What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes (pronounced tur-peens), or terpenoids, are aromatic metabolites found in the oils of all plants. Terpenes are chemical oils produced by plants that create the unique flavor, scent and effect of herbs, fruit and flowers. When smelling a flower or herb, your nose actually registers the unique terpene profile of the plant. More than 30,000 unique terpenes have been identified in plants, animals, microbes, and fungi, which create aromas and flavors. Terpenes help carry out biological functions, can serve as vitamins, pheromones, and hormones as well as influence the immune system. When combined, terpenes produce complex profiles. For example, the herb lavender smells pleasant, tastes slightly sweet and floral, and has a relaxing effect.
Terpenes are secreted along with cannabinoids in the flower’s sticky resin glands. They are responsible for cannabis’ smell, flavor and contribute to its overall sensory effect. Terpenes give the Blueberry cannabis strain its berry smell, Sour Diesel its skunky smell, and Lavender its floral aroma. Over 100 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant, and every strain tends toward a unique terpene type and composition. Terpenes play a key role in differentiating the effects of various cannabis strains. Terpenoid production evolved over time in plants, including cannabis, to attract pollinators and to act as defense compounds. Female cannabis plants produce glandular trichomes, which are glands that look like small hairs or growths that protrude from the flowers and leaves. Trichomes house crucial compounds, including cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD), flavonoids, and terpenes.
Terpenes and cannabinoids interact synergistically to promote relaxation and stress-relief, while others promote focus and acuity. The effect profile of a given terpene can change when combined with other terpenes and cannabinoids in a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. Research suggests that terpenes offer medicinal value as they mediate our body’s interaction with therapeutic cannabinoids.
Technology has developed a method of distilling terpenes into highly concentrated forms that can be used individually or in conjunction with other terpenes. Terpene isolates are commonly used in cosmetic products, incense, food flavorings, perfumes, natural medicines and a wide variety of everyday products.
Pure, isolated terpenes are highly concentrated and may pose health risks if consumed or applied to the skin with out proper dilution. Working with terpenes is shaman-like, calling on an understanding the terpene to safely unlocking their amazing potential. For instance, certain varietals are more potent than others, meaning that one dilution method cannot be applied to every type of terpene. Achieving balance can be tricky but well worth the personal learning needed. — Beverly Potter