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Updated: Jun 19, 2023

The word terpene gets thrown around a lot when we talk about Cannabis.

What exactly are terpenes? I have been asked on numerous occasions.

In herbalism and phytochemistry plants have 7 major categories of “medicinal compounds” commonly referred to as Constituents:

  1. Carbohydrates

  2. Lipids

  3. Amino acids and derivatives

  4. Phenolic compounds

  5. Terpenes

  6. Steroids

  7. Alkaloids

In Herbalism Terpenes are highly valued for their countless medicinal values. Aroma therapy is an essential oil based therapy that relies on terpenes. They are also ingested in any tincture or infused oil made in herbalism.

In Chemistry Terpenes are referred to as VOC- Volatile Organic Compound. We know them commonly as an enjoyable or not so enjoyable aroma that plants give off. It is Volatile because they evaporate easily, the boiling point is different for each Terpene.

What do plants use Terpenes for?

Science has been studying these “smells” and are finding out that this is one way plants communicate with each other in nature.

Terpenes and plant communication study.

It is quite a thrill to realize that these communication signals, can be used by us humans medicinally.

Science is still studying how herbal constituents interact with us humans medicinally.

Terpenes are further categorized into:

  1. Monoterpenes ex: linolool, limonene, menthol, myrcene, thymol

  2. Sesquiterpenes ex: zingiberine(ginger & turmeric) lactones

  3. Essential oils-contains Monoterpenes, Sesquiterpenes, some oil-soluble Phenylpropanoids (Eugonol in clove)

  4. Diterpenes ex: Carnosol (rosemary) aromatic bitters

  5. Triterpenes & Saponins ex: triterpene glycosides (Black Cohosh)

Each of these categories are further broken down and are out of scope of this blog.

Most everyone has a favorite essential oil, essential oils are commonly distilled to extract the “spirit” of the plant --- this is Alchemy.

Every plant has a unique matrix where terpenes reside. In Cannabis Specifically it is in the trichome heads where the terpenes are produced. Therefore Cannabis has a direct synergistic effect from the combination of terpenes and cannabinoids. Further, each strain is different, and within the strain dependent on environment will express different phenotypes. All of which have a unique Cannabinoid and Terpene profile. What an amazing Medicinal Plant!!

Trees produce terpenes in each different part of their structure. Roots, Bark, if punctured Sap, the Flowers and in the Pollen.

Frankincense and Myrrh are classic tree saps filled with terpenes.

Cannabis has intelligently placed terpenes within the cannabinoid matrix for our ol factory to hear what the plants are telling us. Not only do these smells communicate with the plant and animal worlds, they are also used as a poison and deterrent to bugs and animals. This is why caution is always advised when using concentrated essential oils derived from all plants.

Plants have evolved with us walking around on our shared home Earth smelling, and eating everything we can. It is no wonder they know how to appeal to our pleasure senses.

Nature is quite intelligent and some believe that plants have evolved to entice us with their “intoxicating” smells coaxing us humans into “domesticating” and cultivating for human consumption.

Who is really in control? Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan takes this idea in depth.

So when you pack a bowl of your favorite strain, perhaps it is deeper than just the smell.

Perhaps the spirit of the plant is communicating with us through their terpenes.

Bees are natures master herbalists, and directly communicate with plants through terpenes, and pheromones. Thank you Cannabis and all plant spirits for your lovely scents.

This Terpene Educational was written by: Kalos Botanicals


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