What’s That Smell? What You Should Know About Terpenes
Our sense of smell is for more than enjoying fresh baked bread or flowers in spring. It is a lifesaving ability, helping us to smell smoke, to find food and to identify what is not safe to eat.
When it comes to cannabis, your sense of smell can be one of your best guides. Cannabis, like all plants, has a signature smell. This is due to terpenes.
What Are They Terpenes?
Terpenes are compounds found in the essential oils of plants. They are what give growing things their smell. A pine tree smells like a pine tree because of terpenes. The smell of a rose is actually a combination of terpenes. Terpenes are considered “volatile” because they are rather fragile and evaporate easily. This is why a fresh peach smells very different than a dehydrated one.
Scientists have identified and characterized the molecular structure of more than 20,000 terpenes, which compose the largest category of plant chemicals. According to Martin A. Lee, an author and cannabis authority, roughly 200 terpenes have been found in cannabis, but only a few of these odiferous oily substances appear in amounts substantial enough to be noteworthy (or nose-worthy, as it were).
Known Therapeutic Effects
Terpenes are not just pretty smelling chemicals. They serve a functional role in helping animals and insects identify food sources and natural medicine. They repel some insects and animals in order to protect the plant and can even serve as an attractant to beneficial insects. They can help humans in the same way. Some terpenes found in the marijuana plant have been proven to have therapeutic effect, even in very small doses.
The terpene associated with black pepper has been shown to protect the gastrointestinal system, effective at treating ulcers and inflammation. A study published by Dr. Ethan Russo, a world class cannabis researcher and neurologist, believes that terpenes “could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.”
Entourage Effect = Therapeutic Success
Scientists have theorized that the cannabis plant may be much more therapeutic in its whole essence, rather than being processed to simply remove single cannabinoids such as THC or CBD. This theory of the sum being more beneficial than any single compound is known as the Entourage Effect, a phrase introduced by Raphael Mechoulam in 1998. Terpenes are thought to play a very important role in this ‘symphony’ of therapeutic effect.
Some Top Terpenes in Cannabis
While there are many terpenes that make up the bouquet of smell in a sample of quality cannabis, a few rock stars stand out among them as more common:
- Alpha Pinene has a pine smell and can be found in conifers, rosemary and sage.
- Beta Caryophyllene has a woody, spicy smell and can be found in pepper and cloves a
- Limonene has a bright, citrus smell and can be found in lemons, oranges and juniper.
- Linalool has a floral, citrus, candy smell and can be found in lavender, laurels and rosewood.
- Myrcene has an earthy, smell and can be found in mango, lemongrass, hops and thyme.
- Terpinolene has a smokey or woody odor and is found in apple, cumin, lilac and tea tree.
Training Your Nose
A connoisseur of wine is not born overnight. It can take years and years to train the olfactory system to identify certain terpenes to distinguish one wine varietal from the next. The same is true for cannabis. While a novice may believe that all cannabis smells the same, a more experienced user will be able to begin to distinguish these characteristic terpenes.
Of course, many products may have terpene content listed on the laboratory label. We encourage you to begin to pay attention to terpenes, especially as you identify strains that work best for you. You may find that shopping for terpenes over strain names may help you to find varieties that are your personal best fit.
Cannabis Terpene Guidance
Greenlight Approved retail partners are terpene savvy and able to help you further develop your cannabis terpene palette. Engage them on this topic. By doing so, you will show that you are ahead of the curve and an informed consumer.
Remember, life is much better when you stop and smell the flowers – especially cannabis flowers.