When walking through a grow house, cannabis farm, or other cultivation facility, the aroma of citrus, pine, and earth are pungent and unmistakable. These delightful aromas are thanks to terpenes, a class of chemicals found in various plants, not just cannabis. In fact, lavender, lemons, rosemary, and pine trees all boast an abundance of terpenes, some of which can also be found in specific cannabis strains. But have you ever wondered why plants produce these terpenes and how they affect our experiences when we consume them?
Terpenes are natural aromatic oils secreted by plants, including cannabis, from the same glands that produce cannabinoids. They are responsible for the unique flavors and aromas of different cannabis flowers. Beyond that, scientific research suggests that terpenes might also play a role in influencing our overall cannabis experience. Interestingly, in all plants where terpenes are present, these compounds serve as a form of communication between plants, acting as chemical signals. They have evolved to serve as a defense mechanism against herbivores while attracting beneficial predators and pollinators. For example, the familiar scent of freshly cut grass is actually a response to the grass releasing an “emergency” signal.
While terpenes may not have a significant impact on our feelings alone, there’s an ongoing discussion that they work together with other cannabinoids and psychoactive chemicals in cannabis to create a unique experience. This concept is known as the entourage effect, where cannabinoids and terpenes synergistically interact to produce distinct physical and psychological effects based on their various combinations.
As consumers learn more about terpenes, we are seeing terpene charts gain in popularity. While interesting, it can be a reductive view of what you will experience and must be approached with caution. Relying solely on terpenes for predicting effects may not always yield consistent results again because we know they interact differently based on other cannabinoids present. Unfortunately, the scientific study of cannabis in human subjects has been limited due to historical prohibition and restrictive federal regulations on research. However, in legal states, seeking guidance from knowledgeable budtenders and sharing your preferences can help you make more informed choices.
It’s advisable to pay attention to personal preferences and experiences with different cannabis strains, considering factors such as where it was grown and its post-harvest handling. Detailed cannabinoid breakdowns from testing labs can also help identify patterns in your preferred products.
While terpenes play a role, attributing specific medicinal effects solely to them can be misleading, as the entourage effect suggests that interactions between various cannabis components can be complex and influenced by ingestion methods. For instance, smoking carries its own health risks regardless of the terpenes present. Keep in mind that individual responses to cannabis may vary, and if you’re using it for medical purposes, consulting a healthcare professional is always recommended.