Terpenes are found all over nature. Anything in your kitchen that can be smelled such as herbs and spices, those are terpenes. Things like mint, thyme and basil. More that 50,000 terpenes have been identified in nature. The purest form to visualize terpenes is tree resin, if you have some of the resin on your hands it is very sticky and thick and does not wash off with soap and water and this is pure terpenes! More than 60% of the natural compounds or chemicals that have been identified in nature are terpenes. They are everywhere! If you google terpenes the first hits you will see will be from sites such as Leafly, Weedmaps and even a picture of a terpene wheel. This is because google bases its results on popularity. This leads to a misconception that terpenes are only found in cannabis, which is simply not true.
A terpene is natures simplest molecule. Isoprene are the building blocks used to create different terpenes, kind of like the Lego of nature. An Isoprene is made of five carbons and it has two double bonds. Beginner chemist lesson, double bonds love to connect to one another. Isoprene bond together to make monoterpene which is two isoprene bonded together; sesquiterpene is three; diterpene is four and this chain can continue for ever and ever. When you get enough isoprene together eventually you will have rubber which is a cool little fun fact! Some common terpenes that are made up of two isoprene are myrcene, limonene and menthol and humulene is made up of three isoprene.
There are only two terpenes that deserve special talk around cannabis. One is Beta-caryophyllene-epoxide, this is the terpene that drug hounds are trained to sniff out at airports or in police raids. The other is cannabis specific meaning it has not been found in any other plant and that is m-mentha-1,8(9)-dien-5-ol.
Terpenes are responsible for a lot of activity in the world around us. Terpenes are responsible for the smells in our perfumes; taste in our beer; vitamin A. Even the weather is affected by terpenes. Over large forests terpenes are evaporated from the vegetation, those evaporated terpenes then show up in the rainwater! They also have many medicinal properties. The medicinal value of a terpene is not strong and prominent however they are able to stabilize certain health conditions when consumed on a regular basis. Terpenes help cannabinoids absorb into our bodies, penetrate our blood brain barrier and modify our liver metabolism. Beta-caryophyllene causes black pepper to have its spicy taste. It also binds to the CB2 receptor, so it has a cannabinoid like effect although it is a terpene.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a cannabis scientist wrote a paper about the use of cannabis in different parts of the world. He noticed that cannabis use was deemed risky or toxic because it had side effects. These same cultures used plants and medicines as antidotes. Common antidotes seem to be related to terpene content. In lemons you see limonene, this help ease anxious feelings. Myrcene is used to help sedate if the user gets hyper while using cannabis. Ironically the terpenes used as an antidote are often built into certain cannabis varieties. This is where you can use the plants terpene profile to select the right oil for your health needs.
It is worth it to know why terpenes derived from the cannabis plant are so valuable. When terpenes derived from botanicals are added to oils the genetic makeup of the plant is depleted. The entourage effect is better achieved when the genetic makeup of the plants natural profile is retained in the extracted oil. Capturing terpenes from cannabis means we are pulling the entire plant profile; this will help in achieving the full entourage effect and cannabis flavor. Cannabis derived terpenes are the top choice for consumers.