Other than cannabinoids, the cannabis plant contains many other groups of interesting chemical substances, some of which even shape its effect on us. One of these groups is known as "terpenes". Terpenes are not unique to the cannabis plant. They are produced naturally in many plants, where they are responsible for creating the wonderful plant flavors and fragrances we all enjoy. Humans have been extracting terpenes for centuries, using them to make lubricants, perfumes, pesticides, and many essential oils. It is important to note that not every cannabis product or strain has the same terpenes or concentration of terpenes. This is clearly shown in the differences we perceive in impact, appearance, and consumption experience when using strains with an identical cannabinoid profile.
The average cannabis plant has roughly three dominant terpenes that make up between 1.5% and 4% of the plant, although there are a few strains that have higher percentages. The terpene percentage will decrease if the flowers are not stored in ideal conditions, or if the growing process has not been adapted to properly care for and cultivate the plant.
Even though these percentages sound tiny, this is all it takes to provide the plant with its full profile of flavors and fragrances. However, in addition to taste and smell, it has recently been discovered that terpenes also influence the extent of cannabis’s effect on the body thanks to their synergy with cannabinoids.
When using a cannabis product that contains all the active ingredient groups (cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids), the effect is much greater than when using a higher concentration of just one substance. This phenomenon is known as the "entourage effect" thanks to the ability of terpenes to accompany cannabinoids, accelerate and even enhance their activity in the body, and thereby empower each other when consumed. The entourage effect has been the subject of many researchers in the last few years. Recently, an Israeli company conducted a study that showed promising results when using terpenes from the cannabis plant to treat COVID-19 infections.
Terpenes not only influence the intensity and type of effect that cannabis has on the body. They also each have their own unique effects, as well as circumstances in which they work best. This means that terpenes are an important aspect of the user’s satisfaction with the treatment and it is worth considering the terpene profile before purchasing a cannabis product. In order to facilitate this choice, we will review the recommended terpenes for the five most common indications for medical cannabis in Israel. We will list the appropriate terpenes for each indication, as well as their different properties and effects on the body, to help users identify the most suitable strains.
Chronic pain is the most common indications for medical cannabis use in Israel. Fortunately there are quite a few terpenes that have an analgesic effect, one of which is the terpene that most frequently occurs in cannabis overall – myrcene. Myrcene is found in most cannabis strains, as well as in mango and yeast, and is a key ingredient in the overall flavor profile of cannabis. It is responsible for cannabis’s sweet earthy aroma. Myrcene helps THC cross the blood-brain barrier in the body. Humulene, and particularly alpha-humulene, is also an effective pain reliever and has an earthy aroma reminicent of hops.
Another effective analgesic is Linalool, found mainly in lavender. Linalool is one of the terpenes responsible for the intense wildflower scents associated with certain cannabis varieties. Beta-caryophyllene also helps with pain relief and is the only terpene able to interact directly with the CB2 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. Caryophyllene is responsible for woody, peppery flavors and fragrances.
Other, less common, analgesic terpenes include Camphene, which conveys a cypress fragrance; Eucalyptol, common in eucalyptus and responsible for its unique aroma; alpha-bisabolol, found in chamomile; and Borneol, present in certain wildflowers.
Some terpenes have unique effects that can be very helpful when treating PTSD and building improved mental resilience. One of these is Limonene, commonly found in citrus zest, spearmint, and peppermint. In cannabis plants, it is mainly present in sativa varieties. Limonene has two special abilities: it calms and improves mood, and it also boosts the activity of other terpenes within the plant. Linalool, the terpene common to lavender, also improves relaxation, and beta-caryophyllene works effectively in combination with these two.
Other terpenes recommended for reducing stress, relieving anxiety, and developing mental fortitude are Terpineol, which is responsible for lilac aromas and for black tea flavors, as well as alpha-pinene, which is commonly found in pine trees and some citrus peels.
The cannabis plant has a very broad effect on the body when coping with and treating cancer. Cancer treatments often include chemotherapy, which leads to nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. About half of the known terpenes, including most of those mentioned so far, have been proven effective in helping to deal with and treat cancer. Linalool, beta-caryophyllene, and myrcene help to relieve nausea and stimulate the appetite.
They can be combined with alpha-humulene, borneol, and limonene, which are also known to have anti-cancer properties. In addition, both alpha and beta-pinene, which are identified in coniferous tree fragrances, are categorized as anti-cancer terpenes. Terpinolene, which spreads sage and rosemary fragrances, also exhibits several anti-cancer effects in the body, as does Geraniol, which is common to certain wildflowers, lemon blossoms, and tobacco leaves.
Crohn’s & Colitis
Patients with Crohn’s and colitis can benefit from using cannabis strains with a high limonene factor to benefit from the healing effect that this terpene can have on the entire digestive system. Camphene, beta-pinene, and myrcene can also be very helpful in terms of relieving pain and nausea. Another terpene that contributes to easing Crohn’s and colitis is Terpinolene, due to its ability to reduce nausea and soothe the digestive system.
Linalool is the only terpene that exhibits a significant anti-epileptic effect. However, this effect can be intensified by using it in combination with two other terpenes: beta-caryophyllene, which strengthens the nervous system, and Geraniol, which also helps to boost the nervous system.