Cannabis is a beautiful plant with many exciting molecules that can improve symptoms of a variety of chronic conditions and disease states often not well-treated by conventional medical therapies. Part of the magic of this plant is the ability of the disease modulating molecules to cross the blood brain barrier due to their lipophilic (fat-loving) nature allowing them to interact with many different receptors throughout the brain and body. Hence, the molecules contained within this plant are uniquely capable of making a big difference in a person’s health. Besides the promising medicinal properties of THC and CBD, scientists are discovering the health benefits of terpenoids. Along with phytocannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, these aromatic constituents are made in the secretory cells inside the glandular trichomes of the unfertilized flower and are what give cannabis its unique flavour and aroma. (4)
Important terpenoids found in cannabis are the monoterpenes alpha-pinene, limonene, beta-myrcene, linalool and sesquiterpenes such as humulene, and beta-caryophyllene to name a few. (5) These lipophilic molecules are considered pharmacologically active at concentrations above 0.05% (12) interacting with cell membranes, ion channels, neurotransmitters, g-protein coupled receptors, second messenger systems and enzymes. (4)
Alpha-Pinene is a bicyclic monoterpene found in many conifers and why Christmas trees smell beautiful. Pinene inhibits the enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, in the brain that improves short-term memory. It is thought that high-pinene cannabis varieties, like Kona Gold, don’t interfere with memory like other high-THC chemical varieties, or chemovars, can. (1) Further, it has anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a broad-spectrum antibiotic and bronchodilator (4,9,10,)
Limonene is found in citrus fruit peels and is what gives certain varieties such as Tangerine Dream its citrusy aroma. Cannabis with this scent is associated with stimulating, mood-enhancing, and anti-depressant effects, not to mention powerful anxiolytic effects. (2) A study in mice showed increased serotonin in the prefrontal cortex and increased dopamine in the hippocampus. (7) Further, a clinical study showed that 9 out of 12 hospitalized patients exposed to citrus aroma therapy were found to have improved Hamilton Depression Scores and able to discontinue their antidepressant drugs. (8)
Beta-Myrcene is a highly concentrated terpene found in certain cannabis varieties, like Cannatonic and Blue Dream. Myrcene causes a sedative effect and is associated with relieving pain, relaxing muscles and when combined with THC can cause a “couchlock” effect. (3)
Beta-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpenoid that is able to survive extraction temperatures that other terpenes cannot and is commonly found in cannabis. This terpenoid is a full agonist at CB2 receptors and is found in black pepper and hops and is considered a dietary cannabinoid without psychoactivity. It is effective as an anti-inflammatory both topically and internally and found in the popular Northern Lights chemovar. (4)
D-Linalool is found in lavender and is known for its antianxiety and calming effects that are found in varieties, such as Bubba Kush and other purple indica chemovars. Linalool is used medicinally as a sedative, analgesic, and anesthetic. (6) Linalool modulates GABA and glutamate neurotransmitter release which is part of its anxiolytic and anticonvulsant properties. (11)
Esther Simmons-Foot, RPh
- Miyazawa and C. Yamafuji, “Inhibition of Acetylcholinesterase activity by Bicyclic Monoterpenoids,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 53, no.5 (2005): 1765-68, doi: 10.1021/jf040019b.
- Komori, R. Fujiwara, M. Tanida, J. Nomura, and M. M. Yokoyama, “Effects of Citrus Fragrance on Immune Function and Depressive States,” Neuroimmunomodulation 2, no. 3 (1995): 174-80.
- G. do Vale, E.C. Furtado, J.G. Santos Jr., and G.S. Viana, “Central Effects of Citral, Myrcene and Limonene, Constituents of Essential oil Chemotypes from Lippa Alba (Mill.) n.e. Brown,” Phytomedicine 9, no. 8 (2002): 709-14.
- Ethan B. Russo, “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effects,” British Journal of Pharmacology 163, no.7 (2011): 1344-64.
- Mudge EM, Brown PN, Murch SJ. The Terroir of Cannabis: Terpene Metabolomics as a Tool to Understand Cannabis sativa Selections. Planta Med.(2019) May doi: 10.1055/a-0915-2550.
- Peana AT1, D’Aquila PS, Chessa ML, Moretti MD, Serra G, Pippia P. (-)-Linalool produces antinociception in two experimental models of pain. Eur J Pharmacol.(2003) Jan 26;460(1):37-41.
- Komiya M, Takeuchi T, Harada E. (2006). Lemon oil vapor causes an anti-stress effect via modulating the 5-HT and DA activities in mice. Behav Brain Res 172:240-249.
- Komori T, Fujiwara R, Tanida M, Nomura J, Yokoyama MM. (1995). Efffects of citrus fragrance on immune function and depressive states. Neuroimmunomodulation 2:174-180.
- Nissen L, Zatta A, Stefanini I, Grandi S, Sgorbati B, Biavati B et al. (2010) Characterization and antimicrobial activity of essential oils of industrial hemp varieties (Cannabis sativa L.) Fitoterapia 81:413-419.
- Falk AA, Hagberg MT, Lof AE, Wigaeus-Hjelm EM, Wang ZP. (1990). Uptake, distribution and elimination of alpha-pinene in man after exposure by inhalation. Scand J Work Environ Health 16:372-378.
- Nunes DS, Linck VM, da Silva Al, Figueiro M, Elisabetsky E. (2010). Psychopharmacotherapy of essential oils. In: Baser KHC, Buchbauer G (eds). Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications. CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, pp. 297-314.
- Adams TB, Taylor SV. (2010). Safety evaluation of essential oils: a constituent-based approach. In: Baser KHC, Buchbauer G (eds). Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications. CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, pp. 185-208.