What are Terpenes and Why Are They So Important?
Our organic CBD joints will widen your smile without altering your mind. But it’s not just the CBD that’s keeping your head right. So let’s take a sec to give the spotlight to another key ingredient of our organic hemp flower: its terpenoids.
These molecules are hot right now. They are abundant. They’re everywhere. And their role in our CBD flower and pre rolled joints is massive. You already know this, but not because you see the terpenes. Because you smell them. They’re the essential plant oils that give scent to plants of all kinds: fruits, flowers, trees.
And hemp plants.
Will you seem strange stopping to smell the terpenoids? No way man! We always take a moment to plant our feet and inhale the notes of pine, pepper, hops and lavender as we open a fresh pack of Dad Grass. It’s a transportive experience, reminding us of the first whiff of a freshly-poured Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The warmth of freshly chopped firewood. The peppery bark of a steak or that crisp, line-dried scent of lavender wafting from freshly washed laundry. We've already talked about this a bit in our our Batch #004 Smoking Notes from last year (part of our Grass Guide for Guys & Gals), but now we're going to take an even bigger whiff of the science around all this stuff.
Turns out, these scents play a big part in the full symphony of 500 or so molecules produced by hemp and cannabis plants alike. It’s the full symphony that makes their flowers valuable, says Dr. David Bearman, a longtime expert in all things related to the cannabis plant and how its molecules act in the body.
“This is an important concept in plant-based medicine,” he said. Dr. Bearman is the vice president of the American Association of Cannabinoid Medicine, or AACM. “In the case of cannabis, it is the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes acting in concert.”
The ‘entourage effect’ is the term researchers use to describe the synergy that happens as the molecules in a cannabis plant play together in the body and achieve that mellow feel-good vibe. Scientists who study plant medicines have long observed that the various types of molecules found in cannabis or hemp plants have complimentary effects.
This is why you’ll hear tuned-in folks like Dad Grass talk about using the plant, the whole plant and nothing but the plant. Nothing synthesized. Just all-organic goodness working in concert to keep your heart light and mind right.
Vocab Lessons as Mellow as Our CBD Pre Rolls
So let’s break down the science vocab real quick.
Cannabinoids. These are the 100 or so naturally occurring molecules in cannabis plants whose effects in the body have long fascinated us. They’re what’s kept generations of humans coming back for another toke. The two cannabinoids you know best? Probably THC, the molecules that give you that big marijuana high, Mary Jane.The other is CBD, the star of our CBD flower and pre rolls. Think of it as the legalized little bro of the cannabis sativa plant. CBD is the chemical whose anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing properties have created a buzz all their own.
We could get in the weeds with more cannabinoids – CBG, CBN – but that’s for another time. The important takeaway for now is that our organic hemp flowers contain multiple cannabinoids – always less than .3% THC – and that these cannabinoids work together in your body to give you that calming, low-key feel good buzz.
There are at least 20,000 known terpenoids; many-a-plant has them, explains Dr. Ethan Russo in this in-depth interview. Dr. Russo is a neurologist and leading cannabis researcher who gave us permission to quote him. He is not financially affiliated with Dad Grass.
The scents produced by terpenoids subtly convey feelings and information. It’s all kinda trippy when you stop – maybe to toke up a CBD joint – and think about it.
Start with citrus: your oranges, lemons and limes. These fruits are famous for their awakening, clean scents. Imagine a lemon and how zingy fresh it smells when you peel off the skin. Lemon juice turns out to be a particularly useful – albeit sticky – cleaning agent on its own; this is why its scent is added to synthetic cleaning products. It’s kind of crazy to sit back and realize the smell of lemon is clean… and it is a proven cleaning agent. The nose knows.
Lavender plants are likewise famous for their calming terpenes.
The refreshing terpenes present in pine trees needles are similarly beloved. Think about trekking through a dense conifer forest, hearing birds chirp overhead as your feet crunch across a dirt path covered in fallen pine needles. You breathe in deeply that refreshing, fresh scent of pine trees. Guess what? You’re enjoying a terpenoid called pinene.
A bronchodilator (“bron-ki-o-dialat-or”), pinene opens up your airways. So yeah, you really are breathing deeper out in the woods, man.
Pinene is also going to help you remember that trip to the forest; it is known to enhance short-term memory.
“There’s an actual physical chemical effect going on,” Dr. Russo said. “Pinene is something that causes alerting in the human brain. It does this by interfering with the breakdown of the citicoline, the memory molecule in the brain. It actually enhances memory and cognition. And pinene is present in cannabis. It impairs the short-term memory impairment that THC is so infamous for producing.”
See where we’re going with this? Terpenoids play off and compliment cannabinoids. (Standard disclaimer: THC is a cannabinoid that you’ll only find in Dad Grass at less than .3%. We good, Uncle Sam. We good.)
