Terpenes are one of the most abundant volatile compounds found in nature. Over 70,000 terpenes have been identified, 20,000+ of which have been found in plants. However, they are also found in fungi, bacteria, marine species like coral, and insects, including butterflies and walking sticks.
Let’s dive into everything you should know about terpenes to help you understand these beautifully smelling hydrocarbons!
Terpenes serve two primary purposes for the various plants and animals they are found in. First, terpenes are designed to act as defense mechanisms against predators. The strong and bitter flavors of most terpenes, combined with other plant compounds, deter herbivores and insects from eating leaves, flowers, and fruits of plants. Terpenes can also block harmful UV rays and prevent microbial and fungal growth from developing.
The next thing terpenes help plants with is attracting pollinators, like birds and bees, to help them propagate and drop seeds. The vibrant aromas of terpenes can even change throughout the day to attract different pollinators.
Terpenes in Consumer Packaged Goods:
Terpenes are found in a plethora of everyday consumer packaged goods. You’ve been using terpenes since you were born!
The primary industries that utilize terpenes include cosmetics, food and beverage, cleaning solvents, and cannabis.
Terpenes in Cosmetics:
Terpenes are added to various cosmetics like makeup, perfume and cologne, beauty products, toiletries, and essentially any other product designed to clean, improve or change the complexion of skin, hair, nails, or teeth.
Terpenes in Food & Beverage Products:
Terpenes are added to food and beverage products for their aroma, flavor, and ability to change the mouthfeel or texture of food. Some terpenes even can act as preservatives by reducing food spoilage. Some of the most common food and beverage terpenes are added to include candy, sparkling water, ice cream, and baked goods.
Terpenes are regulated by the FDA when included in food and supplements. They should only be sourced as an ingredient for a consumable product if they are GRAS – Generally Recognized As Safe.
Terpenes in Cleaning Products:
Not only are terpenes added to cleaning products because they smell amazing, but they are also added because they are excellent solvents. Terpenes can break down oily and greasy messes without leaving behind harsh residue.
Terpenes and Cannabis:
Terpenes are incredibly abundant in cannabis. Cannabis yields some of the highest amounts of terpenes in the plant kingdom. What’s interesting about terpenes in cannabis is that instead of serving the two primary functions of protection and propagation, they only help protect the plant since cannabis is wind pollinated and doesn’t rely on help from the birds and the bees!
When grower’s figured out that female cannabis plants produce a lot more THC when they aren’t pollinated, they also figured out that the terpene profile also changes. As cannabis plants get closer to harvest time, they are essentially stressed from not being pollinated, which is unnatural, and changes in watering and feeding cycles stress them out as well.
This stressful environment manipulates the plant’s terpene profile, which can drastically change towards the end of the growth cycle. As a result, the volume of terpenes can increase, or minor terpenes can begin to stand out, transforming the plant’s aroma profile.
If you are still looking for your way into a grow right before harvest, the next best way to experience the pungency of fresh terpenes is to get your hands on some live resin! Live resin is created by extracting the essential oil of cannabis out of freshly frozen plants.
Immediately after harvest, plants are flash frozen, encapsulating the plant’s terpene profile at harvest time. Depending on the extraction method, the final product can smell like you’re standing in the middle of a grow room during harvest.
Aside from being naturally occurring in all flower and most concentrate products, terpenes are added to many cannabis products for flavor and aroma, primarily due to their ability to affect our emotions and mood.
The Effects of Terpenes:
Terpenes can make you feel calm, relaxed, energized, uplifted, focused, etc. When combined with THC from cannabis, terpenes generally create effects that fall within a spectrum of super sedative to incredibly stimulating.
Think of THC as the gas pedal and terpenes as the steering wheel. The THC is the driving force to being high, but the terpenes steer you to different experiences. You can feel so different from strain to strain due to the entourage effect of the terpene profile and the cannabinoids.
How terpenes are consumed and what they are consumed with will vary in their effects. Many studies indicate that a particular terpene through aroma therapy may provide a calming or soothing feeling. Still, if that same terpene is smoked with THC, it may have a super stimulating effect. Also, an edible with a specific terpene profile may have a different impact than a vape pen or joint with the same terpenes since digesting terpenes differs from smelling or inhaling them.
Interestingly, our memory plays a significant role in how terpenes are experienced. Our scent receptors throughout our olfactory system replace themselves every couple of weeks, and the science of how scent molecules send signals to the brain and how we react to them is still up for debate. Consider this. Many of us used to be grossed out by the smell of skunk when we were young kids. However, as we grew up and began experimenting with cannabis, the smell of skunk gradually became something positive instead of gross. Now, as adults, many of us will smell skunk and leave the windows down, or maybe even put them down, because that skunk odor now reminds us of cannabis, not roadkill! The smell of skunk didn’t change – our emotions toward it did!
As research on terpenes and cannabis expands, the science of how these wonderful little hydrocarbons affect us will continue to change.
So, what matters most when it comes to terpenes and their effects? It’s simple. Do you like the aroma, and does it make you feel good?
Although there is a science to explain how citrus or pine makes most people feel, think about yourself regarding terpenes, not what you’re told. If the aroma profile of an isolated terpene or your favorite cannabis strain makes you feel different from what is considered the norm – who cares?! As long as you have a positive experience and achieve the experience you’re looking for – perfect!
Check our YouTube video about Terpenes!