Medical marijuana growers and cannabis dispensaries throughout Utah have been in business just over a year now. Things have come a long way since January 2020. As our industry has evolved, so has the language. A case in point is the term ‘terpenes’. Everyone seems to be talking about them.
Botanists and biologists have known about terpenes for quite some time. They are certainly not new in terms of our scientific knowledge. Yet over the last 10 to 15 years, people interested in studying the benefits of medical marijuana have come to the conclusion that terpenes may do more than just add a flavor and odor profile to various cannabis strains. Some believe that terpenes could even influence the effectiveness of medical cannabis.
Growers and processors are now homing in on terpenes with the goal of producing very specific products for patients. The more they learn about terpenes, the more exacting their profiles can be. There are some in our industry who believe that terpenes are the key to making medical cannabis as exacting as any other prescription medication.
What Are Terpenes?
Though you may not learn everything you want to know about terpenes at our Salt Lake City or Brigham City cannabis dispensaries, you are always free to ask whatever questions you might have. In the meantime, let’s discuss what a terpene actually is.
Terpenes are chemical compounds naturally produced by plants. There are some 30,000 such compounds, all of which are unsaturated hydrocarbons. It is believed that their primary purpose is to help facilitate ecological interactions that keep ecosystems in check. One such interaction involves attracting pollinating creatures, like bees and birds. Some terpenes also act as a defense mechanism against herbivores.
What most people understand about terpenes is their smell. They are an important compound in essential oils, for example. Limonene is one of the most well-known terpenes. It is prevalent in both the essential oils and medical cannabis spaces.
In the early years of medical cannabis – when California was the only game in town – it was believed that terpenes’ only purpose in medical cannabis strains was to improve odor and add flavor. Since then, research has shown that terpenes may offer medical benefits. Growers and processors are pursuing that angle today.
How Do Terpenes Help?
Research into exactly how terpenes can help medical cannabis patients is still lacking. It is ongoing, thankfully, but any hard and fast evidence still doesn’t exist. For now, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to work with.
It is believed that some terpenes antagonize the endocannabinoid system when combined with THC or CBD. What does this mean? Simply put, a terpene can act almost like a turbocharger. It increases the body’s ability to absorb and utilize THC or CBD for its medical benefits.
Just as an example, there are epilepsy patients who report better symptom management as a result of utilizing a CBD product enhanced with terpenes compared to patients who use pure CBD. A study published back in 2018 seems to support such assertions.
Research into terpenes has historically been limited to understanding their place in the ecological spectrum. Only recently have researchers begun investigating them in terms of their relationship to CBD and THC. But now that research has started, real medical breakthroughs could be on the horizon.
There is still a lot we don’t know about terpenes. In the meantime, what we do know could make a difference for medical cannabis patients. We encourage you, as a patient yourself, to learn everything you can about terpenes, THC, and CBD. It can only help you learn to better utilize medical cannabis.