In the cannabis industry, lots of words get thrown around – not just words like “corn chips” but also much more scientific jargon. Terpenes, for instance, are often discussed in their relation to pot. This is because Mary Jane has a lot of them, over 200. They are, in fact, one of the reasons marijuana works as medicine.
What are Terpenes?
Some people are born chemists, preferring to eat their romantic dinners by Bunsen burner than candlelight. Others don’t think chemistry is worth its NaCl. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it’s hard to learn about terpenes without several nods to science. Don’t worry, we’ll be quick.
Terpenes are organic compounds found in a variety of plants – they are a class of molecules typically made up of either ten of fifteen carbon atoms. These atoms are built from isoprene, another organic compound also produced by plants. Terpenes are volatile, meaning they evaporate fairly easily. This helps their aroma reach your nostrils.
In short, their volatility is why flowers smell nice
Terpenes are multi-talented in their usefulness, with many things containing them. The Ben Gay in your bathroom medicine cabinet contains menthol, a terpene with the ability to soothe sore muscles right as your spouse tells you to sleep on the couch because of the odor. Essential oils, such as the ones found in aromatherapy, also contain numerous amounts.
Terpenes are found in varnishes as well, such as those applied to violins or certain types of furniture, and foods (particularly those high in beta carotene like carrots, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, mangoes, and peaches). As a general rule, the more intense the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more terpenes it possesses. This is the reason brighter colored produce is healthier. Herbs and spices have them too – rosemary, mint, and basil contain some of the highest levels.
How Terpenes Work
Terpenes interact with the endocannabinoid system just like cannabinoids (the active chemicals in marijuana). When they’re inhaled or ingested, they help the cannabinoids pierce the blood-brain barrier, a barrier that blocks the absorption of certain substances. They also influence the brain’s neurotransmitters, affecting the production of things like serotonin and dopamine. This gives them the power to alter moods.
While dozens and dozens of different terpenes are present in cannabis, there are hundreds of different variations
This is true for terpenes in other things as well. Lemons and oranges both contain the terpene limonene, for example, but in different amounts, which is why lemons smell tart while oranges give off more of a sweetness.
Terpenes in Cannabis
Cannabis is a wonderful source of terpenes and from where many of the health benefits of pot emerge. Different strains of marijuana have different types of terpenes (which is why different strains offer different benefits, different flavors, and different aromas). Some of the most common types include:
Beta-Caryophyllene (BCP): This terpene activates the CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. It’s non-psychoactive and the first FDA approved dietary cannabinoid. It’s also beneficial to your wellness: if you’re down with BCP, you’re down with anti-inflammation.
Alpha-Pinene: Found in cannabis and herbs like sage and rosemary, it’s useful on the skin as a topical antiseptic. It even increases mental energy and acts as a natural bronchodilator as added bonuses. Ergo, smoke some pot with a strain full of this terpene and breathe a little better.
Limonene: This terpene is believed to have anti-carcinogen properties (it’s against cancer, like all of us). It also has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-depressant effects. It’s not only abundant in marijuana, but citrus fruits, peppermint, and juniper, the berries of which are used to make gin (#TheMoreYouKnow).
Myrcene: The terpene that makes up menthol and lemon grass, it’s used heavily in the perfume industry too. It offers numerous benefits, including anti-microbial and anti-septic properties. It’s also an anti-depressant, an anti-carcinogen, and an anti-inflammatory (but not anti-boastfulness, apparently).
Linalool: If you like the smell of lavender, then you have linalool to thank: it’s the magic behind the scenes (and behind the scent). At least partly responsible for the sedation effects cannabis brings upon us, it provides a calming, anti-anxiety action. Excitedly, it’s a very promising factor in cancer research: it has the potential to slow or stop tumors by inducing a cell-cycle arrest. Basically, it tells the cancer cells to kill themselves and those jackasses actually listen.
Terpenes for a Higher High
The benefits of terpenes, whether they’re coming from smoking a joint or eating a plate of broccoli, are well established. In regards to cannabis, specifically, they’re even a little bit wild or at least a bit lofty. Myrcene, in particular, has the ability to increase cell permeability, giving the body the propensity to absorb THC at a faster rate.
Mangoes exacerbate a high if you eat one an hour or so before smoking or consuming edibles; they don’t call them stone fruits for nothing
Of course, this perk isn’t limited to people who simply want an extra groovy for their doobie; it’s also beneficial to medical marijuana users. For certain patients who smoke regularly to help curb pain, relief becomes limited by tolerance or metabolism (or worsening discomfort). Tossing in a mango helps pack a longer and more powerful punch. Add that to the fact that mangos are just plain good for you and there’s yet another reason to back that grass up.
Eating a mango before smoking might help with the munchies too. It probably won’t dull them, as the THC makes you feel as though you’ve been crawling through the Sahara for the past three days, nary a morsel of food in sight. But having bowls of mangoes around is much healthier, and less fattening, than bowls of other things. And, naturally, the extra kick they provide compounds the motivation to grab some fruit instead of Cap’n Crunch or Mr. Peanut. Neither of whom seems like they even know how to party.