A terpene is a type of small, delicate molecule that can be found throughout nature. Terpenes are ubiquitous; they’re produced by flowers, herbs, trees, and even some insects. Because terpenes are so delicate, they evaporate easily, which explains why it’s so easy to smell them! Chances are that you’re already familiar with more than a few terpenes based on their fragrance alone.
What do terpenes have to do with cannabis and hemp, you might ask? As it turns out, a lot.
Hemp: A natural terpene factory
Hemp and cannabis produce many different terpenes. But then again, so do thousands of other plants.
There’s one thing that makes hemp unique, however: it contains combinations of terpenes unseen virtually anywhere else in nature. While most plants produce a single dominant terpene that accounts for much of their smell, the cannabis species produces such complex terpene profiles that both its fragrances and their effects are hard to fully pin down. This is seen most clearly with high-THC cannabis cultivars; some smell like lemons, others smell like skunk. It’s all thanks to these little scent molecules.
And while terpene profiles vary from one ‘strain’ of hemp to the next, there are some cool trends to be aware of. Our hemp is especially rich in β-caryophyllene, α-bisabolol, guaiol, α-humulene, trans-nerolidol, and camphene:
β-caryophyllene | This terpene is most commonly found in black pepper, cloves, and other spicy herbs, but it’s also the very most prevalent terpene in Toast’s hemp flower.
Good thing, too — because scientists have discovered that β-caryophyllene “activates” endocannabinoid receptors so strongly that it can also be classified as a cannabinoid. Β-caryophyllene actually targets the same CB2 receptors CBD does, which means it provides some of the very same anti-inflammatory, antioxidant effects.
There are more tangible benefits, too. β-caryophyllene brings the complexity of our hemp’s flavors together with subtle hints of clove and spice. Mmm.
α-bisabolol | α-Bisabolol isn’t quite as well-known as caryophyllene...but it might be just as important. This terpene is commonly found in chamomile flowers, through which its benefits have been enjoyed for thousands of years.
Bisabolol’s biggest benefit? It’s a potent antioxidant, and that’s true regardless of whether it’s ingested or applied topically (home-made hemp salves, anyone?). In the lab bisabolol has been shown to ward off a variety of harmful bacteria.
Guaiol | Guaiol’’s scent has been characterized as earthy, piney, and grounding. And its effects are even better; this terpene is named after the guaiacum plant that Spanish soldiers took to ward off viral infections. Science confirmed guaiol’s antiviral effects a few hundred years later in an insightful 2007 study.
α-humulene | This terpene shares a lot in common with β-caryophyllene; in fact, it used to be classified as α-caryophyllene itself!
Regardless of the terminology used, α-humulene can have some pretty cool effects on one’s health. Like CBD, humulene is a selective antioxidant; while it normally reduces oxidation, this terpene has a pro-oxidant effect on cancer cells that some studies describe as “antitumor.”
Humulene also has such potent antiviral effects that it may help reduce the risks of some staph infections. Interestingly enough, humulene serves a similar purpose in the hemp which produces it, helping to fend off viruses and bacterial invaders.
Terpenes + cannabinoids = the entourage effect
The effects of all these terpenes may seem impressive enough, but they’re only the start. Cannabis experts strongly suspect that hemp’s natural blend of terpenes and cannabinoids synergizes together to become greater than the sum of its parts. This phenomenon is called the Entourage Effect.
Science has yet to fully quantify just how much terpenes contribute to the entourage effect, but maybe that’s okay. We do know that terpenes are very, very powerful...and we also know that the best way to harness them involves leaning on nature’s well-tested, Full Spectrum design.