Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ll have noticed that people are giving less attention to THC percentages and paying more lip service to the role terpenes play in producing a certain high. But did you know that terpenes are actually the secret puppet masters in the cannabis plant that have been controlling your high this entire time?
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are the aromatic oils found in the plants that give them their distinct fragrance. Terpenes are found in all plants, not just cannabis – they help to repel certain bugs and predators, while at the same time attracting the right insects to help them pollinate successfully.
Terpenes are secreted out of the same sticky resin glands as THC and CBD, as well as other cannabinoids. There are about 20,000 terpenes found in the plant kingdom, and 200 or so of those appear in cannabis plants. Many elements affect the mix of terpenes a cannabis plant will have, and the same strain doesn’t always produce the same aromatic oils. Factors such as soil, fertilizer, climate, and the age of the plant play a pivotal role in the combination of terpenes your plant ends up with.
How does it effect my high?
We already know that CBD and THC bind to our cannabinoid receptors in the brain to produce a certain ‘high’, but just recently it has been shown that terpenes play a crucial role in controlling how cannabinoids work. Terpenes actually influence how cannabinoids interact with our body, by controlling how much THC and CBD enters our brains through the blood-brain barrier. So, while two plants may have similar levels of CBD and THC, they may produce entirely different effects depending on their dominant terpenes.
With sativa plants, the dominant terpenes are usually limonene, which is found in citrus fruits, and pinene which is also present in conifers like pine trees, spruces and cedars. These terpenes create an energetic, euphoric high. Indica on the other hand is usually more dominant in linalool (a floral scent found in lavender) and myrcene (which is found in hops and many herbs), and because of these dominant terpenes creates a sedative, calming effect.
When it comes to hybrids, that ‘mix’ of effects you’re getting is more to do with the combination of terpenes present in your strain, than the breeding of an indica and a sativa plant. This unique cocktail of more elevating terpenes along with more calming terpenes are what gives each plant its unique effects.
Terpenes in medical marijuana
When it comes to medicinal marijuana, terpenes are an important factor in choosing a strain for treating specific illnesses. Choosing a strain is difficult enough as it is, with the wide range of medical strains available.
While linalool is more effective at stabilizing conditions like anxiety, insomnia, stress and depression, a terpene like humulene is best used as an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial aid for treating pain conditions. Other common terpenes are caryophyllene, which is used to treat insomnia and muscle spasms, and eucalyptol (found in eucalyptus) which has been used to treat asthma.
Labs are now starting to provide terpene levels along with THC and CBD percentages, for the truly dedicated cannabis connoisseur. High levels of terpenes are a good indicator of a higher quality strain, but anything over 40% is too much – unless you feel like vaping straight cologne.