Love the smell of cinnamon, lavender or pine? If so, you’ve already encountered terpenes! Terpenes are organic compounds found in many plants, including cannabis. They give each plant its unique scent and flavour. Beyond their aromatic role, terpenes in medicinal plants like cannabis, are believed to enhance their therapeutic effects. So, the distinctive smell of your favourite plant isn’t just pleasant—it might also benefit your health!
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are a group of the world’s largest and most diverse naturally occurring compounds. Essential for plants and animals, they attract pollinators, emit strong odours for protection, and may enhance plant immunity and recovery.
Research on terpenes’ potential benefits for humans is ongoing, with some studies focusing on their potential anti-parasitic and antimicrobial properties.
Terpenes and their potential uses include:
- Monoterpenes: Known for their intense aroma, they are used as repellents and in fragrances
- Sesquiterpenes: Studied for their potential in treating migraines, bacterial infections and malaria
- Diterpenes: Explored for anti-inflammatory properties and potential cardiovascular disease symptom relief
- Triterpenes: May improve blood circulation and aid wound healing.
Where are terpenes found?
Popular plants rich in terpenes include:
- Lemongrass: Its terpenes make it a strong insect repellent
- Tea tree: Contains an ingredient potentially useful for treating infections
- Citrus: Used in medicines for pediculosis treatment
- Thyme: May have antifungal and antibacterial properties
- Sage: Contains an ingredient used in some anti-dementia medicines, known for memory enhancement.
3 most common properties in terpenes:
When a pine tree is attacked by insects, a terpene is secreted to protect the tree from more damage by keeping insects away. Terpenes have antimicrobial properties that help inhibit the growth of microorganisms. Antimicrobial terpenes are also present in in sage, thyme, rosemary and cumin.
Terpenes are a great way to help keep insects away, without using harsh chemicals like pesticides. You’ll find terpenes in many insect-repellent lotions, sprays, and shampoos targeting lice. Terpene-based products are highly effective and don’t contain harmful chemicals that can irritate skin or cause allergies.
Anti-inflammatory terpenes such as myrcene, limonene, beta-caryophyllene, linalool, and alpha-pinene work with the body’s endocannabinoid system to reduce swelling, block the production of inflammatory molecules and help protect the body from stress. You’ll find these kinds of terpenes in rosemary, cloves, hops and mangoes.
Types of terpenes
Some common terpenes scientists have studied that are found across different cannabis strains:
Pinene, known for its bright scent could potentially help maintain alertness and focus. It may also have anti-inflammatory properties, contribute to pain relief and relaxation, support memory and respiratory functions, and possibly inhibit the spread of bacteria and viruses.
Limonene, found in citrus fruit rinds, may have antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties. Limonene may also boost the immune system.
Myrcene, a potent antioxidant found in lemongrass, hops, and thyme, is being researched for its potential to safeguard patients against brain damage following a stroke.
Linalool, the calming compound responsible for lavender’s rich aroma, is a favourite in aromatherapy and essential oils. Beyond its soothing effect, linalool may offer antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective benefits. Ongoing research aims to understand its potential advantages while ensuring its safe use.
Humulene, found in hops, clove and ginger, may help reduce airway inflammation for people with allergies and asthma attacks.
Found in many herbs such as black pepper, oregano and cloves, this terpene can help with nerve pain and inflammation. Medical experts are looking to beta-caryophyllene as a potential alternative treatment for chronic pain. Early studies suggest that the body doesn’t develop tolerance to this compound, which is promising for long-term use.
Terpenes are showing promise as potential plant-based alternative medicines, especially for patients who have developed resistance to their ongoing medications. While researchers are still studying the benefits of terpenes and plant-based medicines, many plant therapies are already approved for medical use.
Interested in exploring plant-based therapies? Connect with an authorised plant-based medicine prescriber.