Cannabinoids like CBD are the main active ingredient found in full-spectrum CBD oil and other hemp products. While they are the most important component within these products for their endocannabinoid system activating effects, they aren’t the only beneficial and therapeutic nutrients in hemp. Terpenes can be found in abundance in cannabis sativa. These natural plant pheromones provide a swathe of health benefits on their own, while also synergistically improving the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids – known as the ‘entourage effect’. They’re excellent at both lowering inflammation and stress while improving cannabinoid receptor activation and amplifying the overall effects of CBD oil. Many are also being shown to help with allergies like rhinitis as well as gut problems like IBS. Let’s explore what terpenes are, their importance and how the ‘entourage effect’ works.
- 1 What are Terpenes?
- 2 Health Benefits of Terpenes
- 3 What is the ‘Entourage Effect’ from Terpenes?
- 4 How Can I Benefit From It?
- 5 Conclusion
What are Terpenes?
Plants naturally produce a huge variety of phytocompounds or plant-based chemicals. Terpenes are one of these organic phytocompounds. They are aromatic pheromones or scent compounds that have distinctive aromas and tastes. Terpenes can be found in all manner of plants but are most abundant in cannabis, tea species, fruit species, flowering plants like lavender and herbs like basil. They’re designed to help plants chemically signal to other plants or animals. For example, many terpene types are used to attract insects such as pollinators to help the plant reproduce. Typically they are most concentrated in the buds or flowers of plants, which is why flowers have a potent scent. Whenever you smell scents from a plant it is from the fragrance of its natural terpenes. Many also offer health benefits and therapeutic effects when consumed.
Terpenes and the Endocannabinoid System
While cannabinoids are the primary agent that acts on and binds with the endocannabinoid system in humans, terpenes from cannabis can also play a significant role in both improving cannabinoid uptake or even binding with the ECS’ receptors directly. The mechanism by which occurs is via enhanced cell permeability. Terpenes can increase the permeability of cells in the cannabinoid receptors, aiding in their capacity to absorb cannabinoid molecules and shuttle these compounds into binding sites.
But terpenes are also able to modulate CB1 receptors in the brain and CNS by themselves. In doing so they display some similar properties of cannabinoids like CBD. In clinical experiments, some terpenes were shown to lower pain sensitivity, an analgesic property exhibited by cannabinoids. When the researchers combined the terpenes and administered them in conjunction with cannabinoids it further increased the pain sensitivity improvements, dampening sensations of pain. This also suggests that combining terpenes with cannabis or opioid medications improves the efficacy of their pain-relieving effects and means a lower dose can be taken. It could help lower the risks of side effects and addiction when using these tools.
Health Benefits of Terpenes
Terpenes and their health benefits are as varied as the numerous plants they come from. Let’s take a look at some of the top beneficial uses and effects of terpenes from cannabis.
Numerous terpenes display a powerful ability to provide antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects in cells. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to fighting irritants and pathogens. It is a natural part of the body’s healing process. But excessive or chronic inflammatory responses lead to cell damage, accelerated ageing and reduced recovery. Over time this can contribute to or even cause many progressive degenerative diseases like arthritis, Alzheimer’s and colitis.
Tissue and Skin Inflammation
Terpenes such as myrcene and pinene help to downregulate this process and soothe inflammation. They achieve this by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory or inflammation-causing cytokines and prostaglandins.
Alpha-pinene is a terpene that has photoprotective characteristics, helping the skin in protecting itself from sun damage. It helps lower inflammation markers in the skin’s keratinocytes. These are important skin cells that regulate skin repair and restoration. Radiation from the sun can inflame the skin itself and cause oxidative stress or cell damage, which is what you experience during a sunburn. Hemp’s terpenes offer another avenue to help protect the skin’s cells from this exposure.
Inflammation occurring in the brain’s neurons and CNS is known as neuroinflammation. It can be the result of infections, injury, neurodegenerative diseases or chronic inflammatory responses. Excess neuroinflammation can even cause depression and anxiety, plus memory issues and brain fog. To combat this form of inflammation the body produces cytokines such as TNF-alpha which help in producing the inflammatory response that leads to healing and enhanced blood flow to the affected area.
Microglia are macrophage cells in the CNS which produce cytokines. More studies are now revealing that terpenes are involved in downregulating microglia activity which can lower cytokine production and reduce neuroinflammation over time. Limonene is perhaps the best terpene inducing these effects. In rodent models, it has displayed reductions in cytokine levels and anti-depressant qualities. Some of these studies even indicated it reduces the amounts of nitrite in the hippocampus – the brain region responsible for learning and memory. This may also play into its capacities to assist in boosting focus, supporting better cognition and calmer mental states.
