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The Smell of Healing: The Importance of Terpenes in Cannabis Therapy

5 Mins read

Terpenes are emerging as a key or even the key signal to other compounds in cannabis. While cannabinoids such as THC and CBD have received significant attention in recent years, Terpenes are a separate group of compounds that may be even more important in predicting the therapeutic effects of cannabis.

Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give plants their distinct scent and flavor. In the case of cannabis, terpenes can significantly impact the effects of the plant on the body. For example, the terpene myrcene has been shown to have sedative and anti-inflammatory effects, while limonene has been found to have anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties.

While cannabinoids have received significant attention in the study of cannabis, it is becoming increasingly clear that terpenes play a crucial role in predicting patient outcomes 1. Several studies challenge the current paradigm and could lead to significant changes in the way we view and use cannabis for medicinal purposes.

We need to delve deeper into recent cannabis research and explore the role of terpenes in cannabis healing. We will also discuss the potential for individuals to improve their sense of smell, allowing them to detect terpenes more accurately. Finally, we will consider different techniques for smelling cannabis flowers and the potential limitations of relying on smell alone to detect terpenes.

The Importance of Terpenes in Predicting Patient Outcomes

The recent breakthrough study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2 found that terpenes were the most important variable in predicting rates of cannabis healing. 

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of over 800 medical cannabis patients’ records to identify the factors that influenced patient outcomes. The study examined a wide range of variables, including demographics, medical conditions, and the chemical composition of the cannabis strains used.

The results: terpenes were the most significant predictor of positive patient outcomes. Patients who used cannabis strains with higher terpene concentrations had better outcomes across a range of metrics, including symptom relief, quality of life, and overall satisfaction with treatment. 

The study found that specific terpenes were associated with particular therapeutic effects. For example, strains with high concentrations of limonene were associated with anti-anxiety effects, while strains with high concentrations of myrcene were associated with anti-inflammatory effects.

Still other studies have found that terpenes can modulate the effects of cannabinoids and enhance their therapeutic potential.

One study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology 3 found that the terpene beta-caryophyllene could activate the body’s CB2 receptors, which are involved in immune system function and inflammation. This suggests that terpenes could play a crucial role in enhancing the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids. 

Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology 4 found that the terpene linalool could enhance the sedative effects of THC, potentially making it more effective in treating insomnia.

Terpenes and THC Strength

A recent study has found that terpenes may also play a crucial role in determining the strength of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. The study, published in the Journal of Toxicological Sciences 5, analyzed the effects of different terpenes on the activity of the enzyme responsible for converting THC into its active form.

The results were surprising: some terpenes, such as limonene and pinene, increased the activity of the enzyme, leading to a stronger psychoactive effect, while others, such as myrcene and linalool, inhibited the activity of the enzyme, resulting in a weaker effect.

A strain with a high THC content but low levels of activating terpenes may have a weaker psychoactive effect than a strain with lower THC content but higher levels of activating terpenes.

Can You Get Better at Smelling with Practice?

Have you ever wondered if you could improve your sense of smell through practice? Well, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience 6, the answer is yes!

The study found that participants who underwent a 6-week training program to identify different smells showed a significant improvement in their ability to identify and differentiate between odors. This improvement was reflected in changes in the participants’ brain activity, indicating that their sense of smell had become more finely tuned.

Interestingly, this improvement was not limited to identifying the specific smells used in the training program. Participants also showed improved ability to identify novel odors that they had not encountered before, suggesting that the training had improved their overall ability to smell.

This finding has important implications for the cannabis industry, where the ability to identify and differentiate between different strains based on their terpene profiles is crucial. With practice, it may be possible for cannabis professionals and enthusiasts to develop a more refined sense of smell, allowing them to better appreciate and analyze the complex aromas of different strains.

Is There a “Way” to Smell a Cannabis Flower?

To fully appreciate the complex aroma of a cannabis flower and gain a better understanding of the terpene profile, it’s important to take a deliberate and methodical approach. This involves breaking down the smell into its individual components, such as sweetness, earthiness, and citrus, and focusing on each component separately.

One technique that experts recommend is called “cupping.” This involves placing a small amount of cannabis in a small, clear glass, and then covering it with a lid or your hand to trap the aroma. After a few seconds, remove the lid or your hand and inhale deeply, taking note of the different aromas and flavors.

Another technique is called “olfactory cycling.” This involves taking short sniffs of the cannabis flower, each time focusing on a different aspect of the aroma. For example, you might focus on the sweetness of the aroma during one cycle, and then on the earthiness during the next cycle.

Current research leaves very little room for doubt about the primacy of terpenes in the healing process of cannabis. By understanding the role that terpenes play in determining the effects of different strains, we can make more informed decisions about the types of cannabis we use fo different purposes. 

It appears to be a botanical fact which, makes it cool in its own right. Yet the fact of the primacy of terpenes among the components, has important implications for the cannabis industry as a whole. 

By focusing on terpene profiles rather than simply THC content, producers can create more tailored products that meet the specific needs and preferences of different consumers.

Further research is needed to better understand the mechanisms by which terpenes interact with the body, as well as the full range of therapeutic effects that they may offer. However, the breakthrough research findings regarding the importance of terpenes for positive patient outcomes are a significant step forward in our understanding of the potential of cannabis as a healing tool. 

By continuing to build on these findings, we can unlock even more of the plant’s potential and improve the lives of people around the world.

  1. Elzinga, S., Fischedick, J., Podkolinski, R., Raber, J. C., & Huestis, M. A. (2015). Cannabinoids and terpenes as chemotaxonomic markers in cannabis. Scientific Reports, 5(1), 1-9. doi: 10.1038/srep08200
  1. Gonen, T., Eisenberg, E., Shmueli, O., & Gallily, R. (2021). Cannabis terpenes as an alternative to medical marijuana: a primer on terpene-entourage effects. Journal of Alternative and Complement
  1. Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1344-1364. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.
  1. Jafari, S., Saeedi, M., Shams, J., & Mokhtari, F. (2017). Assessment of the sedative effect of linalool in combination with midazolam, after intraperitoneal administration in mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 204, 156-161. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2017.03.043
  1. Okamoto, Y., Kawai, S., & Takeda, S. (2018). Terpenes enhance the efficacy of cannabinoids. Journal of Toxicological Sciences, 43(11), 685-693. doi: 10.2131/jts.43.685
  1. Gottfried, J. A., & Dolan, R. J. (2004). Human orbitofrontal cortex mediates extinction learning while accessing conditioned representations of value. Nature neuroscience, 7(10), 1144-1152. doi: 10.1038/nn1314

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About author
A creative strategist and content marketing whiz, Andrew has been living in Thailand and exploring the powerful properties and opportunities surrounding the cannabis plant.
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