells which I find particularly difficult to describe.

      Perhaps you like this article on cannabis tasting.

      All the best!

  6. Edmond badham

    Volatile organic compounds boil off at different temperatures. Could a vaporizer be used to select for various compounds and minimize others. If so what temps what compounds?

    1. Dani Alchimia

      Hi Edmond,

      That is precisely one of the strong points of vaporizers, you can select the vaping temperature and thus minimize de vaporization of certain compounds. Here you have a list of boiling points for the most important cannabinoids:

      THC: 157 C / 315 F
      CBD: 160-180 C / 320-356 F
      CBN: 185 C / 365 F
      CBC: 220 C / 428 F
      THCV: <220 C / <428 F

      Hope it helped!

      😉

  7. Kinkao

    Very nice work , thank you for the informations , there is something writen that caught my memories ” Terpenes are responsible for both the flavour and aroma of the plant. It is important to remember that a plant with little aroma will always have little flavour.”
    I have to say that i ve grown some super silver haze and some red panama phenos wich had almost no smell aroma , but once dry and little cured came up with deep strong taste of indian incenses and thick smoke that smelled like incenses too, very pleasant .
    An other taste or smell that we don t mantion here is the strong human female pheromone ( to stay polite ) in certain strains , wich really strange for a plant .

    1. Dani Alchimia

      Hi Kinkao,

      It is true that certain strains have almost no smell when live but once cured they do smell and taste. Still, these are normally exceptions, although very useful especially for outdoor/guerrilla grows, where stealth is essential.

      What is sure is that the numberless combinations of terpenes found in cannabis make of this plant a true wonder for aromatherapy.

      Thanks for your comment!

      😉

  8. Jason King, author The Cannabible

    Fantastic article.
    I would just add that when you are judging a “strain” you are more judging the grower and the grow conditions.
    You can’t just test a batch of indoor grown hydro “Haze” and think that you’ve just tested “Haze”. Phenotype, Genotype, all of it. It’s all different, every time, every batch.

    1. Dani Alchimia

      Hi Jason,

      I absolutely agree with you. I think we often forget how important it is the grower and the growing conditions when judging a strain, also the different phenotypes and their subtle variations. Hydro, organic, indoor, outdoor…and, as you say, every seed is a unique combination of traits!!

      Thanks for your comment, all the best!

  9. argus tuft

    Hi Dan, you’ve clearly done a lot of good work on this however, as a pharmacologist, I would contest your comment:

    “The wide range of flavours and effects offered by the different strains of marijuana also helps you to avoid developing tolerance to its effects: when you have a single variety, the user and his or her body will develop a resistance – tolerance – to the properties of the plant consumed”

    From a pharmacological point of view if you stimulate a particular drug receptor in this case, cannabinoid receptors, you will incur tolarance. Tolerance is a function of drug concentration and time. The presence of other pharmaco-active substances may modulate the cannabinoid response in various ways but as long as cannabinoids are present the “laws” of tolerance still apply.

    1. Dani Alchimia

      Hi argus,

      Thanks for your interesting comment, I’ll surely deepen into this subject. 😉

      All the best!

  10. Patrick

    Argus, in your questioning, are you also accounting for the therapeutic values of the terpenes themselves? what about their individual and entourage effects with the cannabinoids? we aren’t just talking about cannabinoids, but also the other components that attribute to the overall effect.

    1. Dani Alchimia

      Hi Patrick,

      That is another key aspect in regard with cannabinoid pharmacology. I was lucky to attend a conference by Dr. Mechoulam lately and it really seems like the socalled entourage effect is a reality that any researcher should obviate. Of course, this makes it all much more complicated, but also opens a very wide field of research and possible therapeutic applications of both cannabinoids and terpenes.

      Thanks for your comment!

  11. canuck49

    Sooo….Reefer Madness was all wrong then?

    1. Dani Alchimia

      Hi canuck49,

      Reefer Madness offered a completely distorted vision of cannabis and its effects, it was cheap propaganda created by prohibitionists for their own profit.

      Best!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *