What are terpenes?

The hidden world of terpenes

How many times have you sniffed a particularly ripe piece of fruit, and known it was ready to eat? Or, caught the whiff of a home cooked meal from upstairs and felt your belly rumbling? Or even just smelt a fresh lemon zing and known a room was recently cleaned?

Whether you knew it or not, in every one of these instances you’ve been sensing terpenes, and yet odds are you’ve never heard of them.

Terpenes are aromatic molecules found in the essential oils of many botanical organisms, ranging between fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, providing the strong scent typically associated with them.

You’re probably aware of how plants use this smell; either as a discouraging stench to prevent herbivores from eating them, or as an enticing fragrance to attract potential pollinators, but in each instance it’s the terpenes creating this scent.

These essential oils and the terpenes within them form the basis of perfumes, aftershaves, and countless other fragrant product lines.

Terpenes vs. terpenoids

You may have heard some mixed terminology during your research of cannabidiol: terpenes and terpenoids. Whilst both words have the same root, turpentine, a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin from live trees renowned for its pungent smell, they do differ slightly.

Terpenes are naturally occurring organic hydrocarbons, whilst terpenoids have been dried and cured, meaning they’ve been denatured through a process of oxidation. Since this occurs during the process of harvesting hemp, terpenes and terpenoids are often used interchangeably in reference to CBD. 

CBD oils and terpenes

For anyone who’s smelt the strong scent of a cannabis plant, it should come as no surprise to hear that the average cannabis strain contains over 100 terpenes.

For connoisseurs, the unique notes the interplay of these terpenes leave in the nostrils can reveal volumes about the biological makeup of the plant in question, much like wine enthusiasts.

Even before terpenes' other properties were properly understood, they were recognised as an important factor in user interaction, particularly when determining the plant’s potential effects.

Terpene production in the hemp plant

The terpenes are actually synethesised in the glandular trichomes of the female hemp plant. From a distance trichomes appear to the human eye a series of crystalline protrusions, but they are, in fact, a bed of small hair-like growths.

It’s the trichomes that serve as the primary deterrent for herbivores once the plant begins to flower, producing a bitter taste and the strong aroma released by the terpenes. Simultaneously, they act as a form of protection from the elements, shielding the delicate parts of the plant from harsh winds.

Whilst serving as the hemp plant’s primary defence mechanism, these trichomes also house a majority of the other essential compounds for the production of CBD oils, including cannabinoids and flavonoids.

When somebody well versed in hemp smells the different scents produced by the terpenes, it’s the balance of these phytochemicals (literally: plant chemicals) they're discerning. In essence, the terpenes act as a nasal menu, giving growers an easy way of sensing the balance of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids.

Terpenes and the entourage effect

This combination of synergistic compounds within the trichomes is significant, and is part and parcel of explaining why terpenes serve a much more important purpose than just producing a strong scent, or helping Cannabis farmers distinguish strains.

Research has shown that terpenes are an essential part of the entourage effect, wherein the effects of the hemp plant are greatly amplified when all its compounds are working in conjunction rather than isolation. Vitality CBD’s whole plant, full spectrum and broad spectrum products retain the terpenes during the hemp extraction for this very reason.

Since the hemp plant contains up to 120 different terpenes, the functions of each one in the entourage effect is difficult to discern, but there is evidence to support certain qualities.

The terpenes alpha-pinene and beta-caryophyllene have been shown to dilate blood vessels, enabling the cannabinoids to pass through the bloodstream more easily.

The entourage effect, as proposed by S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam, suggests that by having several different biological compounds working to achieve the same goal in unison, the end result is more potent than the sum of its parts.

Learning more

At Vitality CBD we believe in ensuring our consumers are well-informed, so they can make more intelligent decisions for their own well-being.

Our conviction in the entourage effect and natural synergy is why our Whole Plant E-liquid, a premium vape oil, utilises the full range of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, waxes and oils found in the hemp plant.

To find out more about why these other compounds are so important, read our article giving an overview on the nature of whole plant & broad spectrum, as well as our analysis of flavonoids

For any more CBD questions you might have, our experienced team are always on hand to field any questions. Reach out to us on our contact page here.

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Linked reference papers:

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5851ba50e3df288425168ceb/t/599638e4d2b85786d7717981/1503017190156/