What are terpenes and what do they do?

If you’ve ever had the sensory pleasure of walking into a sun-warmed greenhouse, inhaled the fresh zest of a lime or even stopped to notice the beautiful scents which surround us when in the heart of nature, you’ll know that plants and the fragrance they give off can really make you feel great. There are a multitude of reasons for this but the one at the forefront, the molecular structure of that powerhouse of wellbeing, is a little something called terpenes.

People often think terpenes and essential oils are one and the same, but simply put the main point of difference is that while essential oils contain terpenes they also contain many other compounds. Terpenes are the purest form of the essential oil fragrance, if you will. 

Terpenes are a large class of organic compounds, and not all have a distinctive fragrance. For example Squalane, used in our face oil, is a terpene but has no odour. In this article, we’ll focus on some of the ones which do.

You may have heard of terpenes in cannabis, where a wide variety can be found in high concentration producing distinctive smells, colours, flavours and effects across different strains, but did you know that these aromatic compounds are largely responsible for the scents and wellbeing benefits produced by many, many other plants?

Terpenes play a vital role in the plant kingdom, offering unique protection from and repelling predators (grazing/foraging animals, certain insects, parasites, bacteria and disease), attracting pollinators and even working to help plants stay healthy and recover from damage. It just so happens that humans have a lot to gain from the ingestion and inhalation of terpenes too, as more and more studies are starting to reveal. 

One paper, published in the 2018 edition of the Chemico-Biological Interactions journal demonstrated that the consumption of terpenes offers a ‘successful alternative in the treatment of several diseases, triggering beneficial biological effects in clinical and preclinical studies’. 

Limonene, a citrus scented terpene found in abundance in many cannabis strains as well as citrus fruits (like the blood orange essential oil you’ll find in our Uplifting CBD Body Oil), mint, juniper and rosemary, is one of the most heavily investigated terpenes. It’s proven to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antinociceptive, anticancer, antidiabetic, antihyperalgesic, antiviral, and gastroprotective effects, among other beneficial effects in health. And Limonene is just one of around 20,000 terpenes in existence! 

You can get your daily dose of terpenes in many ways, from diffusing your favourite essential oils (terpenes are responsible for the relaxing effects of lavender, the anxiety relieving benefits of cinnamon and so on and so on…), taking a walk in the woods to breathe in the anti-inflammatory, memory boosting Alpha Pinene and Beta Pinene released from pine trees or enjoying broad spectrum CBD products, which contains all of these plus many more.

There’s so much to delve into when it comes to these amazing compounds, but to start with we’d like to introduce you to some of the 100+ terpenes most commonly found in high concentrations in the cannabis plant (and our CBD range):

Myrcene

When it comes to cannabis, Myrcene will almost always be present in higher concentrations than any other terpene. It’s also found wide-spread in nature, including in juniper, mango, hops, bay leaf, lemongrass and more. 

Myrcene has a very strong aroma profile and is largely responsible for the strong smell associated with most cannabis strains – unsurprising really, given that some strains have up to 65% of their terpenes made up with this one! Aside from scent, this compound has a lot of benefits going for it including sedative, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. When used in synergy with cannabinoids, this terpene works wonders for those suffering from insomnia. 

Limonene

As mentioned above (and hinted to in the name) Limonene is found in citrus fruits and so it often gives a zesty aroma to cannabis strains and lots of natural cleaning products too! But it’s not only used in cleaning products for its smell – it’s also a powerful antifungal and antibacterial. Limonene is considered by many to be an all-round hero terpene for it’s far-reaching benefits such as being a wonderful mood enhancer (back to that uplifting body oil again!) and anxiety easer. 

Pinene

You’ve probably already guessed that this terpene has a distinctly pine-y scent and (funnily enough) is found in its highest concentration in pine trees. But you’ll also get it in cannabis, rosemary and parsley among other plants. 

This particular terpene has been a mainstay in herbal medicine for centuries thanks to its ability to help you breathe easy, by relaxing the muscles in the lungs and widening the airways. It also counteracts the less palatable affects of THC (although you won’t find any of that in KLORIS products) by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase activity in the brain.

Linalool

Linalool is best known for its super relaxing properties and can be found in abundance in sleep chaser’s favourite, lavender. It’s famed for unsurpassed anxiety and stress reducing effects and is one of the top terpenes to take if you want to improve your sleep habits. It’s also great for soothing the skin, so an excellent addition to skincare products (providing you don’t have a sensitivity to it).

Caryophyllene

Some terpenes activate the cannabinoid receptors found in the ECS (endocannabinoid system) throughout the entire human body, and this is one of them. Caryophyllene goes straight for our CB2 receptors which means that this terpene offers a unique helping hand when it comes to pain management. It’s also found in black pepper, which is why you’ll sometimes see black pepper added to CBD products, to enhance the benefits. 

Humulene

Most people would probably say that cannabis helps increase appetite but this terpene, commonly found in this endlessly fascinating plant, actually suppresses it. It has also been shown to kill the bacteria responsible for the Staph infection and, in combination with other terpenes and cannabinoids, kill cancer cells. And it’s present in every single strain.

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