Some terpenes are also shown to aid in suppressing pain through antinociceptive activity. In 2021 laboratory experiments on mice, studies have found terpenes such as linalool lowered pain reception. They activated the brain’s CB1 cannabinoid receptors which were only thought to originally occur through the presence of cannabinoids. Through this pathway, the terpenes were able to inhibit pain sensations and lower nociception. They demonstrated amplification of this effect when the terpenes were combined with cannabinoids during testing, causing greater pain reduction when compared to terpenes alone. More studies are needed in humans to corroborate these findings but the initial animal studies are very promising for terpene’s analgesic potential.
Anxiolytic and Anti-depressant effects
Certain terpenes display anxiolytic or sedative properties and can help to lower anxiety in users. Linalool and beta-caryophyllene are two terpene compounds found to trigger these effects in mice studies. Both can modulate activity on the brain’s neurotransmitters to achieve this. In particular through the glutamate and GABA receptors. GABA plays a major role in influencing our mood, plus feelings of anxiety or stress through the CNS. In-vivo studies on animals have verified this CNS receptor activity.
Essential oils containing high concentrations of linalool are anxiolytic and stress-relieving for this reason. Increasingly research is being directed into the ability of terpenes to treat or help support a range of psychiatric disorders. Terpenes help to normalize neurotransmitter activity, preventing imbalances in neural signalling and impairment to memory or cognition that occurs from neuron malfunction. Beta-carollpyhene can act on the CB1 receptors in the CNS directly. It is a selective agonist, meaning it can synergistically activate these receptors alongside cannabinoids. In mice studies, this activity was linked to lower symptoms of anxiety.
Certain terpenes also offer the ability to lower neuroinflammation or even defend the brain from this issue. Neuroinflammation can cause or worsen many chronic neurological conditions. Beta-Caryophyllene for instance has been studied for its capacity in reducing oxidative stress in neurons and slowing the inflammatory damage that inflammation-causing agents like glutamate can cause. This could be a mechanism by which terpenes assist our brains in slowing or avoiding neurological degradation from problems like Alzheimer’s. Other terpenes like linalool have been shown to prevent excitotoxicity in neurons which can cause cell death. Excitotoxicity happens when the neurons are exposed to too much of the glutamate neurotransmitter. Eventually, this causes the cell to overly activate and excite until it dies.
Some terpenes can even aid with lung function and show broncho-dilating potential. Pinene is an example of a terpene with this property. It may assist with conditions like bronchitis or asthma, helping the lung’s bronchi open and increasing oxygen flow through the lung’s membranes. Many terpenes show similar properties which is why they are used extensively in essential oils or within air diffusers. They can help the lungs open and clear, lower inflammation deep within the bronchi and defend the lung’s passageways from infections.
Numerous terpenes are antioxidant, antibacterial and can help the body protect itself from microbes. An example is myrcene, which has the capability of killing bacteria like E. Coli and Salmonella. Microbes are frequently the culprit when it comes to tissue and skin irritation. Infections occurring on the skin’s surface can worsen symptoms of issues like psoriasis and eczema, worsening inflammation from the body’s immune response. By eliminating these foreign microbes, terpenes are well-suited to calming regions of inflammation by clearing the root causes.
Many are also antiviral. Limonene and linalool have been studied for their ability to kill influenza microbes as well as the herpes virus. Studies in labs have explored their differing mechanisms of action against viruses. In some cases, the terpenes bind directly with the viruses and inhibit their function to reduce their action. Other studies have shown that in combination with cannabinoids, terpenes can prevent ‘cytokine storms’ and acute respiratory stress that accompanies infection from viral respiratory diseases such as COV-SARS-2. Through in vitro experimentation on lung fibroblast cells, this therapeutic activity was demonstrated. Again the effects were compounded when terpene compounds were used in combination with cannabinoids as opposed to standalone.
Many terpenes also help the microbiome and its complex system of helpful bacteria. It is no secret that plant-based foods and vegetables are highly beneficial for gut health and feed the gut’s flora. But terpenes further contribute to this through their inflammatory-reducing abilities. They help to soothe and balance the gut’s unique ecosystem and prevent inflammatory gut issues like colitis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Terpenes act as gastric healing agents. They can improve intestinal permeability, lower inflammatory markers and mitigate oxidative stress in the intestines. Studies are already being conducted both in vitro and in animals to gauge the potential of terpenes in treating gut conditions including Crohn’s. In rat models, terpene thymol was used to treat the chronic inflammatory response that accompanies colitis. Thymol was able to suppress the activity of pro-inflammatory proteins and signalling molecules such as TNF-alpha which produce this condition. Further clinical studies are needed in humans to support the findings but the early indications are promising for terpene’s therapeutic gut effects.
