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Terpenes provide most plants and herbs with their own scent, flavoring, and coloring and are also a significant component of essential oils. Found copiously in marijuana and hemp, terpenes provide distinctive scents and flavorings to different strains of cannabis. While terpenes are not a newly discovered compound, the recent legalization of marijuana in many states and the popularity of hemp have garnered terpenes a lot of attention lately.

How do terpenes function in plants?

In the plant world, terpenes perform several duties concentrated on maintaining the health of plants. Terpenes can entice animals and insects necessary for pollination, drive away predators, help repair damaged plants, and aid a plant’s immune system by deterring infectious microorganisms. Inside a plant, the organic compound isoprene reproduces to make terpenes, which creates resin. Plant resin is well-suited for making essential oils and aromatherapy products, which have made it an easy crossover for inclusion in the manufacturing of everyday products, including perfume, beauty and health products, and even some foods.

How do terpenes function in hemp products?

Consisting of over 400 compounds, the cannabis plant includes hundreds of terpenes, none of which causes a “high.” However, studies contend that terpenes provide a range of benefits that include contributing to the synergistic influence known as the “entourage effect,” an enhanced experience furnished by ingesting the plant’s complete chemical profile. Full-spectrum formulations encourage the “entourage effect,” as do broad-spectrum formulations. However, broad-spectrum differs slightly from full-spectrum by containing the plant’s complete profile, except for THC, which is removed from broad-spectrum formulations in the remediation process.

Consisting of unique terpenes and cannabinoids, each of the cannabis plant’s separate strains is referred to as a chemovar (also chemotype). A chemovar is a subspecies of a plant that appears similar to the plant species but whose composition varies in terms of the quantity and type of chemicals it comprises. In the case of the Cannabis sativa plant, each cannabis varietal has a unique terpene profile that provides a distinct aroma and flavor for each chemovar, of which there are perhaps thousands for the cannabis plant.

Not unique to the cannabis plant, terpenes are the largest, most diverse group of plant compounds. Listed below are eleven of the most abundant, well-known, and commonly used terpenes that are found in many varieties of plants, including Cannabis sativa:

1. Myrcene: the most prominent terpene found in cannabis, it is responsible for the plant’s trademark earthy scent and is also found in hops, thyme, and lemongrass. Studies report its sedative effects.

2. Beta­-caryophyllene: also found in hops, cloves, and rosemary, this is the other most abundant terpene in cannabis and the only terpene known to also act as a cannabinoid and bind to CB2 receptors. Studies show its effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever.

3. Humulene: another common cannabis terpene, it is also plentiful in hops and gives beer its distinctive hoppy scent. It is also found in sage, clove, basil, black pepper, and ginseng. Studies have reported on it as an anti-inflammatory.

4. Limonene: found in citrus fruits, this terpene provides a citrusy smell that is also used in cleaning solutions because of its bright, spirited scent. Studies have shown its effectiveness as a sedative.

5. Pinene: one of nature’s most prolific terpenes, it provides a piney scent and is also commonly found in pine trees and other conifer plants. Studies have suggested pinene as having restorative potential as an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antiallergic.

6. Guaiol: found in the guaiacum plant, an evergreen that grows mostly in subtropical areas, this terpene has a piney scent and is found in other conifers as well. Studies show guaiol as having antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

7. Terpinolene: also found in cumin, conifers, nutmeg, and lilacs, this terpene provides a crisp herbal-citrus scent. Studies report on its sedating effects.

8. Nerolidol: with a robust woodsy scent, this terpene is found in jasmine, ginger, tea tree, lemongrass, and lavender. Studies show nerolidol has anti-anxiety effects.

9. Ocimene: producing a fragrant floral scent, this terpene can be found in an extensive variety of plants, including hops, mangoes, bergamot, lavender, basil, and orchids. Studies conclude ocimene contains anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antioxidant properties.

10. Bisabolol: abundant only in a few plants, including chamomile and certain cannabis varieties, this terpene’s floral aroma includes scents of honey, apples, and chamomile. Studies show bisabolol has anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive potential

11. Linalool: providing a floral and slightly spicy scent, this terpene can be found in bergamot, lavender, coriander, and jasmine. Studies suggest that Linalool has anti-inflammatory properties.

Why use different terpene profiles in formulations?

It is well-known and reported that odors affect memory and feeling, a phenomenon managed in the brain’s limbic system, which is closely connected with our olfactory sense and is responsible for processing emotion and memory. This powerful association between brain and odor affects how we feel and how we act when we experience different scents. Therefore, by providing numerous options for emotional and multi-sensory experiences, terpenes are an important part of hemp extract formulations.

Beyond that, studies have also found that, like cannabinoids, terpenes affect CB receptors in the endocannabinoid systems (ECS), which is responsible for maintaining the body’s homeostasis by managing sleep, inflammation, pain, and more. The Cannabis sativa plant includes more than 200 terpenes, and studies
have found that cross-breeding chemovars may aid in fighting conditions found resistant to current treatments as well as improve on the safety of pesticides and antiseptic products.

Are terpenoids the same as terpenes?

The term terpenoid is often used interchangeably with terpene; however, the two are not quite the same. Both are naturally occurring, organic compounds; terpenoids merely derive from terpenes. Terpenes have carbon and hydrogen elements and are known as organic hydrocarbons while terpenoids are denatured, meaning they have undergone modification, which occurs, for instance, when cannabis is cured and dried. This adds oxygen atoms to the plant’s composition, thereby altering it from its original carbon and hydrogen structure.

Do all extraction methods preserve terpenes?

Terpenes can be quite delicate and easily damaged. When it comes to extraction, certain methods preserve the integrity of the plant and its cannabinoids and terpenes, while others may reduce potency or damage these compounds. For example, some ethanol extraction methods use carbon to eliminate chlorophyll used during processing. However, carbon also absorbs cannabinoids, which reduces the potency of THC and CBD, diminishing cannabinoid recovery to only 50% – 80%. Ethanol extraction often damages terpenes as well. Ethanol has a high boiling point of about 173 degrees Fahrenheit, and because terpenes begin evaporating once they reach approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit, many boil off during ethanol extraction.

However, the subcritical CO2 extraction platform doesn’t use carbon or solvents, thereby protecting delicate plant chemicals. Using liquid CO2 at very low temperatures and pressures, this extraction method gently preserves and isolates specific compounds, effectively extracting temperature-sensitive cannabinoids, oils, and terpenes. In the absence of using any solvents, all that remains is an impeccably pure product.

Final thoughts

Terpenes provide everyday enjoyment, adding fragrance to many household products and provoking memories and mood enhancement through essential oils. These scents and flavors can augment the pleasure of hemp extract formulations and enhance the “entourage effect.” And with so many different chemovars, the formulation choices are practically limitless. The influx of diverse hemp products has consumers leaning toward variety, and the time is ripe for unique, more complex formulations to hit the market.