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A Guide to Understanding Terpenes

What are terpenes, exactly? Terpenes, which are not to be mistaken with terrapins, as I was when I first arrived in MD, are aromatic compounds that can be found on the surface of cannabis plants, called trichomes. These aromatic compounds control the smell and the effects for many users. As we continue to learn more about cannabis, it becomes clear that traditional classifications of plants as indica/hybrid/sativa are no longer accurate. These classifications reflect more accurately plant size, leaf form, and growth patterns. In light of the increasing number of hybrids and strains with creative names, it is now more important to select a strain by its terpene profiles than the strain name. For example, Spritzer, and Cherry Chem, are both technically hybrids, but their terpene profile shows that they have very different effects. How do we interpret these profiles? Let's look:

Let's start with the three main terpenes: Myrcene (limonene), Beta-caryophyllene, and Beta. These terps can be found in higher percentages. Myrcene is the "people's princess" of terpenes. It can also be found in lemongrass, mangos, and other fruits. The deep body high that this sought-after terpene provides can be extremely effective at relieving pain and inflammation. Myrcene-rich strains can also have a sedating effect and help users who suffer from insomnia.

Limonene is next; it's found in citrus fruit and has a citrusy, bright aroma. The "good mood" Terpene, Limonene can improve mood and boost energy. Strains that are high in Limonene may be beneficial to those with depression or chronic fatigue syndrome. They can also help anyone who wants a product they can use throughout the day.

The last of the three is the beta-caryophyllene. It is the most unique of all terpenes because it can bind to CB2 receptors. All of us have an endocannabinoid receptor system that includes CB1 and CB2 that regulates much of our inner regulation. CB1 receptors can be found in the central nervous system and brain, where they regulate mood and appetite. CB2 receptors are located in the immune system, surrounding organs and regulate things like inflammation and immunity. CB1 receptors work with THC for psychoactive effects. CB2 receptors are located outside the nervous system and brain, and they allow THC and CBD to have anti-inflammatory effects. Beta-caryophyllene is the only terpene with a unique molecular shape that can bind directly to CB2 receptors. This makes it extremely helpful for inflammation and chronic pain. This terpene is also found in cloves and black pepper. It has a spicy and peppery smell and taste. It can be extremely helpful for people with chronic pain or arthritis.

There are other terpenes that are important. The three above are the most common. Alpha/beta Pinene is also found in rosemary and pine trees. It has a clean, piney aroma and flavor. Pinene is known to have many benefits, but its most notable one is that it can protect against memory loss. This makes sense since strains with high levels of Pinene often help improve focus and clarity. Linalool is a floral scent that can be found in lavender or rose. Linalool is great for anxiety, and it can have a relaxing effect. Linalool and Myrcene are often grouped together as "night time" terpenes. I separate the two because Myrcene will make you flat all night long, while Linalool will help you relax without letting you stay on the couch. Humulene is the last terpene we will cover. It is found in hops, and has a herbaceous scent. Humulene is different from other terpenes because it has the ability to suppress appetite. Humulene is a terpene that can be used to suppress appetite.

It can be hard to put terpene information into practice. Let's take a look at the profile of terpenes as you would find it in a dispensary. (If the budtender does not show you the profile, ask! Let's first go over the numbers, because different terpenes appear in different amounts. Myrcene, Limonene, and beta-Caryophyllene are all present in higher amounts. Myrcene is often over 2% and beta-Caryophyllene can be as high as 1%. The majority of people believe that a strain has significant Myrcene or Limonene when it contains at least 0.6%, because the effects aren't as strong at lower percentages. There are some terpenes we don't often see in higher percentages, but are still very effective. Humulene, for example, is generally still felt even at 0.3%. The same goes with Pinene and Linalool.

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