What is the ‘Entourage Effect’ from Terpenes?
Cannabinoids like CBD must bind to the endocannabinoid system’s (ECS) CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors to provide their therapeutic benefits in the body. When they bind to these receptors they activate the system and cause the release of endocannabinoids. These are powerful compounds that offer a swathe of effects like anxiety reduction, sleep improvement and inflammation suppression. The more that the cannabinoid receptors and ECS get activated, the better the therapeutic response and benefits will be in the body.
One method of enhancing and accelerating the uptake and ECS activity of cannabinoids is via consuming them alongside terpenes. Terpenes have a synergistic interaction with cannabinoids and improve their ability to bind at the cannabinoid receptor sites. This increases the efficacy of both compounds versus consuming them alone in isolation, while also meaning lower doses of cannabinoids can be taken to achieve results. The same mechanism means terpenes help to speed up the rate at which CBD can provide results, helping users to realise their health goals more quickly.
To do this, terpenes like myrcene improve the cell permeability of cannabinoid receptors and allow for increased quantities of cannabinoids to bind with them. They may also support and strengthen important ECS signalling pathways that regulate the endocannabinoid response to cannabinoids, helping increase their production. This has been demonstrated in research. For example in rodent studies of linalool and pinene, the anti-depressant and mood-enhancing effects of cannabinoids were substantially increased through CB1 receptor action that was amplified by terpenes. Compared to subject groups given cannabinoids only, the mood improvement and symptom reduction were substantially higher for those given a terpene cannabinoid combination.
How Can I Benefit From It?
The only way to produce the entourage effect is by taking cannabinoids with terpenes. But not all types of CBD oil contain terpenes. Isolate CBD oil is highly refined and during processing phytocompounds like terpenes are removed from the extract. This is to increase the concentration and purity of the cannabinoids in the oil but it means the product won’t provide the entourage effect. Full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD oil on the other hand is less refined and retains numerous phytocompounds from hemp. These product types can produce the entourage effect. You’ll need to stay consistent with your CBD use to take in enough terpenes for this effect to occur.
Isolate CBD Oil: this formulation of CBD doesn’t contain terpenes. It undergoes additional refinement during production which strips away most of the plant nutrients that occur naturally in hemp. These nutrients include terpenes, chlorophyll, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals and many minor cannabinoids like CBN. The purpose of this is to maximize the concentration of CBD in the end product to create a higher strength and purity. However, this means it is unable to provide the entourage effect from terpenes.
Full-spectrum CBD oil: contains phytocompounds from all parts of the hemp plant. It is the least refined CBD oil type. The final product is rich in terpenes, plant matter, antioxidants and helpful phytocompounds nutrients like lignans. While it will constrain lower concentrations of CBD, the entourage effect and presence of minor cannabinoids like CBG it offers to mean it provides a better overall holistic effect. It will provide you with the broadest range of health benefits like inflammation reduction and stress relief, helping your body recover better and strengthening immunity to a greater extent than isolated oils.
Broad-spectrum CBD oil: is more refined than full-spectrum CBD oil but less than isolates. It will contain some minor cannabinoids outside of CBD as well as many plant nutrients but strips away most plant matter. It can be effective if you need a more targeted oil that is rich in a particular cannabinoid like CBG or CBN. Full-spectrum CBD oil is better suited to beginners or those looking for a variety of benefits for the body. Broad-spectrum can produce the entourage effect too however as it contains terpenes.
Terpenes are important compounds to consider when buying CBD oil in Australia. As we’ve covered – they offer a huge range of therapeutic effects by themselves. Some of these include potent anti-inflammatory activities, mood-enhancing and anti-depressant effects, anxiolytic or anxiety-reducing properties, sleep-promoting benefits plus antiviral, antimicrobial and immune strengthening characteristics. Best of all – terpenes are synergistic with cannabinoids. They improve the strength and effects of helpful cannabinoids like CBD through the ‘entourage effect’. To maximize endocannabinoid production and the benefits of CBD oil, we recommend using products containing terpenes for this reason. They’ll provide a greater variety of holistic benefits like stress relief and inflammation reduction. Use full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD oil to ensure you’re obtaining a mix of terpenes plus cannabinoids – isolate oils won’t provide this.