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Introduction to terpenes

The manifold varieties of cannabis (there are nearly 800 in total) exude many different fragrances that can sometimes be fruity, floral, herbal or woody. These scents have natural functions, such as repelling insect pests or attracting those that contribute to the pollination process. But what is most fascinating is that these smells are produced by terpenes, a substance secreted by the plant’s resin glands, and we are only now beginning to get the true measure of their very promising therapeutic potential. 

Powerful aromas

Smells have extraordinary power. 

They can instantly evoke distant childhood memories buried in the subconscious. They also have the ability to stimulate, sharpen awareness and strongly repel. Since the early 1990s, Las Vegas casinos have even been employing fragrance experts to stimulate players and encourage them to stay longer in their gambling establishments. (In fact, it’s so effective that you can even often purchase these scents to take home, a trend that has become extremely popular with tourists.)

Although the seductive powers of smells are used to serve commercial interests, they also have the ability to soothe, and even heal. This is the whole idea of aromatherapy. 

In Japan, scientists are looking into the psychological and physiological effects of “forest bathing,” a nice-sounding word for spending a few hours in a sylvan environment. Particularly in forests of conifers, which also produce these famous terpenes present in the essential oils of aromatic plants (and taste, when it comes to cannabis) and are as wide-ranging as clove, lemon, lavender, basil, hops and rosemary.

After examining cannabinoids (THC and CBD), an increasing number of researchers are now shifting their focus to the potential benefits of these molecules, which may well have just as significant properties as other chemical components found in cannabis.

This is not only skunk 

With the legalization of cannabis, and the consequent appearance of a wide range of varieties on the market, we are now able to see for ourselves that they do not all exude that same heady smell of skunk.

Many of the varieties in fact derive their name from the fragrances emitted by the flowers. This is how certain strains with unusual aromas have earned such unattractive titles as Cat Piss (a strong smell of ammonia guaranteed) and Sour Cheese (you can guess). More often than not, however, when talking about a fragrance, their name indicates that the variety produces fruity aromas (Tangerine Dream, Strawberry D-Lite, Fat Banana), floral scents (Lavender) and even hydrocarbon smells (Sour Diesel).

The therapeutic effect of terpenes

Above and beyond their function in nature (notably with insects, as mentioned previously), it is believed that terpenes could be responsible for a number of positive effects on human beings.

Research is only in its early stages and still fairly limited so it is not yet possible to say with any certainty but, in the same way as THC and CBD work in symbiosis, terpenes may very well also play a part in the effect produced when consuming one strain of cannabis rather than another.

All these chemical components would therefore appear to act together and the specific composition of each particular variety would influence the effect produced.

This is called the entourage effect.

It is highly likely therefore that a terpene such as linalool, for example, which is also found in lavender, has the same calming effect in cannabis. Inversely, limonene, which gives the plant its lemon scent, could help create a stimulating effect. 

To take this one step further, terpenes could have even greater potential in terms of their curative properties. We already know, for example, that forest bathing has positive psychological effects, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Certain studies on cannabis are now starting to point in the same direction.

Another important research focus: terpenes from cannabis could reduce the unwanted adverse effects of chemotherapy. 

And this is just the beginning. The scientific community has only just started to take an interest in the interactions of molecules present in cannabis, its different effects depending on how it is consumed and the entourage effect. In short, to use a well-known slogan: the best is yet to come. 



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