by Erica Garza

Responsible for the aroma found in the cannabis plant, terpenes also offer a host of health benefits from treating pain to relieving anxiety. Secreted from the same glands that produce THC and CBD in cannabis, terpenes are potent and carry the potential to affect animal and human behavior when inhaled. If you’ve ever wondered what terpenes are, or if they hold pharmacological value, read on to discover what researchers have uncovered about these aromatic compounds.

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are the essential oils that give cannabis its distinct smell, which can range from floral to piney to skunky. But they’re not only found in cannabis. Terpenes are found in almost every type of fragrant flora, and they are thought to protect plants from predators and attract pollinators.

Types of Terpenes and Their Scents

Over 200 terpenes, or terpenoids, are found in the cannabis plant. Their smell and potential health benefits vary significantly from strain to strain, though some of the most promising ones found in cannabis include:

  • Myrcene: Earthy scent
  • Caryophyllene: Peppery
  • Linalool: Lavender
  • Terpinolene: Piney and floral
  • Cineole: Eucalyptus

Health Benefits

According to Wolfgang Dostmann, Ph.D. and a professor in the department of pharmacology at University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, terpenes have been found to work collaboratively with cannabinoids like CBD and THC to create what’s known as the “entourage effect,” which determines how the cannabis interacts with your body. Cannabis and CBD oil with terpenes can affect any or all of the following ailments, depending on the strain.

Pain and Inflammation (Myrcene, Caryophyllene)

Myrcene is the most abundant terpene found in cannabis. Together with caryophyllene, it works to ward off pain and inflammation. In a study of 2032 patients with 21 illnesses that included migraine, arthritis and chronic pain, cannabis high in myrcene and caryophyllene were the most preferred to relieve pain and inflammation.

Anxiety and Depression (Linalool)

CBD with minimal THC and a high content of the terpene linalool has had positive effects in patients with anxiety and depression. Linalool has also been studied in treatment of Alzheimer’s disease patients, in which it was shown to reverse the hallmarks of the disease while restoring cognitive and emotional functions via an anti-inflammatory effect.

Epilepsy (Linalool)

The terpene linalool has also shown promise for epilepsy patients, due to its seizure-stopping capabilities. In 2018, CBD trials successfully transitioned the position of the drug in the UK from “anecdotal and promising” to “proven to be effective.”

Cancer and Heart Disease (Terpinolene)

Though terpinolene often exists in small amounts in cannabis, its value should not be underestimated. Researchers have discovered that this terpene can play a role in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease.

Fungal and Bacterial Infections (Cineole)

According to the “Handbook of Cannabis Therapeutics,” the terpene cineole demonstrated antibacterial activity against Bacillus subtilis and antifungal defense against Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Candida albicans. In one study, cineole even prevented the sexual transmission of Herpes simplex virus type 2.

Keep in mind that before treating any serious medical condition with cannabis, you are advised to check in with a healthcare professional, especially if you are already taking prescribed medication.

Erica Garza is an author and essayist. Her work has appeared in Time, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, The Telegraph and Vice. She lives in Los Angeles.