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Cannabis 101: Do Terpenes Really Matter?

We’ve written a good deal on terpenes, the fragrant oils that give different strains of cannabis their distinctive flavors and aromas. From humulene to pinene to linalool, we’ve devoted so much time to terpenes that you might be wondering, “why do terpenes matter so much?”

If you’re one of these doubters, we’ll share some valuable information that might help change your mind. Because it turns out that—in addition to all those distinctive and appealing aromas that make cannabis such a special plant, the terpenes are imparting some very powerful and medically useful benefits as well.  

Why Do Terpenes Matter? Gentle Benefits from a Natural Source

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To a world accustomed to highly engineered pharmaceuticals, the idea of using herbs and plants as medicine may sound like a quaint and old-fashioned notion. But as the unseen costs of dependence on these cutting-edge drugs become clear—from the opioid epidemic to a rise in drug-resistant bacteria and other threats—many of us are realizing that the remedies of the past may be a more sustainable option. And even before they were called “terpenes,” these fragrant oils featured prominently in ancient medical traditions. (As did cannabis, we should point out!)

For example, at least 2,000 years ago, Chinese physicians were using borneol—a terpene with a distinctive cooling, camphor-like quality—to provide pain relief without sedation. And for centuries, herbalists have relied on the naturally stress-relieving qualities of linalool—one of the major scent components of lavender—to calm the nerves without dulling the senses. 

Even a few years ago, these hard-working terpenes might have remained more or less medical curiosities. But as interest in the medical potential of cannabis has snowballed, researchers are finding that behind those appealing aromas and flavors, terpenes have an enormous amount to offer in terms of their impacts on our health. 

Why Do Terpenes Matter? Studies Show Powerful Medical Benefits 

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In the last several years, a number of studies have highlighted the potential use of terpenes in addressing various chronic symptoms and conditions. Take the example of borneol, the peculiarly cooling terpene we mentioned earlier.

A rodent-based study published in 2013 found that borneol incurred a significant decrease in nociceptive behavior—the kind that results from a physical injury—as well as having broader anti-inflammatory effects. Another study showed that borneol can serve as an effective topical relief against pain, only confirming what Chinese physicians have known for thousands of years.

We should point out that borneol is a single (and relatively minor) terpene. In fact, researchers haven’t positively identified all the terpenes contained in the cannabis plant, though it’s estimated the number tops 200! 

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In the coming years, some believe that terpenes may even match the cannabinoids in terms of their medical efficacy. Could they help regulate our moods, as suggested by research on limonene

If you have any questions about the importance of terpenes—or any other cannabis-related topics—drop us a line. We’d love to help!