What to know about terpenes in cannabis products

Naturally secreted by the cannabis plant, terpenes are said to offer a number of health benefits. (Photo: Shutterstock) Naturally secreted by the cannabis plant, terpenes are said to offer several health benefits. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Terpenes are highly aromatic compounds that create the characteristic scent of many plants (think pine, citrus fruits, lavender and rosemary. In fact, the fragrance of most plants is due to a combination of terpenes that, in nature, help plants repel animals and insects, attract pollinators and protect the plant’s immune system from infectious germs.

Terpenes are the natural form of these compounds when they are in the live plant; however, as a plant dries — as in the production of cannabis, for example — the terpenes oxidize and become terpenoids.

Terpenes in cannabis

In the cannabis plant, terpenes are created in small glands called trichomes. These trichomes produce the cannabinoids THC and CBD, as well as the aromatic oils in certain cannabis varieties that create unique flavors such as berry, citrus and mint. Approximately 10% of these trichomes are made up of terpenes, with the remainder composed of cannabinoids and other compounds such as flavonoids. The specific terpene and cannabinoid composition will vary depending on the strain and growing conditions.

On the cannabis plant, the trichomes form a white coating on the buds and upper leaves, resembling a layer of frost. As the plant matures, trichomes turn from clear to milky white and eventually to yellow or brown, which is why some growers use trichomes as a way to determine when plants are ready to harvest, with the milky white stage being optimal.

Terpenes and the body

Naturally secreted by the cannabis plant, terpenes are said to offer a number of health benefits. For example, many CBD products now contain different terpenes to give each product unique flavors and aromas, as well as to enhance certain characteristics of a CBD product such as energy, calm, relaxation, pain and sleepiness. According to Medical News Today, all terpenes are bioactive and may affect the body in some way. This is why terpenes form the basis of many essential oils and are used in many alternative therapies such as aromatherapy. In fact, a study on chemico-biological interactions published by Science Direct notes that many terpenes have demonstrated beneficial effects on the body and could serve as alternative medicine or therapies.

Today, there are as many as 20,000 different terpenes, with up to 200 found in the cannabis plant, alone, each having slightly different effects on the body and mind. However, just how much of an effect depends on the concentration of the terpene itself and how a person uses it.

Norman Ives ([email protected]) is a cannabis practice leader and wholesale insurance broker at NutraRisk, a division of Worldwide Facilities. As a wholesale insurance broker and program manager, NutraRisk specializes in insurance coverage for the nutraceutical and cannabis industries. 

This article first appeared on NutraRisk’s blog and is republished here with consent. 

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