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The Chemistry of Cannabis: Untangling Terpenes

Terpenes

If you’re wondering what the heck these things called “terpenes” are, you’re not alone. The days of grandpa looking over his shoulder for police on the way home from his herb dealer are gone for good in 18 states. In 36, all it takes is a doctor’s note and everybody’s happy.

A full report

Until recently, we took whatever was in the baggie that was handed us and made the best of it. After decades of staying carefully under the radar, older cannabis users are suddenly overwhelmed by the dictionary of strain names and a full assay report with every batch of bud. It’s easy to make sense of the confusion when you know just a little bit of cannabis chemistry.

Most of us are familiar with the chemical THC. That’s the one that gives the familiar pot “buzz.” Terpenes work together with the THC to give that buzz a distinctive character. The more THC that’s in the plant, the less it takes to notice. CBD is for pain. It binds different receptors than the ones that produce a “high.”

Instead, it makes chronic discomfort fade away by blocking the pain receptors. Flavonoids add to the taste and aroma along with providing anti-oxidant properties. We’ll cover all those in more detail in our series.

The thing that seems to cause the most confusion are the chemicals in cannabis called “terpenes.” They’re found naturally in all sorts of plants.

When it comes to marijuana, they’re responsible for the primary taste, smell, and effect characteristics of the high. The profile varies from strain to strain and that’s where the trouble starts.

Your favorite flavor Terpenes

When you show up at the dispensary, you’ve probably developed some favorite strains based on aroma and flavor. Each plant manufactures natural oils which produce distinctive citrus, berry, mint, or pine notes in the flavor and smell.

These oils come from the sticky resin gland trichomes. Terpenoids are hydrocarbon based terpenes which “have have undergone oxidation.” That happens normally in the drying and curing process so your finished product will contain both sorts.

There are many terpenes but about 12 of them are common.

Terpenes

Myrcene is also found in mango and helps provide muscle tension relief with a generally soothing effect. Myrcene is recommended as a supplement during cancer treatments. You can find it in Skunk XL, White Widow, and Special Kush.

Phytol has a fresh cut grass aroma, occurs in green tea and is known as an anti-oxidant. Sour Diesel and Cheese have this one.

Humulene produces a spicy dirt scent. Known for giving beer it’s hops taste, it also helps reduce physical discomfort. If you ever had White Widow, Headband, Girl Scout Cookies, Sour Diesel, Pink Kush and Skywalker OG, then you’re familiar with it.

Camphene is one of the turpenes that people avoid. It has a musky damp earth aroma which is very pungent. It may not smell that great but it works as an antibacterial and is great for fungal infections and skin conditions. Camphene is found in Ghost OG, Strawberry Banana, Mendocino Purps.

Bisabolol is what gives chamomile it’s calming effect. In cannabis, it gives off a “light floral aroma” and also has analgesic properties. Strains like Harle-Tsu, Pink Kush, Headband, OG Shark, and ACDC contain this one.

Eucalyptol smells just like eucalyptus and not only reduces inflammation, it’s said to “aid in memory enhancement” to offset the marijuana short term memory loss effect and give a boost of energy at the same time. Found in Super Silver Haze and Headband.

Terpenes

Terpinolene produces a woody aroma reminiscent of rosemary or sage. It’s known to enhance mood and provide a calming effect. CannaCon says, “It relaxes heavily and it’s usually the one responsible for the notorious couch lock effect. Medical benefits of terpineol also include antibiotic and antioxidant properties. It can be found Girl Scout Cookies, Jack Herer, and OG Kush strains.”

Caryophyllene is a peppery taste and flavor combination sort of like cloves with hints of wood and cinnamon. It’s great for your digestive system so a good choice for edibles. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps recovering alcoholics. Find it in Super Silver Haze, Skywalker and Rock Star.

Pinene tastes and smells like pine needles. It’s also helpful for memory retention, and staying alert. Those qualities make this one of the turpines good for something to enjoy when you still have work to do. Pinene is advised in the treatment of arthritis, Crohn’s disease and cancer. It’s found in Jack Herer, Strawberry Cough, Blue Dream, Island Sweet Skunk, Dutch Treat and Romulan.

Linalool is well known for soothing and relaxing. It’s perfect to “balance out the mind and body during more stressful times.” That’s one to avoid when you still have work to do. Some linalool strains are Amnesia Haze, Special Kush, Lavender, LA Confidential, and OG Shark.

Valencene is easy to pick out because of it’s distinctive Valencia orange aroma. Not only does it make for tasty bud, “it repels mosquitos, fleas, and ticks, even better than your average bug repellant!” Tangie and Agent Orange are full of it.

Limonene is another one you’ll run into a lot because it is super abundant. Famous for the citrus aroma it is good for mood enhancement and gastrointestinal problems like heartburn. “Strains that have ‘lemon’ or ‘sour’ in their name are usually rich in limonene.” It’s found in O.G. Kush, Sour Diesel, Super Lemon Haze, Durban Poison, Jack Herer, and Jack the Ripper.

What do you think?

Written by Mark Megahan

Mark Megahan is a resident of Morristown, Arizona and aficionado of the finer things in life.

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