Organoleptic and medical properties in cannabis sativa
Cannabinoids are the most known actives compounds found in a cannabis plant. However, some studies have proven that there are differences between the effects of pure cannabinoids and the effects produced by the plant, even though cannabinoids are administered in equal doses.
The more we study the more we know there are other active substances in the plant that have potential pharmacological ability and can change the pharmacological action of cannabinoids.
Besides cannabinoids, two groups of substances have been identified: terpenes and flavonoids. Both types are abundant enough in cannabis plants to have medical properties. Unfortunately, still we don’t know if they can produce synergy with cannabinoids. Anyway, terpenes and flavonoids are being studied by the medical community and is a question of time to know much more about them.
Terpenes are the substances responsible for the organoleptic properties of the cannabis plant. They are volatile compounds created by the union of hydrocarbon of 5 carbon atoms, named isoprene. There are smaller and more volatile compounds named monoterpenes, which are biosynthesized by the union of two isoprene molecules.
The largest and less volatile are biosynthesised by the union of three or more isoprene molecules. Then come the sesquiternes, that are formed by the union of three isoprene molecules.
Terpenes are secondary metabolites that the plant produces with its organoleptica properties (fragrance and taste). Terpenes are most of the essential oil produced by the plant.
Terpenes and cannabinoids share their biosynthetic route. As a matter of fact, cannabinoids are terpeno-fenolic compounds. Both are located in the same part of the plant: the trichomes. And they are mostly accumulated in the resin produced by glandular trichomes.
The amount of monoterpenes and sesqueterpenes in leaves and flowers is very different. The flowers are specialist in synthesizing monoterpenes and cannabinoids. And the leaves are more abundant in sessile trichomes and therefore, are more specialized in synthesizing terpenes. This kind of trichomes is not the one we use to get high. The trichomes to get high are the capital trichomes founf in the flowers and dedicated to synthesise monoterpenes and cannabinoids. Anyway, the amount of terpenes in most strain is less than 1%.
The main role of terpenes is to defend the plant against insects and some herbivorous animals. Besides, they are quite useful against the hot weather.
Monoterpenes are located in the inflorescences. Being more volatile it is easier for them to repel insects. Sesquiternes use to be in the leaves and are useful against herbivorous animals. When the plants feel the temperatures are rising, the start synthesizing more terpenes. These terpenes evaporate when is hot and produce airflows that cool down the plant and avoid transpiration.
Terpenes are produced in the resin. We could say it is the way the plant sweats. Thanks to this sweating, the plant defends itself against plagues and heat. We all have seen that cannabis plants smell more during the early part of the day and at night time. This happens because during the rest of the day, terpenes evaporate. The conclusion we can get from this fact is that is better to harvest the plants during the first hours of the day or at night time. This way, the plant will keep the highest amount of these essential oils.
The most important terpenes
It is not exact to say “the most important”. We should say “the most abundant”. They are myrcene, pinene, limonene, linalool, eucalyptol and caryophylene. Depending on the ratio of each terpene, the strain will produce a different aroma. And it is n ot just a question of aroma; it is a question of pharmacological effects produced by the cannabinoids. This is due to the synergy between cannabinoids and terpenes.
Myrcene has an earthy and musky fragance with a touch of mango and fruits. It is abundant in Kush and White Widow strains.
Myrcene is a good anti-inflammatory. It is very sedative too and, therefore, it is used in natural medicine to fight insomnia. Myrcene is found in many plants and trees such as mango, limoncillo and many others.
Even though studies on animals have proven its sedative, hypnotic, analgesic and relaxant effect, researchers think we are far away from discovering the enormous potential of this terpene.
Anyway, myrcene increases the effects of cannabinoids in our brain. The presence of this terpene is higher in indica strains: up to 75% of the composition. The combination of myrcene and THC produces a very physical effect.
Pinene is the most common compound in pine trees. Besides, it is the most common terpene found in nature. Pinene is the name of two isomer bicyclic monoterpenoids, a-pinene and B-pinene. It is one of the best insect repellent.
Pinene has antibiotic effects. Besides it is anti-inflammatory. It is a great bronchodilator and helps to the absorption of cannabinoids.
It is effective to enhance our memory and reduces the negative effects of THC on it. Pinene represents about 10% of the total terpenes found in a cannabis plant. Anyway, it neves exceeds 20%.
It is the main component of citrus fruits. It has some insecticide effect and it is commonly used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. The strains rich in this terpene have the typical delicious aroma to citrus.
It is not toxic and doesn’t produce skin irritation. It has medical abilities in certain diseases snd antiseptic properties.
It seems to have anxiolytic properties although it has been tested with animals. It increases the immunostimulation. It kills the breast cancer cells. Besides, it is useful to fight gastroesophageal reflux.
It reminds of lavender. It is fruity and sweet with reminiscenses of citrus.
It is a monoterpene alcohol that comes mostly from the oil of lavender. Obviously it is found in other plants too, such as cannabis. It is mostly used in fragrance products although it has important insecticide properties too. Cockroaches and flies hate it! But not all the insects feel the same. Therefore, it cannot be considered a insect repellent. It eases skin burns and it is used to reduce the intake of morphine in patients who need it, which makes linalool a very effective post-operative treatment.
It is effective as anxiolytic; as efficient as some anaesthetics such as lidocaine. Besides, it is quite sedative when is inhaled.
Linalool has anti-seizure abilities. In fact, its anxiolytic and anti-seizures effects are based on the modulation of the GABA neurotransmitters, in the same way cannabinoids work. Obviously, a cannabis plant with THC and linalool will have an important sedative and analgesic effect because between the two a great synergy happens.
It is a monoterpene very abundant in eucalyptus trees. It is a great insect repellent and insecticide. It is important to say that a product containing this terpene, shouldn’t have more than 0.002% because a bigger amount could affect the central nervous system and even be psychotropic.
Some studies have proved it is efficient to treat asthma and sinusitis. Besides it is anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
It has immunosupresive and in vitro anti-leukaemia abilities. It is almost exclusively found in sativa strains, on which eucalyptol can be found in proportions close to 5%.
Being a good euphoriant terpene, we can deduce that it has a good synergy with THC.
This terpene has an spicy and peppery aroma. It reminds of black pepper and cloves.
This terpene is the mixture of three compounds: a-caryophyllene, b-caryophyllene and caryophillene oxide. They are bicyclic sesquiterpenic carbohydrate. Caryophillene smells a lot. In fact it is what the dogs trained by the Police detect to find cannabis.
It is the less volatile terpene and resists the process of decarboxylation.
In nature, beta-caryophillene is very important because it plays an important role in those plants that are parasitized by herbivorous insects. It attracts other insects that kill the herbivorous ones. Caryophillene is an insecticide and antifungal. When caryophillene and CBC join, the combination is excellent to fight fungi. Moreover, it is effective to treat some fungal infections. B-caryophillene has anti-inflammatory abilities.
So far, it has been proven in animals its capacity to treat atypical dermatitis. Caryophillene has also anticoagulant capacity and gastric protection effects.
Cups and competitions
Usually, the strains that win most awards tend to have the highest cannabis terpenes content. Those strains are the ones cannabis lovers enjoy the most when smoking or vaping.