What are Terpenes?
Terpenes, also known as terpenoids, are a large class of organic compounds produced by plants. They are the scent bearing, primary constituents of the essential oil component of many medicinal plants and flowers, and are the subject of increasing interest by researchers in regards to their potential therapeutic and medicinal applications.
Today, terpenes and terpenoids are being investigated for their stand alone therapeutic effects, in particular their anti inflammatory, analgesic (pain relieving) and mood enhancing qualities, as well as their potentiating and synergistic properties when taken as an adjunct to CBD therapy.
Terpenes occur throughout the plant kingdom and are the building blocks of essential oils. Natural terpenes isolated from other plants such as pine (pinene), mangos (myrcene), lavender (linalool), and others, are exactly the same as the terpenes found in cannabis and hemp. We all have taken a walk through a forest, inhaling deep breathes and noticed the scent of fresh pine in the air. That scent of pine is made up of terpenes. Its why you feel so much better when you are surrounded by these aromas. They can make us feel alert, relaxed, energetic, and many other beneficial effects.
There have been numerous studies over the past half century on natural terpene isolates and their proven health benefits, even without presence of cannabinoids such as THC & CBD. CB2 oil is the latest product to hit the market. Hemp Cb2 oil utilises terpenes found in fruits such as mango, orange and pine to deliver the active terpene profiles. You no longer need to consume cannabis to obtain the benefits from these terpene profiles as they occur throughout many plant species in nature. Terpenes Australia is a huge market segment opening up as it has been discovered that terpenes are responsible for most of the healing benefits associated with essential oils and plants in general. Terpenes are no longer just being used as flavour or scent additives in food.
What exactly are terpenes and why do they matter?
If you’ve enjoyed the sharp, citrus scent of an orange or the delicate, floral quality of a rose, then you’ve experienced terpenes. Terpenes are what give most plants their scent or taste. But even more than that, terpenes have a lot of potential benefits and they create sensorial experiences.
And those experiences can be surprisingly vast...
What are terpenes?
In the most basic sense, a terpene is an organic hydrocarbon. But what does that mean for you? Technically, there are hydrocarbons all around us. And “hydrocarbon” really just means that it’s a compound made of both hydrogen and carbon. If you didn’t know, there are a LOT of hydrocarbon substances. But very few of them are as enjoyable as terpenes.
If you’ve ever used essential oils, then you’ve ALMOST used terpenes. Essential oils are extracted from plants and, for quite some time, were considered the “essence” of a plant. However, plants actually contain several different terpenes. So an essential oil will contain several different terpenes too.
As an example, Pine Oil may smell strictly like the sharp, earthy scent of a coniferous tree. But it actually contains the terpenes alpha-pinene, beta-pinene and terpinolene. Along with a few other compounds, these terpenes are what help to create the blended scent that we know as pine.
It’s only been recently that technology has allowed us to further refine essential oils so we can isolate individual terpenes. It's also allowed us to develop compounds known as terpenoids.
While the term terpenoid has often been used interchangeably with terpene, they're not exactly the same. We know that the latter is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon, but terpenoids have been denatured by oxygen. This is often done through the drying or curing of herbs and flowers.
But with either compound, there are limitless applications!
Why do terpenes matter?
Other than being the building blocks of your favourite scents and flavours, terpenes matter because they interact with us. And they interact with us in some pretty interesting ways.
You might have noticed that sometimes certain scents evoke particular memories. In the past, it was thought that certain smells can bring about an emotional state because of a memory associated with that scent. And to a certain extent, that’s true.
Psychology Today says that scents are “processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain.” That bulb is also directly connected to the amygdala and the hippocampus--brain areas strongly associated with emotion and memory. But with terpenes it’s not quite so simple.
Terpenes can actively influence receptors in the brain. This influence can affect a number of different neurotransmitters, and, depending on the terpene, it can have various effects. The good news is that a lot of these effects are very beneficial to the body.
Some terpenes are anti-inflammatory, some are analgesic, and some even have mood enhancing properties. And we’ve been interacting with terpenes for quite some time too.
A brief history of terpenes
Ok, maybe people didn’t know they were using terpenes. But when medieval people put lavender under their pillows to help them sleep, they were reaping the benefits of linalools calming, relaxing properties.
Black pepper was used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine as an anti-inflammatory and to improve digestion. All along, they were really utilising the medicinal properties of beta-caryophyllene. The point is, whether we’ve been aware of it or not, we’ve been benefiting from terpenes as long as we’ve been using plants.
While the perfume industry was certainly using terpenes long before this, it wasn’t until 1887 when a German chemist, Otto Wallach, discovered the structures of several different terpenes. After that, the scientific community finally started understanding the intricacies of terpenes.
The fairly recent use of molecular distillation has made it possible for the precise isolation of specific terpenes. This means that a much greater amount of control can be used. For companies trying to use terpenes in their products, this is a VERY good thing.
The terpene levels of plants can vary due to any number of things (soil, farming practices, drought, etc.). So even if you’re using the same plants from the same farm that you’ve used for a decade...the terpene levels can still vary. This means that the scents and flavours of your products can vary too. And a lack of consistency isn’t a good thing when you’re trying to create a successful product.
The ability to isolate terpenes gives us more control over their commercial use and more control over research into their potential benefits.
Like we said earlier, terpenes have a variety of different effects. Some of those affects influence our bodies and others influence our frame of mind. Here is a short list of some of our terpenes and their potential benefits.
Myrcene - This is a fantastic terpene to blend with other terpenes because of its effect on the blood-brain barrier. Essentially, that barrier is like a scary bouncer that only lets in so many people to a club. Myrcene has the ability to put that bouncer in a much better mood, meaning that more people can get in. So while it has anti-inflammatory, pain-relief, and analgesic properties all on its own, it can also boost the effectiveness of other terpenes as well.
Limonene - Found in oranges, limes, grapefruit, and lemons, this terpene obviously packs a big citrus kick. This terpene has been known to possess anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, and antioxidant properties.
Linalool - Most often associated with the scent of lavender, this floral and minty terpene is commonly used in products designed to soothe and calm. That’s because of its powerful anesthetic-like affect that can reduce cell excitability in the spinal cord. This means linalool will help relax both your body and your mind.
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