What are terpenes?
On our site, you'll read many different references to terpenes. But what are they?
Terpenes are a kind of organic chemical produced by plants that give them unique flavors and scents. They are not unique to cannabis, but they can be found not only in most kinds of flowers, but also in many fruits as well. So have you ever heard that eating mango before taking cannabis will make the high stronger? That's actually true - and it's because mangoes contain a terpene that is also commonly found in cannabis.
So basically, terpenes are what give our various cannabis strains their flavors and smells. Patients instinctively love opening a bag of fresh cannabis and sticking their nose in to inhale the various scents, just as other people love to do with wine or pretty much everyone loves to do with fresh flowers or incense. We are hard-wired to "follow our noses" to scents that our brain interprets as pleasurable, and now with the latest science of aromatherapy we're starting to better understand why.
Most of that stuff, I'll be honest, I don't understand. I'm not a doctor and I'm definitely not a neuroscientist! But what I do think I understand is that medical marijuana researchers have reported that the terpenes in cannabis actually play a more important part in determining the medicine's effect than you might think. THC, by itself, doesn't have the same effect as plant marijuana, because when the whole plant is used, this creates what is called the 'ensemble effect.' Basically for years the FDA assumed that THC was a one-man show, like penicillin or morphine, such that extracting it in its purest form would lead to the most potent medicine. Strangely, medical marijuana works the opposite way - it's more like an ensemble cast that works much better together. So while THC may be the star (but not always, some patients need more CBD), it also needs the other cast of ensemble players, like the other cannabinoids and even the terpenes, to have its full effect.
There are some who even think that this is the real reason why strains have different effects - because they smell and taste different, and those different terpenes make for a different ensemble, which ultimately makes for a different show.
I can't say for sure what's true, but I suspect that the science of medical marijuana is just beginning. As we learn more, I predict we will learn that terpenes are even more important than we ever thought.
What are your favorite terpenes? Feel free to tell me in the comments.