A quick translation tool to help you spot these and other terpenoids on a label. All of these can be found in Dad Grass’ smokable hemp:
- Limonene: Lemon
- Pinene: Pine trees
- Linalool: Lavender
- Humulene: Complex earthy scent of pepper, basil, oregano and pine
- Myrcene: Complex, damp smell of mango, lemongrass, basil, bay leaf
- Caryophyllene: Complex Earthy scent of oregano, clove, rosemary,
All these smells leave you with different feelings, right? You feel cheery when you smell lemon. Calm when you smell lavender. That’s not just by chance. Scents turn on our brain. And they do this in tiny quantities; even 1 mg of terpenes can make a big impact, said Dr. Russo.
“The pleasantness is reflected in some area of the limbic system, the emotional centers of the brain, so there’s an actual effect there,” he said.
“It’s not just psychological. There is a biochemical reaction.”
Why Do the Terpenes Do What They Do?
We’ve talked a bit about how terpenoids impact humans. They also serve the cannabis plants themselves.
“The plant invests metabolic energy to make these things because it enhances their survival,” said Dr. Russo.
Like cannabinoids, terpenoids are found in the hemp flowers we harvest. More specifically, they’re found in the sticky trichomes that coat hemp flowers. Trichomes look like tiny transparent crystal filaments frostily coating the little green buds.
When the tops of the wispy little filaments begin to turn slightly golden and milky, the bud is ripe for the picking.
“The bud is what’s the attractant, that’s the sexy thing,” said Liz Rogan, a botanist and cannabis consultant who is also the executive director of the AACM.
“It has pollen, so bees are landing on it. That’s where the plant has its highest expression of the trichomes which contain cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds.”
Sweet terpenes like linalool attract insects to the flowers of cannabis plants. These insects then crawl from plant to plant and inadvertently pollinate – or fertilize – it.
Other terpenes can ward off predators.
Interestingly, cannabinoids and terpenoids share a parent molecule within the plant, Russo said. It’s called pyrophosphate. “Looked at one way they’re half siblings,” he said. “Unlike some mixed families they get along quite well together. They’re chemically related and come from the same source.”
Let’s Toke About Dad Grass Terpenes
Moving off the farm, let’s connect all this olfactory wisdom to your favorite smokable Dad Grass products.
Be they classed as hemp or marijuana, all cannabis plants each have their own unique combinations of terpenes. At least 200 have been identified in cannabis plants, said Dr. Ethan Russo, the neurologist.
Pinene, linalool and limonene are all among the terpenes found in cannabis plants; more than one type of terpene can be present in each plant. Typically, three to five prominent terpenoids are simultaneously present in each plant, Russo said, with trace amounts of many more.
“Different plants have varying concentrations of each terpene, and thus have different scent and ‘flavor’ profiles,” said Ryan Vandrey, a professor with the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
“These are driven by both the genetics of the plant, the stage of development, and the environment in which it was grown.”
The most frequently occurring and familiar terpene in cannabis plants is probably myrcene.
Myrcene – say it “mer-seen” – is responsible for that damp, earthy smell you chased out of the open window in the bathroom back at your parents’ house. It’s what makes weed smell like weed.
But it doesn’t only occur in cannabis plants. Myrcene is also found in lemongrass. It’s in black pepper. It’s in hops and is responsible for giving beer its scent.
The interplay between Myrcene and THC is particularly interesting to researchers, who have observed that Marcene may turn down the volume of THC in terms of the high it produces, said Dr. Bearman, who has written two books on cannabis including Cannabis Medicine: A Guide To The Practice of Cannabinoid Medicine.
When myrcene occurs at too high a level, it can make cannabis smokers feel sleepy or lethargic. Indeed, all terpenes have effects – and can blunt or amplify the effects of cannabinoids.
A second prominent terpinoid is caryophyllene; this one also has a peppery, clove-like scent and can be found in oregano, cinnamon and hops. It is the only terpene that also acts like a cannabinoid in the body; it clicks in to the body’s CB2 receptors - as does CBD. A series of receptors, the CB1 and CB2 receptors, are situated all around the body and function as part of our endocannabinoid system, our body’s natural system for keeping in homeostasis.
All to say: caryophyllene is super interesting because it does molecular double duty and adds to the anti-inflammatory properties of your CBD joint.
Scientists like Vandry and docs like Dr. Bearman are still very much studying how cannabinoids and terpenes play together, looking for empirical data to prove what we all feel anytime we enjoy the organic goodness of hemp flowers.
“The current hypothesis is that many terpenes have direct effects on physiology and behavior and can modulate the pharmacodynamic effects of cannabis use compared with use of THC or CBD alone,” Vandry said. “The exact effects depend on the terpene in question.”
For now, research into cannabis and terpenes remains heavily restricted - thanks, Schedule 1- which is why there aren’t reels of it to cite.
But next time you reach for your Dad Grass joints or flower, you’ll know it’s the terpenes that will have you lightening up before you even light up.