Medical marijuana can seem very complex, especially when considering the multitude of effects it has on the body and its various mechanisms through which it enacts these changes. Because of this, it can often be easier to break the chemicals present in marijuana into separate groups and consider them that way, cannabinoids can be separated into endo- and phytocannabinoids in this way. Other groups of chemicals that can be found in marijuana include flavonoids, steroids, and terpenes, all of which can exert their own effects on the body. Besides, cannabinoids, however, terpenes are the most numerous, and, likely, of the most interest to many users. Curious to find out if you may pre-qualify for an Ohio medical marijuana card? Complete our easy, online eligibility survey to find out now! If you have questions about becoming a patient and would like to speak with a DocMJ Patient Care Coordinator, please call our office at (877) 899.3626. 

 

What Exactly are Terpenes?

Terpenes are an important chemical constituent of medical marijuana, but many people still don’t know about them. While cannabinoids get much well-deserved recognition, they may not have gotten to their current level of scientific importance without many of the lower concentration chemicals also found in the plant. In fact, if most people are asked what chemicals make up marijuana, many would be able to quickly answer THC and CBD, but have difficulty naming any other compound. This isn’t to say that’s a bad thing, and literacy on marijuana and its medicinal uses is always a good thing, at any level, but THC and CBD are only two of the over sixty cannabinoid compounds in marijuana, which themselves are a small part of the nearly four hundred different chemicals that have been identified [1]. Interestingly, terpenes may actually be the largest chemical group found in marijuana by number, and they play a more important role than many people realize. In fact, terpenes play a key role in both the animal and plant kingdoms. 

Terpenes are long chains of unsaturated hydrocarbons, which can be modified with certain functional groups, such as hydroxyl groups, to create terpenoids. These chemicals are known for their strong odors and are found in essential oils, can be used as a form of chemical communication, and are an important building block for other important chemicals. 

 

So, What Can They Do in Medical Marijuana?

While the biological use of terpenes in animals and plants are great, they can also be used for medicinal uses in humans, including through medical marijuana products. If you have visited a local dispensary, you may even have seen some of the higher concentration terpenes listed on the product. Of course, not every medical marijuana product will even have terpenes in it, such as some extracts and concentrates. 

For those that do, they may benefit from the entourage effect. The entourage effect is the interaction between active and “inactive” synergistic chemicals present in marijuana, where the effects of one chemical may be amplified due to interactions with or the effects of another [2]. Some researchers believe that terpenes play a vital role in the effects marijuana has on the body, and may act as indirect modulators of cannabinoids through inhibiting or amplifying their effects. 

By themselves, terpenes can also have effects on the body, including having sedative and anti-inflammatory properties. β-Myrcene, for example, has been found to fight inflammation by affecting prostaglandin levels in a similar way to lemongrass tea [3]. Both α-pinene and β-caryophyllene have also been found to fight inflammation, though by a different mechanism. 

Another study found that cannabis terpenes may also work together. Linalool and limonene were able to fight inflammation caused by TNF production induced by P. acnes, the appropriately named bacteria that has been linked to acne [4]. This finding is particularly interesting, as unregulated, or poorly regulated, TNF (tumor necrosis factor) production has been linked to psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, alzheimers, and certain cancers. 

A recent study looked at the efficacy of terpenes as anti-inflammatory chemicals in several strains of marijuana in animals. It found that strains high in myrcene, α-pinene, terpinolene, trans-β-ocimene were the most effective at reducing inflammation-induced pain. However, the paper noted that terpenes seemed to have different methods of reducing pain, pointing to their efficacy being situational rather than universal [5].

 

In Conclusion

Medical marijuana has many effects on the body and this high number may be caused in part by the high variety of chemicals it contains. One of the largest groups present are terpenes, which have important roles in both plants and animals. In marijuana, they can be used to enhance some of the effects of other chemicals, such as the cannabinoids, or exert their own independently. For example, strains high in pinene, myrcene, and limonene can have great anti-inflammatory effects and work via the similar mechanisms to many pharmaceuticals, including by modulating key chemicals that cause inflammation, like TNF and prostaglandin. If you are interested in medical marijuana, and want to book an appointment with a certified recommending physician, DocMJ can help! Schedule your appointment by clicking ‘BOOK NOW!’ or by calling (877) 899.3626 to schedule over the phone. 

 

Resources

[1] Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals (nih.gov)

[2] Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects (nih.gov)

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1753786/ 

[4] Biological Activities of Korean Citrus obovoides and Citrus natsudaidai Essential Oils against Acne-Inducing Bacteria: Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry: Vol 72, No 10 (tandfonline.com)

[5] The Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Terpenoids from Cannabis (nih.gov)